Laura ('Miss Adventure')
Because of donors like you, programs like the EXIT Youth Hub exist to support at-risk children and youth. Children can change an organization. With your help and because of Miss Adventure, children and youth can access services, heal and create their own story.
Some stories have a happy ending. Some stories remind us of our human frailty.
Laura came to Wood’s Homes in her early teens.
She was high-spirited. She had a magnetic personality and a feisty nature. People – staff and kids were drawn to her.
Everyone loved Laura, even the youth court judges – they all saw such promise in her eyes. Even with the troubles and worries that surrounded her, Laura’s parents were always closely involved in her care and would have given anything to understand their little girl.
She battled demons that were hard to wrestle to the ground.
Laura was always teetering on the edge. One minute she would be doing really well in school, and then suddenly she was running away and taking others with her. She would promise to change and then be swept away by someone else’s upset and hurt. She struggled with so many mysterious things – threatening self-harm, suicide and putting herself in danger. Eventually Laura was drawn to the excitement of the street, the sex-trade and the money that was so tantalizing. Trying to keep her safe in our program became more and more difficult as she grew older and more experienced with managing that world. She was scared, but she was also a risk-taker. She had the powerful feeling many adolescents have of being immortal – “nothing bad will happen to me”. The staff were struggling to figure out how to help.
So her therapist tried a different approach. Together they created a character named Miss Adventure. Miss Adventure was the girl who went to the street – looking for just that – adventure. Laura was the girl who stayed home and was safe. It was a play on words and also a tool for talking about Laura’s risky behaviour separately. It helped Laura open up.
Sometimes, Laura would decide Miss Adventure had to go. Her therapist, Laura and a few trusted staff would trek out to the back woods to bury her – her false eyelashes, her high heels, her fur coat and short skirt. “Goodbye Miss Adventure,” we would all say. This eradication of her other world might last a few days or even a week but then, as soon as she was beyond the eyes of her staff, Miss Adventure would pull out the high heels and out she would walk – through the gates and downtown on the bus. There was nothing we could do to stop her. No amount of talking or trying to convince her otherwise worked – she was going to do it any way, no matter what.
It tormented her family and it tormented the staff who cared about her so deeply. Everyone couldn’t stand to see this happen.
But Laura always came back to Wood’s Homes. She never gave up. And neither did Wood’s Homes. We would just do the whole routine over again.
As Laura grew older, she moved on to another group living situation with another organization. She still kept in touch with her therapist at Wood’s Homes, asked about others and made plans for the future – going back to school was on her mind the last time we spoke with her.
Then one evening we discovered how small the world can be. A young person living in yet another organization had plans to meet Laura but her staff stopped her. They allowed her to call Laura to let her know she would not be coming, but the person who answered Laura’s phone told her Laura was dead. The next morning, we found out that Laura had been murdered, her body left by the side of a winter road in south Calgary.
Everyone was devastated. It is very difficult to express the feelings of sadness Wood’s Homes and her family experienced. The cutting short of such a life of promise was hard to reconcile. However we decided, because of Laura, to create the EXIT Program nearly 30 years ago.
Today, the new location of the EXIT Youth Hub supports hundreds of youth every year. This is how Laura’s legacy lives on for us. Miss Adventure inspired change.
Through the stories that our children, youth and families share with us and the many lessons to be learned from and with them, Wood’s Homes is transformed. Miss Adventure transformed Wood’s Homes.
This story was originally featured in the fall 2019 UpWords newsletter. To read the full newsletter, please click here.
Miss Adventure’s Lasting Impression: How can we be better?
Miss Adventure left a lasting impression on everyone in her life, including those at Wood’s Homes. Through the memory of her story, we asked, “How can we be better?”
Over several years, Wood’s Homes gathered stories, data, and best practices and sought to understand how we can better meet the needs of young people like Miss Adventure.
How can we prevent this from happening again?
Wood’s Homes has provided programs and services for homeless and at-risk youth since 1990. We rely on the voices of our clients who help us improve our services. It’s been a long time dream to establish a one-stop-shop for vulnerable youth ages 12-24. Clients were telling us transportation was a barrier in accessing different services. They would have to navigate multiple locations for all the resources and programs available. They would need to retell their story over and over again.
One year ago, thanks to your generosity, our EXIT Youth Hub opened its doors.
This new facility is now home to 6 programs that provide wraparound services for homeless and at-risk youth.
Today, teens and young adults can find mental health and addictions counselling, transitional housing, medical support, employment, life skills training and more, all in one location. Having all these programs in one place makes a huge difference. It makes help accessible. This model of helping homeless and at-risk youth is the first of its kind in Western Canada.
Being part of Miss Adventure’s journey was a turning point for Wood’s Homes. Today, EXIT Youth Hub is a safe place for youth to turn to for help.
Together with your help, we are working to prevent stories from ending like Miss Adventure’s did.
We couldn’t do it without you.