Desirae: Working Toward a Brighter Future

Desirae Nafei first met Youth First Social Worker Teresa Mercer when she was in 6th grade. Her family was in crisis. Her mom, who had recently given birth to a baby boy, had just emerged from a coma and was in the middle of a three-month hospital stay. Desirae and her grandmother were doing their best to care for her six-week old brother.

Soon after, unfortunately, her grandmother suffered a stroke. Now with mom and grandmother unable to care for them, Desirae and her baby brother went to live separately with family friends.

Her world in chaos, Desirae found her way to Mercer’s office at school, where many of her classmates had found help. Mercer says, “I couldn’t believe this very mature, witty eleven-year old was dealing with everything life had thrown at her. I thought she was joking as she told me her story.” Desirae says Mercer listened, offered support, and “could put a label on what I was feeling.” An immediate bond formed between the two.

This support was vital for Desirae through middle and high school. By the time she was a junior, her mom had been struggling with addiction for years, had lost her job, and Desirae and her brother were removed from the home.

It was during this tumultuous time that Desirae started making her own unhealthy choices. Mercer recommended Youth First’s Reconnecting Youth (RY) program, designed to reengage students into their school environment by increasing school performance, decreasing drug involvement, and improving mood management.

“We called it the Breakfast Club,” Desirae says. The small group of students bonded and became lasting friends who still keep in touch.

“Kids all need love,” says Mercer. “Everybody needs to feel that type of support. It’s crucial as a teen. The goal of RY is to build their self-esteem. That is the foundation. The program also teaches them to make better decisions, practice self-control, and set goals.”

Desirae says RY led to some lifelong positive changes: increased confidence, more empathy for others, and better communication and decision-making. An added benefit: RY helped her better understand and learn from her mom’s struggles.

In addition to her classes senior year, Desirae took EMT courses and worked full time in a restaurant. Sadly, she also experienced the unexpected death of her best friend. When she felt grief and sadness bringing her down, she drew on the coping skills she learned from Mercer and RY. “Without that experience, it would have been harder to dig out of the hole I was in. I struggled with suicidal ideation, and I probably wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that support.”

After high school, Desirae worked as a team lead at Toyota. She eventually returned to EMT training, inspired by the first responders on scene with her mom and grandma years before. She feels her work with Mercer and RY equipped her with the life skills to be successful.

Desirae has a great relationship with her mom now, who is sober and a leader in the workplace. Her younger brother is now 12 and doing well in school.

She is financially stable, owns a home, and graduated from college in December. This poised and mature young lady has a world of opportunity in front of her, and she says, “I can’t wait to get started. Thank you, Youth First!”

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