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The Next Door, Inc., held a Stories of Hope breakfast on Sept. 27 at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, where staff shared personal stories from those who participate in its programs. Below is the text of two of the stories, edited for space. First names have been used to protect privacy.

Family Services: Julie and Ted’s Story

I never thought I’d be clean and sober. I thought I would die on the streets. I lost all hope until Sept. 9, 2018, the day my daughter was born.

When I was younger, I never thought I’d do drugs. I saw what addiction did to people I knew, and I didn’t want to end up that way. Even from a young age, I was successful. I got my GED and got a good job at a bank by the time I was 17.

Around that time, I needed to have kidney reconstruction surgery and took pain killers for months after the surgery. Without warning, my prescription was cut off and I was left desperate and in pain. I started buying pain killers on the streets, anything I could get my hands on to feel normal. I quickly went from pain killers to heroine. Within three months, I lost my job, my home, my friends, my family, everything. I was so ashamed of what I’d become: A drug addict.

I met Ted about three years ago on the streets in Portland. We slept on friends’ couches, but mostly we lived on the streets, selling drugs, stealing and selling everything we could find to make money to fuel our drug habit.

Before he started using, Ted was successful too. He had a house in Portland with a recording studio and a glass blowing workshop. He was an artist. Now, just like me, he was a drug addict.

Before I knew it, I was pregnant. In addition to everything else I was stealing, I started stealing food and stealing prenatal vitamins to help my growing baby. It sounds terrible, but I continued using drugs. I tried quitting cold turkey more times than I can count, but I would always eventually use just to feel normal again.

I was visiting Ted’s mom in Hood River when I went into labor. I was terrified. Throughout my pregnancy, I’d only seen the doctor one time, didn’t have an ultrasound, didn’t listen to the baby’s heartbeat, didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, nothing.

Labor was hard. The withdrawals I was experiencing made it even harder.

Having driven through the night to get to Hood River, Ted was exhausted. After taking the exit to get to the hospital, he was pulled over for driving erratically. He ended up getting sent to NORCOR (Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility).

Meanwhile, our daughter was born. Soon after, the doctors discovered a problem with her lungs. Just hours after she was born, she was Lifeflighted to Portland and was admitted into the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). I didn’t get to go with her. I felt like a terrible mother. Throughout my pregnancy, I never felt connected with the baby growing inside me. I was so strung out, I always just assumed I would lose the baby at some point. Now, here she was, fighting to breathe, being taken away from me in a helicopter, and there was nothing I could do. The guilt I felt overwhelmed me.

A few days later, Ted was released from NORCOR and joined me and our baby girl, who we named Polly, in the NICU. She ended up staying in the NICU for nine days, and we never left her side. From that day, Ted and I never used drugs again. This tiny, beautiful human we made was a blessing and the wake-up call we needed.

After Polly was well enough to be discharged from the NICU, we returned to Hood River to live with Ted’s mom. We felt like it was a great place to raise our daughter. We both took our sobriety seriously and enrolled in outpatient drug treatment.

Polly was about 6 months old and was still having trouble nursing. We were seeing every lactation consultant in town when one of them referred us to The Next Door for additional services. We were happy to learn about another resource we could use, so we called The Next Door right away and soon met with our home visitor, Amalia Vasquez.

Transitioning from addicted and selfish to having to be selfless parents was hard. We were nervous about a lot of things. We worried about Polly’s development, the fact that I didn’t receive any prenatal care, and if we’d be able to maintain our sobriety to care for her.

Amalia has given us confidence in our parenting skills. The time she spends with all three of us every week makes us stronger and more knowledgeable parents. Plus, Polly absolutely loves her! Amalia is someone in our corner, reminding us that we don’t have to do everything perfect to be great parents. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed, it’s okay to put the baby down and take a break, it’s okay to take time to take care of ourselves. Amalia helps assure us that Polly’s development is on track and that the behaviors we’re seeing are normal and healthy. Parents need those reminders sometimes.

We’ve been through a lot, but we can’t regret anything because look where we are. We’ve been clean and sober since the day Polly was born. This beautiful little girl saved our lives. We’re so grateful to have this chance and to have Amalia in our corner to help us through.

Klahre House: Hannah’s story

The first and only memory I have of my biological mom was the car crash that killed her. I was 3 years old when my biological dad lost control of the car and crashed. My mom was taken to the hospital and died. Me and my dad survived.

After my mom passed, me and my older brothers lived with our dad. He was abusive and I was scared of him. If I didn’t clean my room, he would starve me. Us kids had to cut wood for the stove to keep us warm in the winter, and to bundle and sell for extra money. One time I didn’t cut enough, so my dad punched me in the head, dropping me to the floor. Meanwhile, my dad got remarried to a woman with three daughters. My brother molested us.

That’s the life I had for what felt like forever until I was taken by Child Protective Services when I was 11 and was taken to live in a strange home in the middle of nowhere. Over the next year, I bounced in and out of five different foster homes. I didn’t know where I belonged or who to trust. I knew my biological dad’s home wasn’t a good home, but I wanted out of foster care and wanted to go back home.

I first started in The Next Door’s Klahre House program when I was 12. My case manager, Melanie Kelly, was awesome! She really listened to me and made me feel like a person, not just a foster kid.

Through the Klahre House, I moved in with another new family that would become my forever family. I was their kid from the moment I walked into their home. They loved me, gave me freedom and independence, and just wanted me to do my best. It was the first time in my life I didn’t have to live in fear of being beaten or starved because I didn’t do my chores or didn’t get good grades.

I moved in with that family 10 days before Christmas. I didn’t expect any gifts. I couldn’t believe my eyes on Christmas morning. Under the tree was overflowing with gifts, all for me! I still have the stuffed dog they got me for that first Christmas.

When I was 14, my foster dad took me to visit some of their friends whose dog just had puppies. I always loved puppies and wanted one of my own. When I asked if I could have one, I was shocked when he and my foster mom said yes. Foster parents don’t do that. They don’t get foster kids their own puppy. I named my new puppy Sissy. When Sissy was 2, my foster parents got me a second dog, Lucy.

It took years of fighting through the court system and getting my biological dad to give up his parental rights, but my foster parents (my forever parents) were finally able to adopt me in March 2010. I was 17 at the time, and I still live with them to this day.

I’m especially close with my adoptive dad. I call him Dad. He’s my best friend. We live in the same house, but we still call or text every day. He’s taught me so many life lessons, like the importance of saving money. I’ve only seen my biological dad about three times since I was taken into foster care. He’s in prison right now but still calls regularly. I should hate him. I should cut him out of my life, but I just can’t.

I’m happy and successful now. I have my forever family. I have a full-time job. I’m engaged to the most supportive, understanding, kind, and honest man I’ve ever met. And I can’t wait for my dad to walk me down the aisle.

I’ve learned so much about the world and myself throughout my time in foster care. Mostly, I’ve learned that family doesn’t have to be blood. Family is who chooses you, supports you, and is there for you.

I am where I am because of the experiences I’ve had, good and bad. It was painful at times, but if I hadn’t been taken into foster care, I wouldn’t have met my forever family or my fiancé.

I want to thank The Next Door for connecting me with the parents I was destined to have. And I especially want to thank my parents for instilling values in me and for making me feel wanted and loved.

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