When Theresa was just a kid, she sat in Yvonne’s office at UGM in Mission and firmly declared, “I’m never going to do drugs.” After seeing addiction drain her mom and sister, she was determined. But it can feel impossible to break cycles like this—cycles that go far back, likely starting when her mom was shipped off to residential school as a little girl. “People used to tell me I’d be the change in my family,” Theresa remembers. “I had to grow up so fast.”
Today, Theresa’s family truly has been transformed. When her sister, Nancy, got pregnant with her son, she faced a cross-roads. Supported by Theresa and motivated by a mother’s love, Nancy was able to overcome her own struggle with addiction and give her son the childhood she never had. In this issue of Gratitude, Theresa and Nancy share their powerful story with you. We invite you to see the impact of your support, below!
|August 18, 1992: Nancy is born.||September 15, 1995: Theresa is born.|
|Nancy was four-years-old when she was taken from her mom and put into foster care.||Theresa was just 18-months.|
|Theresa and Nancy were placed in the same foster home. They stayed there for three years, living under abusive foster parents the whole time. Even though Nancy tried to protect her little sister from the abuse, both girls suffered—and Nancy bore the worst of it. This trauma has made them determined to raise their own kids today.|
|“I never want any kid to go through what we did,” Nancy explains now, through tears. “I hate talking about it. Getting robbed of being children is the worst thing in the world.”||“Foster care was horrible,” Theresa says, echoing her sister. “They were pretty abusive: mentally, physically, emotionally…”|
|Nancy was seven-years-old when their grandma fought to get both girls back.||Theresa was four when they moved home to be with their mom, step-dad, and grandma.|
|Throughout childhood and adolescence, Nancy and Theresa would visit UGM with their mom. Upon arriving, they’d make a bee line to an Outreach Worker named Yvonne. “I met them twelve years ago,” Yvonne recalls. “They’d come sit with me and tell me stories about their life, and I just got really close with them.” Theresa felt safe there. “Yvonne was one person I could talk to without feeling judged, and I knew she’d always be there,” she says.|
|In Nancy’s early teens, their mom’s struggle with addiction got bad again. Neither sister knew what to do.||This was the time Theresa became determined to avoid drugs at all costs. “At just 12-yrs-old she’d sit in my office and say, ‘I’m never going to do them,’” Yvonne recalls.|
|Throughout these years, Nancy and Theresa started attending summer camp on UGM’s camp sponsorship program. Camp lifted the troubles from home, and restored a small sense of childhood to two girls who hadn’t really had one. “We didn’t get a childhood in foster care,” Nancy remembers. “But when we went to camp, we got to be kids and play outside with other kids. It was amazing!” For Theresa, camp was the one place she could forget what was going on back home. “I could be the child I wanted to be,” she says. “Camp was my little getaway. I loved the canoeing and the swimming—I love water. Oh, and the horseback riding! I love horses too.” In these years, Nancy and Theresa’s bond deepened. “Nancy became more than just a sister, she became my best friend,” Theresa says.|
|When Nancy was 16, she got caught up in social and family pressure to use drugs, and her own struggle with addiction began.||“I saw my mom and sister wither away, and I thought, ‘I don’t know who you are,’” Theresa recalls. “I didn’t want that for myself. Yvonne pushed me to stay strong and told me I’d be okay, so I held onto that.”|
|Nancy spiralled further into her addiction, and the two sisters drifted apart.||Seeing drugs rob her loved ones of life, Theresa voluntarily returned to foster care. This time, her foster mom was a wonderful, supportive woman. Theresa still talks to her today.|
|“I didn’t see Nancy for a while there,” Yvonne remembers. “She kind of just stayed indoors. But I remember seeing her in town once, and she was just a skeleton. It was so scary.”||From 15-18, Theresa worked hard to get her high school diploma, but didn’t see much of Nancy anymore.|
|Three years ago, Nancy got pregnant again with her son. She didn’t know it at the time, but he was her saving grace.||Theresa never stopped praying for her sister, even if she didn’t see her much. “But I didn’t think God was listening,” she says.|
|One night, pregnant, Nancy got kicked out of where she was living.||On this night, Theresa ran into Nancy. Learning she was pregnant, Theresa invited Nancy to come live with her, and begged her to get sober.|
|Nancy chose to detox without the help of any program. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” she explains. “But I felt like, if Theresa has this much faith in me, I should have faith in myself and love myself as much as she does.”||When it came time for Nancy’s son to be born, Theresa was by her side. Social workers wanted to take him away, but Theresa signed a 24-hr supervision order so Nancy could keep him. Nancy let Theresa choose her son’s name: Ezra, which means helper.|
|“As soon as I saw Ezra’s face, I thought, ‘I’m never going to use again,’” Nancy shares. “Being sober means so much to me, and its outcome is having Ezra—so it’s the best decision I ever made.”|
|Theresa tears up when she talks about her big sister. “She overcame so many obstacles,” she says. “Knowing I was part of it is wonderful. It was hard, and a big responsibility, but we’re all so close.”|
|Two months ago, Theresa and her boyfriend gave birth to their own son, Zackary. They were overjoyed. “I now know what true love fully is,” Theresa shares.|
|Ezra loves his baby cousin. Actually, Ezra loves everyone! He’s an incredibly joyful, charming toddler. “I’m so happy for both these women,” Yvonne shares. “They’ve both found the love they’ve been looking for in their life.”||“I want Zackary to have a childhood,” Theresa says. “I want him to know that no matter what, I’m always going to be in his corner. I don’t want him to ever know what hunger is like, or what it’s like to have a parent who uses drugs.”|
|Raising her son is incredibly meaningful for Nancy, given her own childhood. “It just feels amazing,” she explains. “Watching him be a kid and do the things I wasn’t allowed to do—it’s wonderful. He’s the best little boy in the world. The love he has for everybody! And he knows he’s loved too.”||While she’s currently busy raising a newborn, Theresa has bright dreams for her own future. She wants to be an addictions recovery counsellor—a role she’d excel in. But first: family. “For both these sisters,” Yvonne explains, “that’s what it’s all about: creating that family they never really had in some ways.”|
|It’s unimaginably hard to break generational cycles of trauma and addiction, but these women are doing it with admirable grace and strength. They’re best friends again, and even got tattoos to celebrate it! “It’s hard work, parenting together,” Theresa sighs. “But at the end of the day it’s perfect.” What Theresa and Nancy have is family in a nutshell: the messy, beautiful, unconditional love of family.|
|“Being a single mom and raising Ezra is hard work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Nancy tells us. “But you’re not a single mom!” Theresa chimes in. “We’re doing this together!”|
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” —Psalm 139:13
Theresa and Nancy’s story reminds me how precious a child’s wonderfully-made life is. All children deserve to feel loved, safe, and free to be kids. That’s why I’m so grateful for every camp sponsorship we receive. Because of generous donors like you, Theresa and Nancy got to taste freedom at camp, amidst a painfully difficult childhood. For them, camp was that place where they could be a kid. Because of your partnership, many more kids will get to experience a priceless week at camp this summer.
A week at summer camp can make an incredible difference for a child dealing with unjust situations like hunger, homelessness, or all that comes with a parent’s struggle with addiction. Whether it’s the care of a camp counsellor or the thrill of swimming in the wide-open ocean, summer camp lightens burdens and gives hope. But most of all, camp introduces kids to a God who loves them unconditionally.
I’m so inspired by the gift Theresa and Nancy are to their sons, and thank God those boys will have a chance to be kids, and grow up knowing they’re wildly loved.
William B. Mollard
P.S. To read more stories about the impact you are making, download our full issue of Gratitude here!