Ms. Juarez grew up in South Gate. Her adoptive family constantly reminded her she was an outsider, telling her she was no good. She was physically, mentally and sexually abused. She joined a gang at a young age, craving the family that she didn’t have at home. But even the gang couldn’t help her gain a sense of belonging. She ran away at the age of 13, terminating her schooling and ending up in the San Fernando Valley. Throughout her teenage years she stayed at people’s homes, in shelters, motels, and on the street. Ironically, she even lived in the courtyard of the State Office Building down the street from Cornerstone Apartments. She drank constantly, and abused drugs. She was arrested for various offenses, including prostitution and armed robbery.
In 2002, Ms. Juarez, tired of life on the streets, attempted suicide. Upon her release from the hospital, she was sent to an outpatient mental health center, where her mental illness was finally diagnosed. She began therapy and attended counselling groups, noticing that those who helped her included people who had similar stories. Seeing people put their lives back together was motivation for Ms. Juarez to stop her continued use of alcohol and drugs.
Upon graduating from peer counselling class in 2013, Ms. Juarez was hired as a peer advocate by San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Centers, Inc, (Centers, Inc.) where she continues to work. Her growing confidence has led her to set new goals in life. After 30 years without a high school diploma, Ms. Juarez has returned to the classroom to obtain her GED. Every morning, she climbs onto her bicycle and pedals to her job at Centers Inc., and every chance she gets, she meets with a tutor to prepare for the GED exam. Ms. Juarez knows intimately how years of gang involvement, substance abuse, and homelessness can weigh on the human spirit. She now shares her stories of struggle and triumph in hopes of being an inspiration to others by showing them life can get better and there is a community of friends waiting to help.