Donta’s experiences growing up helped shape his exceptional and unique ability to relate to and uplift all Youth who visit CHIL. Born in Cabrini Green and raised in Humboldt Park, Donta spent his early life in the care of his mother until he and his younger brother weren’t able to stay with her any longer. “I remember walking home from school and our stuff was outside on the corner. I didn’t see her again until I was 24”. They slept in a nearby park together, trying to meet their most basic needs. Over the years and after a series of setbacks and life lessons, Donta found himself living on the streets once again at 18.
He remembers vividly sleeping in an alley when a woman approached him, told him he was too young to be sleeping in the streets, and gave him information for a transitional housing program.
The program’s caring staff provided the support Donta had always needed. He stayed for two years, working to find employment and long-term housing. Donta reflects, “I gained real-life experience there, beyond the survival skills I had up until that point. I learned how to use other resources when needed, pay rent, and bills, and how to create my resume. I set and achieved my dreams, graduating from Jane Adams High School and was accepted into a Social Work program”.
Through his lived experience, Donta found his calling to mentor other youth who had grown up like him. “I love doing this work and seeing the excitement on a young person’s face when they achieve things – goals they didn’t think they could obtain until we put in the work together.”
“I know CHIL’s trauma-informed approach to caring for youth works because I’ve lived it. Showing youth who have been through some really hard situations what caring is, just showing up for them even when it’s difficult makes a huge difference and is sometimes something they’ve never experienced”.
“Even when a young person has a bad day or acts out, I’m amazed by their ability to bounce back, turn things around and get back on track. That’s all I know how to do with our young people is to stay by their side, and continuously encourage them to keep trying".