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Volunteer Spotlight: Shawna Draws on Her Past to Connect with Clients

May 30, 2018

Shawna’s time volunteering at the mission is meaningful to her, not only because she feels blessed by the clients she serves, but because she feels a connection to their plight. “I was homeless for two years,” she said. “I was a drug addict. Where those people are when they walk through our doors—I’ve been there.”

Shawna’s dad was a preacher, and she grew up “a good kid,” graduating from high school and getting a good job at a prison. She got married and had a baby girl. It wasn’t until her late 20s that Shawna started feeling unsettled. Her marriage ended, and she was feeling trapped at her job. “I had this tiny little window and it looked out over the prison yard. That’s all I saw—inmates in the yard. It felt like I hit this point where I just threw the cards in the air. I wanted to be rebellious. Everyone else got to, and I never did.”

Shawna is also open about her struggle with mental health issues. “I’m never ashamed to talk about it. I’m bipolar and have borderline personality disorder, which really kicked in at this time, I think. I was just done.” Shawna left her 4-year-old in her mother’s care and fled to San Diego. She lived in a van at a beach campsite, and got involved with a man who introduced her to meth. “He was very abusive, and he got me into drugs and then selling drugs,” Shawna said. “I didn’t plan on getting into illegal stuff—it just sort of came with the territory.”

When Shawna found out she was pregnant, she knew she had to clean up her act. “I came home right when I turned 30, pregnant and a recovering drug addict,” she said. “My parents gave me a second chance.”

Now 37, Shawna lives with her mother and her two daughters, ages 12 and 6. “Some of the volunteers, their kids were in the program, or they know someone,” Shawna said. “But when you yourself have been through it, you have that little bit of an extra (perspective). A lot of people don’t understand why people are on the streets. I do. I understand. I also understand why you get off the streets.”

“It’s important to me that no one feels like less of a human just because of their situation,” Shawna added. “When I come here, I feel God’s love. I feel the friendliness and the family—that’s what’s important.”

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