She is slow to open up. Slow to share her dreams…slow to smile. But take a few moments to put her at ease and her dreams and ambitions start to flow.
Leiyah graduated high school on May 22nd, after arriving here in October of 2015. The adjustment to Coyote Hill is perhaps hardest for older youth like her. All the new people; all the children to adjust to and learn how to live with. Yet Leiyah says that is what she will miss most about Coyote Hill when she moves on…the people.
She’s learned so many things from those people. Leiyah says therapist, Katie Villeda, has been able to teach her coping skills that she didn’t have before coming here. She laughs as she says that her dad, Al Howell, has taught her how to shoot a shot gun. Her mom, Rachel Howell, has been teaching her to play guitar and how to cook. She lights up when she mentions that.
“I LOVE to cook, and I’ve learned to eat better while living here!” she exclaims. Her favorite is baking – cookies, cakes, monkey bread, etc. She grins as she explains that she’s gained some weight while living at Coyote Hill, and she’d like to gain a bit more. (Keep practicing the baking skills, Leiyah, and that should be an easy goal to reach!)
She loves baking so much that she says she’s thought about opening her own bakery someday. She is learning commercial food handling skills at her job at McDonalds, where she has been working about 25 hours/week. Even though almost everyone she works with complains about the job, Leiyah says she enjoys the work. Once she learns the grill, she’ll have learned every aspect of working at the restaurant. Suggesting that she could probably qualify for management after learning that final skill, she smiles and says, “Well, you have to be eighteen to be a manager, and I’m still a year away from that.”
Yes – Leiyah is graduating as a seventeen year old. She says before coming to Coyote Hill, many people told her she’d never graduate. After arriving, it was decided to place her in the Missouri Option Program, which targets students who have the ability to complete high school graduation requirements, but for a variety of reasons lack the credits needed and are at risk of dropping out. The past few months, she’s worked so hard toward that graduation goal that a teacher told her she received the highest score on the HiSET he’d ever seen at Harrisburg. Thus, she received her diploma a year early!
Perhaps most important of all, Leiyah says she’s learning and growing in her faith. Before she came to Coyote Hill she claimed to be an atheist, even though she felt like there was SOMETHING out there. Now? After being with the Howells and attending church with the Zimmer Home at C2, and listening to staff and volunteers at Coyote Hill, she’s growing. Leyiah says, “Belief makes life much easier. Being an atheist was really hard, thinking that there would be nothing after death.”
Besides growing in faith and enjoying new found cooking skills, Leiyah also enjoys music, photography and writing poetry and stories. A friend of Rachel’s, Evann Twitchell, has been mentoring Leiyah and helping her develop those skills. Evann not only taught her some things about photography, she also is helping Leiyah put one of her poems to music.
Evann says, “The fact that Leiyah can face and process some of her hardest moments through writing poetry is not only a beautiful vehicle for personal healing, but also an inspiration for others. Yes, she’s still a kid and makes mistakes, but she learns from them. The supportive community at Coyote Hill has given her compassion, initiative and a place to thrive. I am so proud of her and glad to call her my friend.”
Leiyah’s Home Parent Mom, Rachel Howell, concludes, “We are so proud of Leiyah. It has been quite an emotional roller coaster, each turn wondering if she will still be able to stay at Coyote Hill. And yet, each time she messes up, she’s been able to process better than the last time and take more responsibility than the time before. I think there has been so much fear that when she messes up, she won’t be wanted anymore, so she lashes out in self defense. It’s taken a lot of patience and consistency – showing her that no matter what, we still love her. In the face of a past that told her she isn’t worth it, it has been incredible to watch her persevere and believe that she is.”
During our 25 years of ministry, 100% of our high school seniors – teens like Leiyah – have been given the necessary assistance to make sure they graduate. Without your continued support, that wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you!