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Beautiful tulips on Main Street Wellsville by,Mary Iantorno

A New Life After Abuse, Drugs, Homelessness, and Jail.


Thanks to Directions HHUNY Care and Nancy Kehl

There are many kinds of poverty and sometimes they show up together under one roof. For a young man in Allegany County, it was the constant verbal abuse, extreme negativity, and absolute lack of love and support from his mother and stepfather that stole his childhood and might have robbed him of a successful future.

If Directions in Independent Living’s (DIL) Care Coordinator in Allegany County had not had the compassion and wisdom to see the severity of the situation, this young man might have been lost in the justice system.

When Isaiah was growing up, he was repeatedly told he would never amount to anything. The emotional abuse he felt was profound and whether or not there was physical abuse he did not say. The lack of love he and his brother experienced was enormously destructive, driving Isaiah into unhealthy eating behaviors leading to obesity, drug abuse, and theft until he ended up in jail.“

Isaiah grew up in a very dysfunctional family,” Nancy Kehl, Directions’ Allegany County Coordinator, said. “The family was on SSI and all Isaiah ever heard growing up was he would never amount to anything. I believe there was both physical and mental abuse by both adults. He turned to food for comfort. He has a brother who has a disability also, and a cousin who all live with the grandparents.

”As a result of Nancy’s gentle intervention, Isaiah, who had been referred to Direction’s HHUNY* (Health Homes of Upstate New York) program in Allegany County at age 18, completed and graduated from the program in two years. During that time, he earned his GED, obtained a learner’s permit, and is now working at Subway in Wellsville while saving for a vehicle.

“I’m doing a lot of things people said I wouldn’t ever do,” Isaiah said proudly, as he finished a shift at Subway in Wellsville.

By the time Isaiah met Nancy two years ago, he was 50 pounds overweight, had a congenital heart condition, a gallbladder issue, and a learning disability. But even then, he had not yet hit bottom. His dark night was only beginning.

Isaiah entered Directions’ HHUNY program after a couple of years in a children’s home. While help was on the way, his downward trajectory was spiraling out of control.

“Last year, I got arrested on drugs, stole money from my grandparents, got kicked out, went to jail, and became homeless,” he said. “Allegany County helped me get into a house in Angelica and gave me some cash assistance to get on my feet.

”He worked a few jobs and moved into an apartment he shared with another young man. Throughout this time, his early life programming of “you will never hold a job; you will never amount to anything” was being played out. It was a kind of fatal attraction. What he believed was true, in fact, became true – until Nancy’s compassion and real support mitigated his circumstances and underlying lack of faith in himself.

When Isaiah’s grandfather saw his genuine effort and intention to turn his life around, he welcomed him back home. Since then, Isaiah began working at Subway and recounts his time in jail and on the street as possibly the best thing that ever happened to him. “I’m sad it had to happen, but I’m glad it did,” Isaiah said about his time in jail.

“It made me grow up. It taught me to never give up, to fight for my life, and persevere,” he said, adding that Nancy’s support when he most wanted to give up, was pivotal. “When I told her, I wanted to give up, she told me to keep on going.”“My grandfather – who is a father to me – said he is proud of me. My probation officer told me he is proud of me, and my boss at Subway said she sees a strong work ethic in me,” Isaiah said.

But it may have been Nancy’s support when he most needed it that has made the most difference.

“Nancy is amazing. She picked me up at the jail and took me to the Allegany County building to get assistance. She gave me a lot of support. She has helped me to change my life,” he said, adding when he did not have a cell phone, Nancy would just show up at the house where he was staying. Her constant affirmation helped him overcome the negative inner programming that haunted and kept him down. It was her support that helped Isaiah step into a worldview that will take him far.

*HHUNY is a care coordination resource to help coordinate care and service providers, advocate on an individual’s behalf, navigate the health care system and local resources, link to essential services, and help individuals learn about available options for their overall health and well-being. This includes medical and mental health, substance abuse, and social service needs. Individuals age 18 and over, who have Medicaid, and have one or more chronic conditions, a severe mental illness, significant behavioral, medical, or social risk factors are eligible.

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