A Homeless Teen Finds Solace In A Teacher And A Recording

Mar 7, 2014
Originally published on March 7, 2014 11:39 am

Aaron didn't intend to tell his classmates that he was homeless. But when he recorded his own story with StoryCorpsU — a project designed to help kids in high-needs schools build stronger relationships with their teachers — he says, it just came out.

"I felt ... like a big load was let off," Aaron explains. (NPR has withheld Aaron's last name, at the request of his foster care agency, to protect his privacy.) "I don't know what made me say it, but I'm like, 'Let me just be honest and just get it out.' "

In his recording, made last year in Chicago, Aaron revealed that he "had to sleep outside, sometimes with nothing to eat. I was ashamed. ... I still am ashamed."

It was only upon hearing Aaron's recording that his teacher, Celeste Davis-Carr, learned that he was living on the streets.

"I was scared, because I felt helpless," Davis-Carr tells Aaron in an interview the two recorded this year. "I didn't know what to do, but at the same time I felt I had an obligation to try my best to help you."

"I didn't really think that I would ever really tell a teacher, but it makes me know that you're special because you care," Aaron says. "You talk to me and make sure that I'm cool.

"Because sometimes kids were bullying me, calling me a freak of nature, throwing chairs, throwing glass and stuff at me," he continues.

In the year since revealing his secret, Aaron says he's doing better. He has more friends and has been living in a foster home since October. "It's good, actually. I feel comfortable. Where I am now — it kind of feels like home."

"Can I tell you one thing that I really admire about you, Aaron?" Davis-Carr asks. "Because I've never told you. Do you know how strong you are? ... You have a strength that, no matter what anyone says about you or they do to you, you don't change who you are as a person. And a lot of people don't have that strength. So I admire that about you."

"Thank you," Aaron replies.

"I want to see you happy," his teacher tells him. "Just your smile is the best moments of you."

"Thank you," Aaron says. "That means a lot to me."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's Friday, time now for StoryCorps. The project has been rolling out an education program in high needs schools across the country called StoryCorpsU. Kids listen to StoryCorps interviews and then record their own stories, in part to help build stronger relationships with their teachers. Today we'll hear from a student who participated last school year from the Southside of Chicago. At the request of his foster care agency, which wants to protect his privacy, we're only identifying him as Aaron.

When he made this recording, he was homeless.

AARON: Hi, my name is Aaron. I am attending Corliss High School. I don't know, I'm just going through a rough time, basically homeless for five months. I have to sleep outside sometimes with nothing to eat. Kind of ashamed. I still am ashamed.

WERTHEIMER: It was only after hearing this recording that Aaron's teacher, Celeste Davis-Carr, learned that he was living on the streets. They recently sat down face to face to talk about Aaron's struggles.

CELESTE DAVIS-CARR: When you shared your StoryCorps recording with everyone, how did you feel, Aaron?

AARON: I felt awkward, like a big load was let off, 'cause I mean, I just said it. I don't know what made me say it, but I'm like, let me just be honest and just get it out.

DAVIS-CARR: I was scared because I felt helpless. I didn't know what to do, but at the same time I felt I had an obligation to try my best to help you.

AARON: Yeah, I didn't even know you actually listened to that one.

DAVIS-CARR: I listened to all of them, Aaron.

AARON: Yeah. I didn't really think that I would ever really tell a teacher, but it makes me know that you're special because you care. Like, you talk to me and make sure that I'm cool, 'cause sometimes kids were bullying me, calling me a freak of nature, throwing chairs, throwing glass and stuff at me.

DAVIS-CARR: I've had to deal with some bullying issues when I was in school, but not to the extent that you have. I was always picked on because I was a tomboy.

AARON: You seem pretty cool. I wouldn't think no one would mess with you.

DAVIS-CARR: So overall, how do you feel? Do you have more friends this year?

AARON: Yes. I have more friends this year.

DAVIS-CARR: So it's better than last year.

AARON: Yeah. I'm in a foster home now, been since October.

DAVIS-CARR: Do you feel different living in a foster home?

AARON: It's good, actually. I feel comfortable. Where I am now, it kind of feels like home.

DAVIS-CARR: So can I tell you one thing that I really admire about you, Aaron? Because I've never told you. Do you know how strong you are?

AARON: No.

DAVIS-CARR: You never realized that. But you have a strength that no matter what anyone says about you or they do to you, you don't change who you are as a person. And a lot of people don't have that strength. So I admire that about you.

AARON: Thank you.

DAVIS-CARR: Don't make me cry again. I want to see you happy. Just your smile is the best moments of you.

AARON: Thank you. That means a lot to me.

WERTHEIMER: That's Aaron with his teacher Celeste Davis-Carr in Chicago. They recorded this interview through StoryCorps' education program, StoryCorpsU. It's now being taught in schools in four cities across the country. To learn more, go to StoryCorpsU.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.