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“When I finally told some of my friends that I lived in a shelter, they couldn’t believe it. I thought they’d see me as an outcast but they didn’t.”

New York, New York – October, 2020

My name is Bakary but my friends call me Didi. When I was 3 years old, my parents thought that if kids grew up here – in America – they acted badly. So, they sent me to live in Mali with relatives for 7 years. I did not see my parents for all that time. When I came back from Africa to New York City, at age 10, I had to re-learn English. Two years later, we came to live at the Regent Family Shelter. The rooms are small and it isn’t a great place to raise a family but I had a lot of people around me that cared. The people who worked there were my mentors and my family. They helped me with homework. They’d also have birthday parties for us and we got presents. When it came time for school to start, they’d bring us these amazing backpacks stuffed with supplies. They wanted to make sure we blended in with the other kids at school. I was the only one in my class with a miniature stapler!

For years, I never told my friends where I lived. When they asked, I’d point to the building but they’d think I was pointing somewhere past it. Because the Regent had a curfew, I could not go to sleepovers but I’d have other friends at the Regent so we’d have our own sleepovers. It was fun.

When I finally told some of my friends that I lived in a shelter, they couldn’t believe it. I thought they’d see me as an outcast but they didn’t.

As I got into high school, the Regent staff helped us move into a beautiful apartment of our own in the West Bronx. I kept asking myself, how can you live in a shelter and then go to a place like that? I had my own bed to sleep in, knowing that no one else had not slept in it before me. Some of our other neighbors from the Regent moved to our new place too. I couldn’t get over how much happiness we all had with this new place to live and, while I was happy to move out of the Regent, I missed the people there. I went back to visit and began helping some of the younger kids with schoolwork. I realized that, what I was doing, was exactly what so many others had done for me. I like giving back. I’ve also worked with Operation Backpack® as a volunteer helping put backpacks and school supplies together for kids in shelters. I remember how much getting that backpack meant to me and I’m so glad to be able to help this program.

I am now a senior in college studying theater with a minor in business. I have a lot of goals and aspirations but I’ll never forget the many people who have helped me. I hope to be successful so that I can give back more to other kids who are growing up in shelters as I did.

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