Homelessness to Mental Health Advocacy: This Illinois Mom Focuses Her Life’s Work on Helping Others

Chelsy’s life story shines a bright light on resiliency and sheer determination to encounter hurdles and forge ahead with a positive mindset.

“I think my future holds great things because of what I’ve accomplished in the past and the obstacles that I have overcome.”

As the eldest of 10 children, Chelsy grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and saw first-hand the effect housing instability had on her family. 

“I was in a lot of shelters with my mother growing up—my mother and my stepfather, and I would get exposed to certain situations [and see] how homeless people are treated,” said Chelsy before also revealing she experienced homelessness as a teenager during a rough patch with the Department of Children and Family Services. “When I was in DCFS I got emancipated and I lost my apartment. So I think that was more of a traumatic time for me because, at that time, I didn’t have anywhere to go.” 

Chelsy pressed forward—pursuing a degree in social work at Northeastern Illinois University while juggling a paying job, and raising her two young children. She met that challenge with support from family nearly 1,000 miles away. 

“I’m grateful for my stepfather because he was, at the time, in Texas. He said, ‘Bring them (the children) down here with me. I’ll look after that,’ and that’s what I did,” shared Chelsy while admitting it wasn’t an easy decision.

“I felt like the world was ending because I didn’t have my kids and I didn’t have anywhere to stay. So that’s what kind of gave me a little bit of hope that I’ll be okay hopefully, one day.”

Fueled by one day reuniting with her children, Chelsy buckled down and kept her focus on school. 

“It was hard, but I already knew what would happen if I did give up. So I just wanted to see the outcome if I didn't give up,” she shared.

Chelsy recently graduated college and secured her first position—in her field of study— as a case manager. 

“Mental health is something that I feel every human experiences at a certain point in time in life, and just as a child, it was something that I struggled with a lot too, depression. So I just want to give back, specifically in that field of mental health.” 

Taking care of her own mental well-being is a priority for Chelsy. So, too, is breaking the cycle and deliberately practicing self-care with her children—a five-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter.

“I have a parenting coach. We do family therapy together. I seek help because I don't always know what I'm doing and it's very hard, and it can be very overwhelming and stressful at times, and I just want to be the best mother I can be.” 

It’s easy for Chelsy to be flooded with memories of her “small town” childhood. While she has lived elsewhere, she returned to Evanston to raise her kids literally in the same neighborhood. 

“I'm actually staying on the street now that I grew up on. My grandmother had the only white house on the block. I was born into that house. I actually stay across the street from the house,” she said.  

Though living in her old neighborhood brings a sense of familiarity, Chelsy acknowledged certain changes to the community she knew as a child.

“The block was a little bit more diverse. Everybody on the block knew each other, and now it's not as diverse. We don't really communicate as neighbors really as much as I was used to growing up, but it's a good community. It's a lot of resources, especially for single families, low-income families, and a very good education system,” she shared. 

Chelsy continues to press forward with purpose. In fact, she didn’t connect with UpTogether to receive funding, she initially reached out with the hope of encouraging someone else to keep moving ahead.

“I was looking for platforms to share my story, and I got an email… from UpTogether and it was giving me the opportunity to share my story,” said Chelsy. 

She has not received a direct cash investment but believes and supports UpTogether’s approach of investing in individuals and trusting them to be the experts in their own lives. When asked how she’d spend any money she may receive in the future, Chelsy had a quick response. 

“I would put it towards opening a facility for the homeless. That's one of my passions – giving people a facility who need a home, who needs somewhere to lay their head, who needs a hot meal, shower, to feel safe. I think that is one of my big responsibilities in my community.” 

Chelsy’s outlook and mental health are in a good place. That’s a big reason why she’s full of hope about how bright the days ahead can be.

“I'm at the point in my life where I'm just fine with myself with what I've accomplished and my successes. I'm fine now. I'm okay.” 

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