Forward - Arden

Forward-Arden

FORWARD is a series from Student Affairs featuring Virginia Tech students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have faced, overcome, or learned from life's obstacles and setbacks. FORWARD aims to normalize the conversation about hardships we endure to encourage resilience.

I was homeless, but not in the traditional sense. I came from a wealthy town, grew up in a well-off family, and even went on extravagant family vacations. That past life was halted due to behavioral issues with my brothers and ultimately my parents’ divorce. My two older brothers had problems with people, school, and the law, which shook the trust of parents around our community. My last name had become a bad word, only uttered by the town gossips. The two boys were in and out of court-ordered rehab and repeatedly enrolled in therapeutic private schools that we could not afford, leaving my family emotionally and financially depleted.

The spiraling circumstances forced us out of our home, both physically and geographically. My mother, sister, and I squeezed our remaining possessions into the family Honda. We set sail on a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, searching for a new beginning and a fresh start. Our options were slim with no house to move into and no money to spend on renting one. We settled for a campsite and laid out our miscellaneous belongings. Feeling uncertain and weighted by the reality we faced, the three of us pooled our efforts and constructed the space we would now call “home.”

Our old way of life was a memory; this was our reality. One evening my mother returned to our campsite with a can of beans, block of cheese, and loaf of bread and excitedly said, “Look what I found at the food pantry today!” My eyes shifted to the dirt, “Thank you, Mommy,” was all I could say. I recall this as a defining moment in my brief history, humbling me to the realization that something needed to change, and it started with me.

I was no longer a typical, white-collar, thirteen-year-old girl worrying about going to the mall. The frustration, confusion, and sadness that had been mounting inside me suddenly shifted. Now, I was an Island teen contemplating how I could help support my family.

I realize my family’s story is not tragic when compared to the stark existence many homeless people face. I am grateful my family was able to relocate to a place where we found new friends, opportunities, and community support. The changes we experienced that summer altered my then-naive perspective and caused me to grow in a way I never expected. Turns out our make-shift home was the catalyst that caused me to find my independence and budding tenacity.

Ironically, I would not change our experience. The hindsight has served me with a life lesson I will often rely on when future challenges present themselves. Now, home is my community within--a place I create with the people and experiences that move me.

I am beyond fortunate to have found Virginia Tech. Blacksburg and the Hokie community have given me a place I will always be able to call “home.” Since coming to Virginia Tech, I have achieved Dean’s List, joined Alpha Chi Omega sorority, and performed with my Dance Company family. The people I have met during my time here have given me a family who supports my every achievement and pushes me to be the person they know I can be. This encouragement makes me realize that it doesn’t matter how many times life knocks you down as long as you can pick yourself up off the ground and take off running where you want to go. My last year at Virginia tech will be spent by learning through the honors college, striving to be an executive in my organizations, and growing my everlasting support system.

My life is still a work-in-progress but with the support of this community I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.