By Megan “Mutt” Martin. Megan, age 20, graduated from the Anchorage School District, AK. She is majoring in Nursing at The University of Alaska, Anchorage.
When I first boarded the plane from Anchorage to Seattle, I was already filled with nervous regret. I unbuckled my seatbelt twice, tempted to cancel the whole thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see my SchoolHouse Connection family, In fact, it was the opposite. I was terrified of the bond I seemed to have made with these almost strangers. I was equally terrified that the bond was no longer there.

I am happy to announce my fears were as unfounded as most of my anxiety. From the second I met up with my family at the airport to the second I parted with my family at the airport, it was constant chatter, constant reconnection and support – something to which I am unaccustomed. Sometimes, I still am in awe that people I’ve only seen twice in my life could love me so much, or that I could return the feeling with open arms. Connection has always been hard for me, because with connection comes the possibility of abandonment, and I never want to be abandoned again. With that said, I think I should make it clear that I am thoroughly convinced that SchoolHouse Connection will be in my life until the day I die.

As for the trip overall, it was a much-needed vacation from real life. I enjoy doing the tourist activities as a family because it means good memories to look back upon. I also think the activities helped to pull us back to the present, since we spent a lot of our time talking about the past. Specifically, I think it is challenging, to say the least, for most of us to talk about the traumas that we have faced. I feel this pressure to both be presentable and sane, but also vulnerable and exposed. How am I supposed to convince a room full of people that homeless youth need help when I don’t show them the scars that make up my past, the wounds that are inflicted when youth don’t get the help that they need? I believe I am at a point in my life where I can show my scars without making them bleeding wounds again. I hope that is true one day for everyone with trauma.

Megan with fellow SHC young leaders.
SchoolHouse Connection’s Leadership team – Amy, Lizzy, Andy, Irene, Tia, and Ardis – do an excellent job of addressing these wounds that seem so secret. First and foremost, most of them understand, because they’ve shared the painful experience of growing up homeless. There is nothing quite like true understanding. Second, they are aware that we are all different, that we show our pain in different ways and we all heal in different ways–and they handle it. I find this quite impressive, considering the number of youth for whom they care.

In addition to our family gathering, we had two opportunities to impact policy. We met with Jason Botel, Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, at the U.S. Department of Education, and other federal staff. I felt Mr. Botel really did hear what we were saying. He seemed empathetic to our point: homeless youth are everywhere and we aren’t doing enough. We are not giving them the help and the healthy start that they need. I also found one of the staff’s follow up questions on drug addiction to be very eye-opening. Drug addiction and abuse has been a part of every single one of our group members’ lives. For some scholars, it was the reason they found their families and themselves homeless in the first place.

We also participated in a Congressional briefing at the U.S. Capitol. I felt like it had the impact that we intended. I think this had little to do with the event being recorded, and more to do with our audience. I sat strategically so I could see the audience out of the corner of my eye but still focus mostly on my family of scholars. What I noticed about the audience at the U.S. Capitol was that they were young. They were the next generation of senators. They were like us: millennials willing to hear the plight of their people. This was immediately backed up by the emotional response of the audience. When my group wrenched out their hearts and spoke words that will always hurt, the audience exposed their hearts, too. Many tears were shed. Another remarkable part of this meeting was actually the end, when we got to speak one-on-one with those whom our stories had touched. The love and kindness in the room was enveloping.

Megan with Ardis Steinmetz, School Counselor at Park High School in Livingston, MT

I’d like to mention two things I realized that maybe seem obvious to others. The first thing I realized was that I was an advocate. I wasn’t just a youth spinning a sob story to get someone’s attention. I was a young adult talking about the realities that homeless youth face. I faced these realities in my childhood, and I know that many others still face them, and will continue to face them in childhoods yet to come. I am not a weak victim stuck in history, I am a soldier in the ranks of scholars fighting for what is just. The second thing I realized is that our constant chatter wasn’t chatter at all. It was therapy. Thriving community therapy. Comfortable group therapy. Loving therapy. Sometimes it was all of us as a group, sometimes it was groups of three to five of us, sometimes it was just one-on-one conversations. It took me so long to realize that our chatter was therapy because it was never forced by a leader, and healing is often less noticeable because it doesn’t howl like pain does. The topics ranged from sexual abuse to sick doggies, to herpes and condoms, to drugs, to exercise. Our independent knowledge was impressive, but our collective knowledge was unstoppable. Everyone provided each other with the best ways we knew for how to cope or achieve or overcome or thrive.

I also want to talk about withdrawals. Not withdrawals from drugs or alcohol, but withdrawals from people, from love, from support. Each of us knows in our hearts that, every time we attend one of these events, we will leave loving everyone so much more. Each of us carries the weight that we must settle for e-messengers and emails to talk to some of the only people with whom we have connected in our entire lives. As soon as I was off my final plane, I just started bawling. I had to decompress from all the emotions, but more than anything I just missed my family. The feeling that we will never see each other again is strong, it is encompassing. But I do hold out hope of a reunion sometime later in life.

Thank you to everyone who supports us, and School House Connection.

Megan with SHC young leader, Kayce and baby Lyla, at the Lincoln Memorial.

Megan with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

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