Venus* was 16 years old when she was dropped off in front of Covenant House Toronto, and unsure about her future.

But what the now 19-year-old remembers, very clearly, was the kindness that met her when she walked through our doors.

“The people at Covenant House, they’re so sweet - they helped me bring in all my things, it was really nice.” They also made her feel safe and at ease at a very difficult time in her life – which was a welcome reprieve that gave her hope.

Venus is reflecting on this now as she settles into her new apartment, her path from crisis to independent living paved through Covenant House, and the ways in which she healed and developed the skills and confidence to move out on her own.

At first, living in shelter was a big adjustment. She had come from a family situation that had become untenable and learned about Covenant House through a Children’s Aid social worker.

In the first few days, she visited the on-site health clinic and got settled into her dorm-style shelter room. After exploring the building, she found a favourite spot to regularly visit, the sanctuary.

“I liked how calm and peaceful it was,” she said, adding that she would connect with Ram Villardo, Covenant House Toronto’s spiritual care advisor. “We’d go for walks and talk, go for tea.”

Soon, she was joining his muay thai group – a martial art practice that helps youth build confidence and community.

“It was a really great way to process some emotions I was going through and get a sweat on,” she said.

After six months, Venus moved from shelter to the Rights of Passage program where she started to learn life skills like how to budget and cook for herself. This particular skill, however, was already an interest of hers, so Venus thrived in the Cooking for life program, which teaches youth how to work in a professional kitchen and teaches them employability skills. Through two successful CFL job placements, Venus was able to gain valuable work experience she could add to her resume.

Living in Rights of Passage also helped Venus plan for her future. “My dream is to own my own restaurant and be the head chef.”

Earlier this year, this dream became closer to reality when she enrolled in a college culinary arts program.

Though she is living in her own place now, Venus stays in touch with Covenant House through the Creating Pathways program, a pilot program for young women designed to provide long term success for independence by removing barriers to education, housing and wellbeing. It’s these stabilization supports that can help youth stay housed and thriving out in the community.

“Moving out on my own feels a lot more secure, especially having support through Covenant House.”