When Aaron describes life growing up as a young boy and teenager, he illustrates a poignant picture of frequently searching for sustenance in dumpsters and navigating living in vehicles and on the street with his mother in the Venice community. “We were always struggling,” he shares, “I had no real foundation for feeling like I belonged. I had never been in school, I had never had friends, so I always felt very isolated and not a part of society.”

After his mother’s vehicle – their only form of shelter at the time – was impounded when he was 13 years old, they officially found themselves with no roof over their heads. In this snapshot of his life, a formal education and the concept of consistent employment were entirely absent for Aaron. But at 18 years old, he shifted the lens on his perspective and focused on one important realization, “Nobody was going to save me, I had to get myself out of the situation.”

Shortly after coming of age and securing a part-time vendor position at a farmer’s market, Aaron recalls a trip to a local Starbucks where he and his unhoused neighbors would often go to be in community while charging their devices and enjoying coffee. There, he met a man who told him about Chrysalis. With only informal and limited work history and a jaded view of supportive service organizations, Aaron wasn’t sure what to expect. But he was surprised after visiting Chrysalis’ Santa Monica center, “At first, my expectations were low. But everybody was friendly and professional. I felt respected… It felt like a real job, like I was really being interviewed, and I didn’t feel spoken down to or coddled. I felt like I was being challenged in a very professional environment.”

While going through our program, Aaron absorbed the importance of professionalism and punctuality, prepared to engage in a formal interview, and worked closely with his Employment Specialist to identify his goals (unofficially branded as his four pillars for quality of life):

  1. Get his own place
  2. Secure a decent computer
  3. Meet someone special
  4. Maintain employment

Shortly after securing a dishwashing job at a restaurant through a friend, the pandemic resulted in Aaron being let go. Despite this shift, he continued to thrive – through a Chrysalis referral to a partner organization he obtained his high school diploma, he was promoted to run the booth at the farmer’s market, he secured housing in Long Beach where he lives with his supportive girlfriend, he enrolled in college to obtain an IT certification (not long after building two desktop PC computers by hand), and discovered he had a passion for portrait photography!

Recently, Aaron found himself walking down an alley in his new neighborhood in Long Beach. In a quiet, yet celebratory voice, he reflects that he did not recognize that alley or those dumpsters. Instead, he saw the potential for new experiences and memories to be captured within a new community.

“It’s always possible to save yourself from a bad situation, and the biggest lesson is to always be responsible for yourself. I went through a lot of things that weren’t my fault, but ultimately, once I started taking responsibility for my health, my education, and my future, I would be able to have positive progress.”