My name is Kenyada Bond. When I was born, my mom was 13 years old. Five years later, she was pregnant with my little brother. My mom had no means to support us, so she resorted to doing things with men to keep food on our table. At an early age, I realized people used each other to get their needs met – a very tough lesson for someone so young, but one that always stuck with me.
By the time I was twelve years old, my mom had decided to settle down and marry my brother’s dad, although he was extremely violent. She had to choose between our safety or food and shelter, and decided it was better for us to be beaten than to be homeless. Over the next few years, four more children were born into our family. Two were my mom’s, and two were from her husband’s girlfriend. This insanity was my “normal.”
By this time, I decided my best option was to run away. I quickly lost my virginity. I learned that if I went home with men from the casino, they would give me positive attention and money. My early lesson, that we need to use others to get our needs met, became true for me. For the first time in my life, I thought I was receiving positive attention from men.
As my life accelerated out of control, so did my anger. I started getting arrested and jailed for domestic violence. Then I met a man who would change my life forever. He was the first good young man I had ever met. He made me feel like I was somebody. By age 20, I was pregnant with my daughter.
The pregnancy triggered extreme anxiety in me. With no insight into addiction, I began smoking weed again and spiraled further downward. In 2013, I was arrested for armed robbery. I served ten months of a three-year sentence, and then something unexpected happened.
While in a monitor program, I was offered an early release to a free drug rehab for homeless and incarcerated young women between the ages of 18 and 24. Located in Sun Valley, California, Freehab Life Transformation Center is run by an organization called The Teen Project. I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect; but I definitely wanted to get out of jail, so I went.
When I entered the Freehab doors, the place was buzzing with excitement. The rooms were decorated beautifully; and in the kitchen, a chef was surrounded by young residents were learning how to cook. The halls were filled with laughter and happiness, and the girls clung together like reunited long-lost sisters.
Although I would have preferred to hang back, I was immediately initiated into a small crew of women who were working with a choreographer on an upcoming flash mob in Venice Beach, California. Because my ankle monitor had me confined to the center, I didn’t plan to go.
The women on staff were like mothers to us all. They were full of wisdom, love and advice. Although it was difficult to express everything I had been through, the other girls had no trouble sharing their stories. Because we were all about the same age, we started growing up together.
I learned structure, stability and respect for myself and others. Most importantly, I began to have hope again.
In September, the sheriff’s department agreed to let me dance in the flash mob; and we hit the streets of Venice with an outreach to help other young women. Much to my surprise, the newspaper featured me leading the dance that day. I will always remember the sun shining, the ocean roaring and knowing that everything was going to be okay.
I spent six months at Freehab. Upon graduation, the women on staff obtained safe housing for my daughter and me, so we could be reunited.
While I was searching for a job, I continued to go to Freehab to see my new family. One day while I was sitting in the lobby filling out paperwork for a nearby entry-level position, The Teen Project’s founder walked in the door and saw me. She asked me what I was up to. I said, “Oh, just filling out a job application.”
She said, “Oh, my goodness. It would be awesome if you joined our team!” Although I was confused at first, I knew God had just delivered a clear message to me.
Today I am 25 years old and living a life I never would have imagined. Less than a year ago, I wore an ankle monitor and was destined for destruction. I am blessed to say that today I am now one of the beautiful women on the Freehab counseling staff of mommies. Together we work to rescue homeless girls from the streets and jails, and love them until they can love themselves.
Although I love my new life, the best part for me is the mom I am to my daughter. Because of the women who educated me at Freehab, I am the kind of mom a daughter can be proud to have. Because of Freehab, not only was my life saved, but also my daughter’s life was saved. We are finally free.
The Teen Project was founded by Lauri Burns, who left foster care on her 18th birthday and, in that moment, became homeless. Lacking education and job experience, her attempts to stabilize her life proved futile. By the age of 20, she was drug-addicted and working the streets as a prostitute. Fortunately, Lauri’s life was saved by a stranger.
She was offered a scholarship bed at a women’s treatment center and a six-month grant to attend a technical school. Lauri went on to a thriving career in technology, published her life story and raised 32 foster children. She founded The Teen Project to provide the same opportunities she was given: treatment, training and a new chance at life.
Freehab is just that. It combines free treatment and training to homeless and incarcerated young girls, many of whom have been victims of sex traffickers. The combined 24,000 feet of buildings create a life transformation center for LA’s most vulnerable young women. The place was decorated by people who care about kids: corporations, families and even the band, Maroon 5. Designer Cynthia Vincent and Access Hollywood also pitched in.
Although the primary educational component of the project is technology, the program supports many different career paths including culinary, machining, web design and development, Microsoft IT Academy (ITA), medical billing, office administration, drug and alcohol counseling and others. Since opening the doors in April 2014, the center has helped over 180 young women.
If you ever have the opportunity to tour Freehab, it is well worth the trip. Whether you are talking with the receptionist, a cook or a counselor, you never quite know if she is a staff member or a resident-in-training. Staff members say they wouldn’t have it any other way. This may be the first time these young women realize how valued and loved they truly are.
Danny Trejo, a well-known actor and one of our advisory board members, says it best, “Everything good that happened in my life was a direct result of helping someone else.”