Many of Norwescap’s programs work towards addressing and eliminating Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). We know that our connection to families and their children gives us leverage in preventing ACEs, and that our work helps reduce the long-term negative impacts that can occur from stressors experienced during childhood. We are proud to have recently been chosen by the State of NJ as 1 of 3 Regional ACEs Collaboratives to continue our work on this front.
People who connect with Norwescap for support services sometimes come from traumatic backgrounds. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and/or growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems, among other events and circumstances that can cause significant stress to a child. Such is the story of Noelle, who originally reached out to Norwescap just for food, but started a new trajectory towards thriving.
Noelle is an extraordinarily strong woman, a mother of four, a student, a hard worker, a social justice warrior, and a guide and peer supporter to many people who are facing struggles. She is fiercely dedicated to achieving her personal goals and to creating the best possible lives for her children…but it hasn’t always been easy, as her path from adolescence to where she is now has been filled with challenges and traumas.
Her early childhood was a happy one. Though her biological parents were absent, Noelle was raised by two strong women – her paternal grandmother, and her great-grandmother whom Noelle describes as “the quietest storm ever.” Both women were sweet and mild, with soft tones to their voices, and they provided a warm and supportive home for Noelle and several of her cousins and half-siblings. They were quintessentially ‘grandmotherly’ but with a ferocity to love, protect, and ensure the children were prepared for the scarier parts of life – scary things like the events that created the absence of Noelle’s biological parents.
Noelle had never thought much to question where her mom and dad were, though. From her perspective as a child, she was happy growing up in a large, well-appointed Victorian home, with a wraparound porch “in the good section” of Morristown.
Unfortunately, as Noelle entered junior high, things weren’t quite so rosy, and she began to experience her first brushes with racism. She had always been aware that she stood out in her neighborhood, “the good side of town” – but as she got older, her middle-toned skin color seemed to become a problem amongst her peers. She was rejected by friends who were black and was not fully embraced by friends who were white. This racial divide in her community didn’t allow for her to just be who she naturally was – an upbeat, fun and kind-hearted young girl who could easily get along with everyone.
As she struggled to find her identity and sense of belonging, Noelle’s great-grandmother passed away, leaving her with a feeling of deep sadness and irreplaceable loss. Then, unexpectedly, Noelle’s biological mother and father – long separated from each other and absent from her childhood – both entered her life. Noelle was still too young to understand the complexity of mental illness, addiction, or the other issues that had kept her parents away for so many years. She accepted her parents’ presence and held no judgement toward them, willingly opening herself to building relationships with them.
But as she got to know them, Noelle began to learn things that would forever change her life, creating scars she has spent many years since trying to heal. Her biological mother was only 15 when she had her, mentally and emotionally unprepared to care for a child, and was seemingly still incapable of relating to her daughter in any meaningful way. ‘Mom’ lived in Nebraska with her family of origin, and Noelle travelled back and forth a few times in efforts to create a relationship finding nothing but disappointment and heartache.
Noelle’s father was now living with his wife and their children; Noelle viewed his ‘new’ family with admiration, and even some envy of the half-siblings her father and stepmother were raising. She felt a bit like she was ‘chasing’ her father’s love and affection, and competing with his new children. She ‘chased’ him to South Carolina, and then to Florida, trying to connect with him and fill the void of his absence earlier in her life. Then, when Noelle was just 13 years old, something happened that stopped her from ‘chasing’ her father for good. He committed a murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Noelle felt lost and alone. Her great-grandmother was gone, her mother was still absent, and her father was now a convicted felon. Through no fault of her own, a sweet fun-loving young girl became a confused teen without the security and stability of a place to belong. As she entered her young adult years, she sought to fill the emptiness of all this loss by building her own family; but sadly, her partner and the father of her children turned out to be an abuser, further chipping away at her sense of safety and self.
Noelle has come far since these traumatic experiences. She is currently finishing up an associate degree at college and considering her next move to build a full-time career in the medical field. She and her kids are renting a private home in Sussex County, and she finds joy in knowing her children have a beautiful, safe backyard to run and play in. She is looking forward to building a career and starting to vigorously save for a down payment to fulfill the ‘home ownership’ dream she has always had.
The scars of her experiences may never heal completely, but Noelle has her eyes firmly set on the future. She is determined to reach her goals, and determined to provide her children with nothing but love and security as they continue to grow.
- To learn more about how you can give to Norwescap and help alleviate ACEs in our neighborhoods, visit our ‘Get Invloved’ for more information: Get Involved – Norwescap
- To learn more about the Norwescap role as a NJ Regional ACEs Collaborator, read this article: Norwescap Named Central Jersey Hub of The Regional ACEs Collaborative