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A Foot Out the Door to a New Life

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A drawing by Lopez.

A drawing Lopez did for the BTV Street Chronicle, a free zine of writings by Drop-In Center clients.

Thanks to you, a Spectrum client is on his way to becoming a chef.

Spanish rice was the first thing Lopez learned to cook. “It is really hard to make rice when you are five years old, especially when the stove is like six feet higher than you are.”

 

When his mom locked Lopez and his brother and sister alone in their apartment, a neighbor slipped the rice ingredients through a hole in the wall along with directions on how to make it.

“She wanted to go out and get money and feed us but she would forget and not come back some nights and some nights she would come back with a black eye. Guys would take advantage of her and beat her up.”

Eventually the police came to take the kids away. At first, they were put in foster homes in Lopez’s native Colombia, but these were not good experiences.

“I used to be really bad, had a lot of anger problems and I was just not in a good stage and [my foster parents] would take advantage of it. On Halloween they would lock me up in the back of the house and take the other kids out trick-or-treating. I would be in the back in the dark, just locked up.”

A team of one, supported by you.

When Lopez was eight, the three kids were adopted together by an American family, and they settled first in Colorado and then in Vermont when Lopez was in tenth grade. A big wrestler in Colorado, he started his own team of one when he arrived here, practicing with a nearby high school.

“Wrestling was a very big thing for me because I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was adopted. I had a lot of anger problems, and I could just put all my anger out there without getting in trouble.”

After high school, Lopez was living at home and hit a rough patch. “I was not on my meds and I was getting irritated by everyone in my house. I just was not in a good place.” He got in a fight with his sister and pushed his mother. His dad intervened and Lopez threw him into a wall.

He had to leave and went to stay with a friend, who told him about Spectrum. With your help, we were able to give him a room in the Landing (our emergency shelter), and, eventually, in our transitional housing.

“Through counseling, I’ve learned how to calm down. I’ve figured out ways to cope. And Spectrum staff have been there through everything. They’ve helped me when I’ve had a lot of bad, emotional days, stressful days.”

A big heart and a big future, thanks to you.

Thanks to generous donors like you, Lopez also got help with finding jobs, and he completed a 13-week training at the Community Kitchen Academy run by the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. This January, Lopez left our program for culinary school.

His dream? To open the first Colombian restaurant in Burlington (called Cattleya after an orchid found in his native country). “I want it to have an open kitchen,” he says, “I want to work with the Community Kitchen Academy. Any graduates who need a job, they can come. And I’m going to come back and cook in the Drop-In sometimes.”

“If there weren’t a Spectrum, I would have to worry about an apartment, paying bills—I wouldn’t even know the skills to deal with that so it would be a lot harder for me, especially when I have a lot of disabilities. I would probably be on the streets. And cold. It’s a very great program for people who want to get their foot out the door and get their life started.”

“Lopez is the kind of guy who is always light-hearted and has a smile on his face,” says Mike Shirk, Lopez’s case manager. “He has a big heart, an incredible amount of talent, and the drive to go far in life.”

As for Lopez, he hopes to pass those traits on. “One of the things I’m going to do when I get older is adopt a kid from Colombia,” says Lopez. “And I want to give them a life that I never had. Because I would understand what they went through.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 Spectrum Sun, a print newsletter that is available online here.

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