There’s No Stronger Testimony Than a Changed Life
I have a place where I belong and it’s here I have a family I can count on. I feel loved and accepted and I didn’t realize until today that, inside myself, I deserve to live.
If we can help even one girl in this community say and believe words such as these, then we consider our work successful. And the beauty of it is we’ve helped more than 100 young women speak similar words. Praise God!
My mom and I came from Cuautitlan, Izcalli, a town in Mexico City. My earliest memories were of constantly moving to hide from my abusive father. Eventually we fled to the United States. I remember very little, just the overwhelming sense of fear.
Years later, we found a stable home in North Carolina. I began elementary school and a new chapter of my life. Even at five-years old, I realized that I wanted friends. It was hard because I did not know English. Initially I pushed others away. However, these children were welcoming; they befriended me. I learned English pretty quickly and began translating. I felt safe, felt loved, and began to flourish in this community without having to leave my comfort zone.
Middle school, the next chapter of my story, was very hard for me. In elementary school I felt joy from helping my teachers communicate with other Hispanic students. However, in middle school I was not needed. Everyone was part of a clique. I was isolated and scared, like before I found my home in North Carolina. To make things worse, I began to struggle in school. I panicked and stopped paying attention to my feelings and withdrew from my classmates. The fear was more than I could handle---I froze. By some miracle, my mom found CORRAL, a program that pairs girls who have had a tough life with rescued horses. It would eventually help me gain the skills I needed to create relationships, kicking off the next chapter in my life.
My first day at CORRAL, I was paired with a 16-hand, retired race horse named Chester. Chester had difficulty trusting others, was claustrophobic, and would zone out when faced with uncomfortable tasks. We were a perfect match. Full of anxiety, I managed to clamber up onto this massive horse, whose withers were more than a foot above my head. We were halfway through an exercise, when suddenly Chester felt my anxiety. The panic we were both feeling reached its peak. He took off in one direction, and I fell off in the other.
As I got up covered in mud, scratches, and a little bloody, I had a profound realization that my experience with Chester had parallels to my life. In elementary school I was in my comfort zone, but middle school was a hostile environment, which forced me out of my comfort zone. To make it in middle school I would need to initiate relationships with others, but I did not know how. I hit the ground and could not get back up. However, this time it was different because I had a supportive environment where I could learn how to make relationships. I brushed myself off and hopped back on Chester.
After the experience I had with Chester, I continued to grow. Working with him helped me acknowledge that I had to initiate a connection with the other girls at CORRAL. They were not going to begin a relationship with me. They were also afraid. I decided to take control and start a conversation with another girl who shared my same commitment to the program, creating a lasting relationship. From our friendship I learned how to deal with conflict appropriately, how to speak without being offensive, and how to listen. I learned how to guide her through the steps to accomplish a task without commands. Eventually, I was able to mentor all the new girls as they joined CORRAL, becoming the exemplar success story of the program.
My story of fear and loneliness that started in Mexico is now over. I am ready to move out into the world with the confidence and perseverance I showed when I hopped back on Chester. I will now be able to connect with others and be a part of their community with more ease, as well as create relationships that will last a lifetime.
Kaylah was assigned to come to the program to help her deal with the loss of her mother. She had gone to counseling but that wasn't working. She was willing to give CORRAL a chance and made it through all four of her high school years in the program.
"Not only did this program but her horse Chester helped her deal with what she was feeling. CORRAL has opened up a door to her that she didn't know was available and she learned gifts that she had tucked away that she didn't realize existed," her grandmother said.
She has already begun classes at Wake Tech where she plans to complete general education requirements. She plans to transfer to UNCG or UNCW and study to become a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Kaylah became a role model for the other girls. On her last day, the girls had a small party with cake and sparkling cider. They sat in a circle and took turns sharing what they would miss about her.
"She never gives up," said one of the girls.
"She's a good horseman and I want to be like her," said another girl.
From Kaylah: “I learned there's times here where it's hard and you feel like you're never going to get through it but as time goes on you learn to love CORRAL and it's a blessing to have people like them out here to help girls who are struggling and who have been in hard places. I think back to when I first started here and thought I should take a chance on it. I'm really glad I did.”
We're all sad to see her go, but we are so proud. This sets us on a path to make even more of a difference in the lives of our girls.
From Joy: "It would be my dream for the girls to come back here and mentor other girls. I can tell them all day to work hard, to show up, but if they hear it from Kaylah, it really means something."
Kaylah said she will definitely be back. She's not done with CORRAL yet.
When she joined, she was dealing with the loss of her mom, adjusting to life with a new family, and trying to manage school.
"In fifth grade my brother and I moved in with a new family who offered to take care of us while our mom worked through health issues. One day we came home after school and our whole family was sitting in the living room. They told me and my brother that our mom had taken her own life."
With maturity and strength that's rare for her age, she can now reflect on that time and see the blessings that came out of it.
"Losing her was a hard experience, but there are things that opened up that I am thankful for. I've gotten to have an amazing family- a mom, and a dad, and an extra little brother, and it's been one blessing after another."
She said CORRAL is one of those blessings.
"CORRAL became my second home. They helped me control my emotions. They're pushing us to make good choices and to graduate. When you walk in the door you see all these bright smiles and everyone welcomes you and you know they are here to help you with anything you need. It's work but it's so much fun."
Nora comes to CORRAL twice a week and has become a leader to new girls in the program. She said the way the horses can mimic you, and be like your twin, can help you realize what you're feeling, and spending time with the other girls can do the same.
"My favorite part is making best friends that I know I'll have for the rest of my life, working with the horses, and getting to know the people here. We've all been there through thick and thin together."
Nora has two years left in the program and already knows she wants to come back as a volunteer after she graduates. She hopes to study law and justice in college.
"I really want to share my story and my testimony and help people out that need help. It's empowering for me to say where I've been and where I am now and I want to show people that there is a better way and always another option. I want to brighten someone's day and let them have a shoulder to cry on and be able to help them like Ms. Joy helps us. God always has a plan and His plan was to bring us together and it's been amazing having people behind me every step of the way."