I am coaching Kate. She is 19 and she wants help with her resume.

I do not have her resume in front of me, but it’s okay. I remember it. And anyway, her resume is not her problem. Which is true with most people who ask for help with their resume.

Also, I’m late for the call. Remembering coaching calls at what seem like random times throughout the day is nearly impossible for me.

I tell Kate, “Look. This is not a resume.  It’s like a list of odd jobs your mom asked you to do around the neighborhood. You don’t have a resume.”

She says, “So then what should I do to get a better job?”

I like this about her. She is composed. Not upset that her resume sucks. She just wants to solve the problem.

I pause. I already know that Kate is working for her aunt, so I say, “What about the job you have now? How about doing that to save some money and move to a bigger city?”

“I work for her but she doesn’t pay me.”

“You get room and board? Maybe you could increase the hours and get paid some cash so you could eventually leave.”

“I already work fifteen hours a day in the house.”

“What? That’s not a job. That’s slave labor. Put your aunt on the phone. Your aunt just needs to get you a job. That’s what people do for 19 year olds who need jobs.”

I have done some work with Kate’s aunt before, so it’s fine telling her to get Kate a job. The aunt says okay. Fine. The aunt says thank you.

We are done. In record time. Good. Because I didn’t charge the aunt for the call and I have to stop telling people who are not really friends of mine that I will coach their relatives for free. Everyone is a relative of someone.

Then another call. A week later. The aunt does not have a lead. I make a note to myself to not work with her again because she told me she was very well connected. I think she is maybe delusional.

The aunt says she is going to sell Kate her car so she can buy a new car.

Kate has no money. She cannot make payments. And she cannot get a job unless the aunt will give her the car. And the aunt makes a lot of money, so this makes no sense. I eat while I am on the phone and I tell myself that if I were my career coach I’d say I need a job that doesn’t make me so anxious. I don’t want to eat on calls. I want to be relaxed with no food issues.

So what am I doing with these calls? This job is ruining my life because soon, I won’t fit into my clothes.

I say I have to go. I tell Kate she needs to be okay relying on her aunt to get her a job. “That’s what all teenagers do—they use their parents’ network to get a job. It’s fine.”

I make two grilled cheeses to transition to alone time.

Then it’s the next week. It’s Kate on the phone.

I say, “How’s the job hunt?”

She says, “Not that good.”

“It takes time,” I say. “Give it a few more weeks. Did your aunt get you any interviews? You only need one. You’ll get the job if you get the interview. I can tell. You’re good on the phone.”

“I can’t really wait a week. I need something now.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have anywhere to live.”

“What about your aunt? “

“She threw me out.”

“What do you mean?”

“She packed all my stuff into garbage bags and took a picture of them sitting at the end of her driveway.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I have her car to pick up her husband at the airport. She told me to pick him up at the airport then give him the car.”

“Then what?”

“Then I am supposed to just leave. She kicked me out.”

“What about your parents?”

“It’s just my mom. And I can’t live with her.”

I think back to the aunt trying to sell Kate her car.  I decide garbage bags are something my messed-up mom would do. And I think about all the grilled cheeses I’m going to burn trying to figure out how to help Kate.

“I’ll just buy you a plane ticket. Just come to my house.”

Silence.

“Okay?”

“Yes. Okay.”

“Have you ever been on a plane?”

“No.”

“Take a cab to the airport and there will be a ticket waiting for you.”

Silence.

“Have you ever been in a taxi?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have money?”

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“$120.”

“Okay. Go to the airport.”

At dinner I announce that Kate will be here at 11pm. “She is 19 and she’ll be at the house a few weeks,” I tell my husband. “I am getting her a job,” I tell the kids.

The kids ask me why I didn’t give them more notice.

It’s a good point. I say nothing.

My husband says, “You said that about Melissa and she stayed for a year.”

It’s another good point. Again I say nothing.

Kate arrives. She has a very small suitcase and nothing else. She looks tired.  I show her our guest room. Which until one minute ago we called Melissa’s room.

All my stuff is in the drawers and cabinets, but who cares because she is leaving soon and anyway she has basically nothing with her.

She sits down on a chair. I say, “Where are your parents? Why do you have nowhere to go? Why were you living with your aunt?”

Kate’s earliest memory is when she’s in fifth grade. She is living with her mom and sisters at her grandma’s. The grandma won’t let Kate’s sisters eat in the house, so Kate makes sandwiches and sneaks them to her siblings.

Her step-dad is an alcoholic who beats up her mom. Her two older sisters left at 15 and both went into prostitution. Kate tried to stay but her dad hurt her when she tried to protect her mom. And her mom yelled at her when she called the police.

I could only ask disorganized questions. When I could think. I said, “Was there a gun in the house?”

Kate said, “Yes. But it wasn’t a problem because when my step-dad was drunk my mom hid the gun under my bed.”

Kate lived at her sister’s house for a bit. Her sister’s boyfriend beat her sister until she passed out. Kate called 911 and the boyfriend grabbed her phone and threw it against the wall.

Kate went to her other sister’s house. Kate didn’t know her sister was dealing drugs until she called Kate from jail. The sister didn’t want to tell the police that she had two kids, so she asked Kate to take care of the kids while she was in prison.

Kate was 17.

She didn’t graduate from high school because she didn’t go enough days.

She lived at lots of friends’ homes for a week at a time. “But,” she said, “they weren’t friends. I always knew I didn’t want to hang around them. But no one I wanted to be around would be friends with me.”

An hour has passed telling me all this. She is in the same chair the whole time. She is crying.

She says, “I never cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried. I never cry. I’m sorry.”

I tuck Kate in as best I can. I give her some of my clothes to wear.

I go upstairs and wake my husband up. “She’s a mess,” I tell him. “Worse than my childhood.”

He is asleep. Then he pops up from his pillow and asks what could be worse than my own childhood. He sees we are in a different league with Kate. Then he says, “She’s lucky to have found you. You can help her.”

I take a Xanax to fall asleep.

The next morning Kate asks if I have something she can use to write down things so she won’t forget them.

I give her a notebook.

At breakfast I tell the boys. “Kate will be living at our house for a long time. She does not have a place to go.”

“She’s homeless?”

I look at Kate. She looks down at her forkful of eggs.

“Well. She has a home now. We are her home.”

We are driving. The boys ask questions. All day long.

Kate tells them she hates the word homeless because she never was homeless. “I always found a place to sleep,” she says. “But I always worry so much about being homeless so I hate hearing the word.”

We go to buy food Kate likes. And shampoo. My younger son takes her to H&M, his favorite store. He picks out a coat for her. She has never had a winter coat, but her instincts are good. The coat he wanted for her is made for a punk rocker look, someone who is probably about to be homeless. Kate picks conservative blue, button-down.

She is a magnet to my boys. They go where she goes. They don’t want to miss anything.

I cook dinner while my husband finds boots for her to wear so she can help find a lost calf. Kate has a sixth sense for where to look and she finds him in record time.

We all sit down to dinner and my son says, “Kate, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

And Kate says, “I want to be my own person.”

I look over at her and I want to hug her but I’m scared I will scare her. Has anyone ever hugged her? I don’t want her to run.

There are many things about career coaching that I don’t like. I miss calls, my kids overhear too much, and most people don’t have career problems, they just wish they did because career problems are so much easier than life problems. But I actually love career coaching. I love finding out the problem, and I love helping people solve their problems, and I am so happy to be able to help Kate.

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  1. Rosie
    Rosie says:

    Best of luck to you, Kate. Sending positive vibes and good wishes your way. Things will get better.

    And thanks, Penelope. Please keep us updated.

  2. Paul
    Paul says:

    Love the fact that in all that you do, your heart is showing up more than your head as you get older. Wonderful story. Devils and Angels are battling it out in my head trying to guess the ending.

  3. Anna
    Anna says:

    I’m a long-time reader who has always enjoyed the blog but never felt the need to comment. This one made me cry. Good for you and best of luck to Kate.

  4. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    Here’s the thing about you and I that I think is similar. If we could make money saving the world we would, but we haven’t figured out a way to do that, so we do this kind of thing instead.
    ANYTHING, so we aren’t bored.
    That’s the worst.
    And you get to make a profound difference like that in someone’s life.
    Kate is one of my favourite names by the way! So glad she’s with you Penelope!!
    x
    Maria

  5. Susan
    Susan says:

    I am also a long time reader, have not commented before, and agree with each of the previous posts. Thanks to you for embracing Kate. May all flourish.

  6. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    You are all amazing. Sometimes I forget how blessed I have been just having a consistant bed to sleep on. Penelope, I really admire you for being the change you want to see in the world. Action>thought, always.

  7. MBL
    MBL says:

    Kate, I am in awe of you. What you have survived in order to get to a place in which you can thrive is rather miraculous. It is heartening to hear that you have good instincts. That is probably how you actually have managed to survive. I hope that you are able to hone them and listen to them. I wish you all the very best! Take care of yourself. You have landed in a good place.

  8. help4newmoms
    help4newmoms says:

    Holy cannoli…you think you are going to read one of your posts and come away with a few new sources of info and a few new insights and go on your merry way. I am in tears over here. Good luck, Kate and God bless, you, Penelope and your family. Sheesh!

  9. MBL
    MBL says:

    Penelope, Matthew, Yefet, and Zehavi,

    I am also in awe of you and and your wonderful hearts. It makes me so happy that Kate now has a great chance in this world.

    And thank you so much for sharing, or allowing your lives to be shared, with all of us. I hope you know how far reaching your gift is. And how valuable.

  10. Nicole Boisseau
    Nicole Boisseau says:

    This one made me cry. I was Kate and was blessed to have an angel like you in my life. Now that I’m an adult I’ve become the angel who once helped me. She will always remember the kindness and compassion you’ve shown her. This is your best blog yet.

  11. Jan
    Jan says:

    Kate will flourish, just like your garden. This was a post that touched me, having had 5 “Kate’s” come into my life at different times in my 73 years. Each is a treasure in their own way. Blessings to Kate, you and your family.

  12. Lindsay G.
    Lindsay G. says:

    Reading this amazing story brought so much warmth to my heart and a smile to my day. It was an excellent reminder to be grateful for what you have and to focus on the positives in your life, rather then only seeing the negatives. Penelope – thank you for your post, but also thank you to you and your family for being such amazing people! Kate – I wish you all the best. From this post, you must have quite a resilient spirit and with that, plus Penelope’s guidance, you will do wonderful things in this world!

  13. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I think what you and your family is doing is great. My husband and I frequently have friends stay with us a month here and there until they get back on their feet so I know what you are going thru. Keep us posted and I wish Kate the best of luck

  14. Brigid N
    Brigid N says:

    Amazing story. Kate sounds like an incredibly resilient and brave young woman. But I’m glad she has you in her corner. Like a lot of previous commenters, I’ve read you for years but never posted a comment before.

  15. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Thanks, everyone. You’ve all been so nice. Kate refreshes the page over and over again to read more comments. She is pleasantly surprised.

    I am not surprised. I have loved the comments on this blog forever. But now, on this post, I see we can all do so much together.

    Penelope

  16. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Kate, it sounds like you’ve had to survive a lot of stressful situations. You may need to switch gear for a while, recuperate helping out on the farm and be kind to yourself and then hopefully you will realise you probably possess rare and coveted skills not because of your experiences but because of how you have handled them. This will make you indispensable in the workplace when you find the right role. I’m sure Penelope has given you the quistic personality test to help you find your way (its certainly helped me)!

    Living is different to surviving which is now hopefully a transition you will be able to make. Good luck with everything x x x x

  17. Jen Gresham
    Jen Gresham says:

    Hugs to you and Kate. Big-hearted people occasionally get beat up by the world, but when they find each other, magic can happen. I feel certain Kate’s life is about to take a turn for the better. Much better.

    I would also like to say that you don’t have to shoulder this responsibility alone. I have no doubt that if you set up a way for people to donate money or items of need for Kate, your readers would respond. Let’s all help Kate. You know how to reach me. I’m happy to pitch in however I can.

  18. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    excellent decision! You’re lucky to have found her and vice versa – in that order. Bless you and your family (and the new member!)

  19. Moses
    Moses says:

    Wow. I live in a developing country. I always thought I had difficult time growing up until I read this. Being happy is about making others happy.

  20. Amy
    Amy says:

    Kate – Welcome to our little corner of the blogging world. This is a great chance for you. All the bad stuff has brought you to this point, but now you are at a fork in the road and what could be a new beginning. Please take advantage of it – learn as much as you can, and determine in your heart to live life your own way, not repeat the stuff you have seen before. Not everyone gets a chance like this. There are many many MANY of us out here cheering you on!

  21. David
    David says:

    I’ve read your blog for a while. This is my favorite of all. You always find a way to settle on what really matters. Kate now has a home and family.

  22. Sheri
    Sheri says:

    It is our Canadian Thanksgiving today and what an amazing story with lots to be thankful for.

    Penelope, as many people have said above, you are an angel.

    Kate, you are such a strong young woman. I recently came across a quote that says, “I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go” ~ Jeffery McDaniel. May this fall and winter allow you to let go of the past and move forward to greatness. Wishing you all the best!

  23. Jennifer Hanes
    Jennifer Hanes says:

    Kate,
    It took amazing courage for you to accept Penelope’s offer and leave the life you knew. Yes, there will be challenges ahead, but I am confident you have the insight and intelligence to navigate them with grace. You are an inspiration to us and we look forward to seeing the brilliant ways you shine your own light!

  24. Alex Smallwood
    Alex Smallwood says:

    Wow! Penelope and I had a coaching call last week. My first coaching call EVER! She nailed my situation and her honesty is warm and refreshing and she rocketed to being my new fave.
    After this heart wrenching blog, her status in my world just went to the moon. Great blog. Great heart. GO PENELOPE!!! My parents are mentally ill, and we were homeless a few times growing up so I live with the homeless fear also. Luckily, I have people who cared even when I shut it out. Congratulations Kate! You just are scooped up and put on a whole new track.

  25. Arlene Ellis
    Arlene Ellis says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I have been reading your blog for years and I rarely ever read blogs. The only other blog I look forward to receiving updates from is Seth Godin’s blog. The main reason I love your blog (besides your writing style, which is the second reason) is your candidness. Your transparency is inspiring because it reminds me that I don’t have to be perfect to succeed. What you did for Kate is amazing. Thank you. I don’t know Kate, but I thank you as a woman. Knowing that someone cares that much will not only change her life for the better, but change the people around her for the better too. I do believe there is a ripple effect with kindness. This incident has convinced me that I want to pay for your career coaching services. Wow. I’m so happy you showed Kate love when she needed it the most!

  26. Gwynne Montgomery
    Gwynne Montgomery says:

    This is why I love your blog. Because I get this.

    I did this.

    With a client, who had become a friend, and who broke down during a reading. Lived with her aunt who told her to start looking up homeless shelters.

    Brought her from Tennessee to Michigan and gave her my spare room.

    Because I see the potential. And that’s how I can help her soar, by giving her a safe place.

  27. Maria
    Maria says:

    First, Penelope, your heart is in the right place and I commend you. With this said, a word of caution.

    There are two types of people. Those who are addicted to the victim mentality, being rescued and the attention they get.

    The other..

    Pathological liars. For a lie to be credible, there must be a grain of truth.

    It’s human nature.

    Ultimately, your first responsibility is to your boys.

    I am not saying Kate lied. She may be addicted to people rescuing her as a form of love being shown. I have dealt with victims of domestic violence, they often fall into a pattern of self sabotage and become depressed without conflict and the attention of being rescued.

    It’s important to remove the “victim” mentality in order to give Kate a sense of ownership and her dignity by giving her an opportunity to work/barter her skills for those things she needs and an opportunity to grew and increase her income.

    Craigslist has plenty of barter opportunities.

    You, Penelope have to resolve a conflict in your family (strangers living in your house) which seems to be an issue with your husband (it’s hard to throw chairs, threaten to kill you, knock you over to where you are bruised, and throw you out of the house when there’s witnesses).

    How traumatizing to Kate if she witnesses this? If she is caught up in the dysfunction of your life? What are you really teaching her?

    What looks like laziness may actually be depression and feelings of anxiety and helpless/hopelessness. Now that you have committed to helping her, remember this. She will have to resolve her emotional conflicts and fears.

    Here is a business proposal that your husband may appreciate and can resolve or at least remove one of your conflicts.

    Use the land. Getting the boys to build a grainery or shed by the house to have guests stay (sometimes even paying guests), create a campground on the property (with solar panels and barrels of rain water), or have several insulated sheds converted into guest and B&B paying guests. It can generate income. Then when you have a guest like Kate staying with you, they can maintain their dignity by earning their keep and gaining a salary through cleaning, cooking, learning hospitality, making widgets to sell on Shopify etc…

    Here are examples:
    http://www.pinterest.com/mimihutchinson/sheds-or-converted-garden-rooms/

    Your sons would learn those skills as well as building, framing, insulation, electrical, solar energy, furniture building, etc..

    I am an avid RV’er. I am still broken down at the mall. I am still living in the rv. I am working on calling on the 6th mechanic. But I am not homeless. I have a roof over my head and a kitchen and bathroom. I am negotiating with an apartment owner in warm Vancouver to manage his properties in exchange for a salary and a 2 bedroom apartment (utilities and wifi included). It’s part time work which means I can also work on my writing and my own projects. It’s an option. I have also applied in 3 other towns to manage properties, some live-in, some not in which case I will be in the rv.

    The skills Kate learns (cooking, cleaning, managing properties, nanny, driver, receptionist, secretarial, maintenance) can help her gain employment, but she will always need a backup plan. Recessions happen every few years. Employers sometimes skimp on paying their salaries as the aunt did, scams happen…

    Speaking of the delusional aunt, have you had a chat with her since to see what her reasons were?

    In closing, Melatonin is found in the natural foods stores to help you sleep. Might work better than Xanax (another issue when Kate has seen so much drug addiction).

    *Hugs*

    Maria

    • Colleen
      Colleen says:

      I love this comment. Compassionate, yet practical, building on the best parts of this act of love so it has more chance of being sustainable. I wondered too about the aunt’s side of the story–because Kate did have enough money to pay for the coaching calls, which aren’t that cheap, and there had to be some kind of trigger for kicking her out–whether it be reasonable or not. Understanding all sides of it can only help–everyone, but especially Kate.

        • Maureen
          Maureen says:

          I’m in this camp. My experience with these stories is, “no good deed goes unpunished.”
          I see drama in the offing. I too appreciate the common sense suggestions in the post above.

          • Maria
            Maria says:

            Well, Maureen,

            I too use that saying, but what’s done is done. Penelope and Kate both made the commitment to trust and help each other (yes, Kate is getting plenty of help, but I get a feeling she will have plenty of opportunity to contribute as well).

            My take on the saying “no good deed goes unpunished” is to accept the fact that in spite of good intentions, be prepared for a different outcome than one would expect. Do the good deed for it’s own sake, not for any desired outcome (i.e. saving someone’s life with CPR only to have them sue you for breaking a rib).

            Keep expectations low, be patient, have a plan B in place. Always do things with the right intention and usually it works out. Stay positive.

  28. Jacque
    Jacque says:

    An amazing story of two brave women and human compassion. Reminds me of a movie quote. “Human dignity + compassion = peace.” What you are doing here is so personal, yet has the capacity to change things on a universal level for many. Imagine the potential. So inspiring!

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      she needs help but doesn’t sound helpless

      This.

      And I love the photo. Kate looks genuinely happy and comfortable and open for what comes next. And has her notebook at the ready.

      If she is willing, I look forward to upcoming Kate Chronicles.

  29. Tom
    Tom says:

    I agree with your husband, Penelope. Kate is lucky to have found you. You are so kind. Best wishes to Kate finding her way and becoming her own person.

    I pray she makes great strides soon towards becoming happy, healthy, and whole very, very soon.

  30. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I second Ken’s suggestion…I’m sure a lot of us would love to help out in getting Kate back on her feet (though it sounds like she’s already got plenty of help).

    I read off and on and I’ve loved your more tactical posts but like others, this made me cry.

    Kate: you’re amazing to get through all of that in one piece. It sounds like you’re through the worst.

    Penelope: you rock too, obviously.

  31. Dana
    Dana says:

    This was an amazing post.It’s definitely one of your best.
    I wish I could afford to get career coaching from you because like you said the problem isn’t the career, it’s the life.

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