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Community Highlights: Meet Kayla Mainja of Helen’s Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kayla Mainja.

Hi Kayla, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I started this journey in college through assignments from my professor to change the world. Frustrated with not knowing how to identify and work through the big picture, I sat on a bench with my head low, feeling defeat. Then a random call came through and it was my middle school friends’ mother telling me he was recently arrested for the wrong time, wrong place. When I finally made contact with him in prison, he informed me he was in a substance use program in prison where they would make him write 100 lines a day of “I am a failure, I have ruined my family’s life”. It broke my heart to here this, in the same moment, I knew I found my topic. Helen’s Project started with a focus on substance abuse and the criminal justice system.

As we started to grow and help more individuals, I learned there are many entangled lines with substance abuse, including domestic violence, homelessness. Through this journey of growth and development within the agency as well as within my self I have to admit there have been a number of obstacles that I have had to over-come. Many racial and age related attacks that included nooses being hung from the trees outside of my home, being threatened to be shot if I did not leave town, as well as being told “your too young to understand” Through this the vision and mission of this agency to continue to support the community and bring hope to the community never stopped within me and I continued to persevere. Through this growth, I have learned that you have to find individuals that you can truly trust, as well as individuals that can see your mission and vision for what it is and what to continue to see and grow your mission with you.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
This definitely has not been a smooth road. There have been many racial and age-related attacks that included nooses being hung from the trees outside of my home, being threatened to be shot if I did not leave town, as well as being told “your too young to understand.” Even to this day, there are hate groups targeting me on social media and the individuals leading it are determined to see me fail and see the individuals we are serving continue to suffer. There was an incident that I will never forget, I was with a family member and we left the home to go and get food for the littles in the house. When I was walking to the car I heard a person yell, but I ignored it and continued to walk to my car.

When I drove off, I noticed a car in the window following me, when you watch enough movies, you take the evasive maneuvers to ensure they are actually following you. When I pulled over at the restaurant, the individual got out the car and took a video of me saying, “I found her the n**** in her natural habitat, everyone remember her so you can get your pitchforks and crosses ready” After that day, I went into hiding. I removed all of my social media accounts and created pseudo names, I left my home and lived in a series of hotels for three months with my husband and daughter. After month three, I had an amazing and supportive friend who helped me get an apartment away from everyone and everything in another name so I could not be found, this lasted for two years. I had to go through intense therapy and medication management to feel as if I could go to bed at night and not wake every hour to see the new lie being said about me or ensuring no one was following me, triple checking my doors to see that they weren’t tampered with. It has been a rough journey. I can say when your therapist asks you what can you identify to live for each day and your answer changes from nothing to my family and happiness in disadvantaged communities. Then you have to take what you have learned and apply it everyday.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Helen’s Project?
Helen’s Project is a 501c3 organization that relay’s heavily on the generosity of the community to continue to bring hope to the community and facilitate change in the multitude of the clients that we serve. We specialize in working with targeted populations through our three programs, SAFE, HOPE and CHANGES. SAFE focuses on working with high-utilizers and individuals whom are experiencing chronic homelessness. HOPE works with individuals experiencing Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Sexual Assault, and it’s subset, HOPE Kids, focuses on children between the ages of 7-17. While CHANGES works with individuals whom have been previously incarcerated or recovering from Substance Abuse. All programs aim to create stability for families we serve through individualized case management and treatment plans to meet the identified goals. We are know for our cross county adventures, as well as taking on the cases that are complex and tend to be abnormal. Our most infamous stories include us taking individuals who have been chronically homeless in Dallas for more than five years and finding them stable housing in other states or re-uniting them with their family in other states.

What sets us apart from others is our passion to find obscure solutions to daily challenges. An example, when we house our clients, we look across all 50 states for solutions. We take the time to develop partnerships with agencies across all states so we can ensure success in our clients. We are all most proud of the outcomes we produce as well as the change we are able to see in our clients and our ability to be a resource for the community we serve. As for our brand, our brand is only as powerful as the outcomes that we are able to produce. We want readers to know that we are always looking for new and creative ways to support those in need. Ultimately we are ALWAYS in need of volunteers. Our services are free to approved clients. We don’t typically turn anyone away. If we are not able to help, then we will work with you to find the resource that is needed. Presently we are responding to the biggest crisis our clients are facing which is an increase in need of our HOPE program. We are working hard to find supporters so we can purchase a safe house to help women and children who are in need of an immediate place to be safe from their abusers.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
Perseverance Passion Acceptance of self.

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