Levé Sits Down with NAFY Peer Mentor, Jessica Coshatt

Lauren Corr, a member of Levé’s Marketing and Communications Committee, sat down with Jessica Coshatt, New Avenues for Youth Peer Mentor, to learn about Jessica’s inspirational journey from homeless youth to peer mentor. I was honored to interview a former New Avenues for Youth (NAFY) beneficiary, Jessica Coshatt. Jessica presently serves as a peer mentor for NAFY and both kindly and candidly shared her personal story. To say Jessica is inspiring would be a vast understatement. Jessica is where she is today because she developed an admirable self-awareness, holistic lifestyle, and affiliation with NAFY’s support programs. Additionally, Jessica spoke of her utmost gratitude toward NAFY for having provided her with new life opportunities resulting in both personal and career growth.

In 2007, Jessica moved to Portland from South Carolina. She moved with a savings account, a place to live, and the intention of finding work. “When I wasn't able to find work, my savings dwindled, my depression worsened (as did my substance abuse as a result), my housing situation fell apart and - pow! I was a homeless kid,” Jessica says.

She was also trying to find her way out of an unhealthy personal relationship. Jessica had found respite with other organizations, but it was the “Road Warriors” program at NAFY that drew her to this organization. Road Warriors was designed for people who do not receive usual services, but can visit the NAFY Drop-In Center to relax and receive meals.

Over time, she developed valuable relationships with the professional staff at NAFY and spent increasing amounts of time at the organization. Eventually, she was able to successfully take medication to treat her mental illness and worked up her courage to leave her abusive relationship. Through self-awareness and a holistic lifestyle, including yoga and meditation, which she highlighted saved her from self-harm, Jessica was able to progress to a point where she felt she could both take care of herself and, as a result, support others to do the same. Yoga and meditation allowed her to step away from the “craziness” in her life and find peace and calmness. She spoke about yoga and meditation as a way to make connections between the mind and body. “When one is wandering away, you can use the other to pull it back in” and find balance, Jessica says.

Jessica has always enjoyed volunteering and service work. Since 2010, she had her sights set on working for NAFY, often joking with employees about when the time would come that they would “hand over the keys” to her. I got the sense that, with this goal in mind, she set herself up for success and provided herself a way out from her life on the street. In 2014, Jessica enrolled in a peer wellness specialist certification program at Portland State University. Jessica applied for the Peer Mentor position at NAFY in early 2015. She was in a classroom toward the end of her academic program when she received a call from NAFY – she got the job!

Jessica’s current job as a peer mentor with the Recovery Oriented Support and Engagement Program (ROSE) allows her to empower youth. She stressed it is “not about giving them power, but showing them they have the power.” She wants to help youth discover their motivations to create change in their lives and find a more positive path forward. She holds space for youth who are actively in addiction by planting seeds of thoughtful change. “You never know which way it’s going to go, but it’s very satisfying to see clients become self-actualized people and move into a healthier space while taking back their power,” she says.

While Jessica’s job is never easy, she points to the simple task of lending an ear to provide comfort to her clients. “When someone is in a bad space, there is nothing you can do or give except for an ear. Just sitting, listening without judgment,” she says. It is this simple lesson from which we could all learn.

As Thanksgiving just passed and we look to the rest of the holiday season, I ask that you reflect on what you are most grateful for. What I gathered the most from Jessica’s story was her gratitude. Through this gratitude and willingness to pay it forward, Jessica has realized her own power and continues to pay it forward as she develops both personally and professionally.