YOUTH PEER SUPPORT SPECIALIST | JACKSON COUNTY
Kayla grew up in a tiny Southern California town called Lake Hughes. At the time, Lake Hughes had only 600 residents and very few places to go aside from a bar and the post office, both of which weren't particularly kid-friendly. Kayla's parents got clean a month before she was conceived and after she was born; her mom remained dedicated to maintaining her sobriety.
Growing up, Kayla wasn't made a priority in her family, and although her basic needs were met, she lacked the emotional support she needed. Her mom focused most of her energy on taking care of Kayla's older sister who'd been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder a few months before Kayla was born. As they were growing up, her sister often picked fights with their mom that turned into violent fits. In those situations, Kayla was left to take care of herself and never had the opportunity to discuss what was happening. In most cases, her family assumed that if she was physically unharmed, she was unaffected. The fights happened so often that they started to seem normal and Kayla began to believe that to avoid violent conflict, she must always agree and never make anyone upset. As a result, Kayla spent a lot of her time at school which became a positive thing for her to focus on and was a safe place for her to go.
As a teenager, Kayla struggled to make emotional connections to others and ultimately developed social anxiety and depression. Unable to make friends or form her own opinions, Kayla became very lonely and started engaging in self-harm. She used her class assignments as a way to reflect on how she was feeling, but none of her teachers seemed to recognize them as what they were: cries for help. By then, she was feeling unseen and lacking in emotional support both at home and in school. To cope, Kayla focused on maintaining the few relationships she did have even if they were unhealthy.
After experiencing a series of emotionally abusive relationships in high school and community college, Kayla realized that she needed to make a change. She did some research and decided to leave behind everything she knew and move to Oregon to attend Southern Oregon University (SOU). At the time, her only stable relationship, the relationship she had with her parents, was crumbling. Her mom decided to leave her dad after 21 years of marriage, causing any emotional progress Kayla had made with them, to dissipate. She lost control of her emotions, moved 700 miles away from her fractured family, and decided to stay in her emotionally abusive relationship to maintain some sense of stability. She put all of her focus on school, buried her emotions, and suffered ongoing emotional abuse from a state away.
After a year at SOU, Kayla felt more lost than ever. It had become official that her parents weren't going to reconcile and it seemed as though her partner had abandoned her. She was alone and needed to make a change. She started seeing a therapist to cope with her anxiety and depression and so she could focus on discovering more about herself. During that process, she rediscovered her passion for helping others and realized that she wasn't being fulfilled by her relationships or in school. After making the difficult decision to stop going to school and make her wellbeing a priority, she started looking for a job that would allow her to stay in Southern Oregon. She applied to a few places hoping to find a job that could pay her rent. Eventually, she came across a job posting for a YMO peer support specialist at the Medford Drop. She felt that the position was her calling and an opportunity for her to use her experience to help others lead better lives.
Kayla finds helping others very rewarding and sees every opportunity to do so as an opportunity to learn more about herself. In her free time, she likes to do Tae Kwon Do, walk her puppy Bruce Wayne, and watch Netflix. She is also thoroughly enjoying the process of finding herself in this new chapter of her life.