By Michelle Pellegrino

Georgia (16) had lost both her parents by the age of 12. All she was left with was her inner strength, optimism and faith. She tells us about her journey out of drinking, self-harm and loneliness with the support of her ‘adoptive family’ at the Bus Stop project in Selby (North Yorkshire) and Church Army evangelists, Richard Cooke and Neil Walpole.

My mother died when I was 11 years old. She was in her bedroom, getting ready to go to sleep, when I heard her fall, crying out for help. She died in hospital from a brain aneurysm two days later. She was only 40 years old.

It was my father’s death, only 14 months later, that hurt the most. My dad was disabled and suffered from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). He used crutches to get around but some days the pain on his legs was so bad he couldn’t walk at all.

After my mum’s death, I was the one who took care of him. We were very close. I would take him into town in a wheelchair, make his tea when I got back from school, sort out the medication he had to take each day and so on. I think his death affected me more, as he was the only parent I had left and now he was gone too. It’s weird how much your life can change in such a short space of time.

After my dad passed away, my brother and I moved in with my half-sister (my father’s daughter by his first wife) and her family. My brother became more and more withdrawn after our mum’s death. He started smoking weed and then got into heavier drugs. He was the first one to move out. I didn’t get along with my half-sister’s husband, so eventually I left too.

I was in really a dark place in my life. I’ve never taken drugs but I started drinking a lot. Sometimes I couldn’t even walk because I was so drunk. I also started to self-harm. I used to cut myself and pull my hair out but I didn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed.

I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for [Church Army evangelists] Neil and Richard. I’ve known them since I was nine years old, when I started attending the Jaffa after school club and when I was older, I joined their DNA youth club. Neil and Richard also led the funerals for both my parents.

Three years ago, they started up the Bus Stop project together with [youth worker] Emily and I’ve been going there ever since. Emily also started up a group for girls who self-harm or have an eating disorder. It’s been great, we worked together on a plan to stop self-harming with God’s guidance. It has helped me a lot: it’s been over a year since the last time I self-harmed. I’ve also stopped drinking. I don’t give into peer pressure like before, my faith has made me a much stronger person. If it wasn’t for Jesus, I’d probably be dead by now.

I’ve also seen a change in my friends who come to the bus. Having a relationship with God makes all the difference. A lot of them have stopped drinking and taking drugs. Drugs are quite a big problem on this estate. Many of my friends at the bus have difficult family lives, but we consider everyone at the bus project our family too and we can always turn to someone there for advice. I’m also involved in leading Alpha sessions on the bus. I’ve led on the topic of forgiveness and on never giving up.

I’m now living at a supported lodging for young people and it’s going really well. I’ve recently started college, where I’m studying child development. I want to become a youth worker. I know what it’s like to hit rock bottom and I want to help children going through tough times, just like I’ve been helped. I want to share with them how much God can change their lives.

If you need someone to talk to in the middle of the night, God is there. Even when you’re at your lowest, when you feel you’ve got no-one to turn to, God is always present. He will always be there for you and he’ll never give up on you.

I often tell myself: “I may feel down now, but tomorrow, maybe not.” I try and focus on what tomorrow will be like. I know from experience how fast things can change for the worse. Surely then, things can change just as fast for the better.