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Teleza’s Story: How a YSS Christmas Gift Changed Her Life

When Teleza Daniels was 15 years old, she made the difficult decision to leave home. Her mom was in an abusive relationship, and Teleza was looking to escape the violence.

“I knew I couldn’t stay in that situation,” says Teleza.

However, living on the street was not safe, as the neighborhood was riddled with drug use and crime. She found her way to the Willkie House, located on the east side of Des Moines. A student at Hoover High School at the time, Teleza took multiple buses to get across town to school.

While at the Willkie House, Teleza found her independence. She successfully completed the steps to qualify for independent living in the program. “I resided in a few independent living apartments, and then finally I was able to do it on my own,” Teleza explains.

The teenagers in the independent living program were beneficiaries of YSS Holiday Giving, an annual program in which donors purchase Christmas presents for local children and families in need.

Teleza received items from her personal wish list, from a CD player and headphones to necessities such as blankets and socks. Teleza says that experience changed her life.

“Coming from what we came from, we barely had food or a ride to get to school. To wake up on Christmas morning and to see those gifts there, people don’t understand the magnitude of that,” says Teleza. “Talking about it today gets me choked up.”

Teleza explains that as a teenager, she felt hopeless—like her life would never get better. But the simple joy of receiving presents on Christmas reminded her that someone cared. Looking back, she says YSS saved her life.

Teleza graduated college and now serves as the Program Director of the Iowa Center Women’s Business Center. In her role, she coaches small business owners on starting or growing their business.

“I know I’m successful because I can honestly say I wake up every single morning and I am happy, safe, and healthy,” Teleza explains. “I didn’t give up. I made it.”

Teleza wanted to share her story to remind supporters of the impact they have, as well as inspire other kids who are in situations like hers.

“There are so many teenagers out there who feel like they’re alone. I just hope by me telling my story, they know there’s resources and programs out there for them,” she says. “There still are good people in the world.”

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