Thanksgiving Inspiration from a Homeless Teen

johileny-almonteThere is a time for each of us when we look back and reflect on the roads we traveled on our life’s journey. Some of us spend our lives looking in the rear view mirror with regret. We wonder what would have happened “if”. Do the words we wrote in our high school and college yearbooks come back to haunt us? With Thanksgiving upon us, I find myself thinking about the past and about what I am thankful for today.

When I was in high school, my dream was to become a doctor. I pursued that goal with a passion that burned deep inside me. I studied hard and excelled in the sciences. I graduated with honors and applied to many universities with the intent to enroll in premed courses.

I never considered the financial burden of four years of college and medical school. I was raised by my adoring grandparents who had the resources to make my dream of becoming a doctor a reality. As much as I thought I wanted to save lives and heal others, I unexpectedly found I wanted something else more. I gave it all up when I met a man who ignited a different kind of passion in me. We fell in love quickly and married in less then a month. My family was heartbroken. All I wanted was to be with him. My medical school dreams became a distant ember that went up in smoke, and five years later so did my marriage. I left him to find myself.

Last week, I stumbled upon a story about a teenager who has dreams of becoming a doctor. It made me think about my own teenage ambitions. Even though our dreams were the same at the same age, growing up our worlds couldn’t be further apart. Her name is Johileny Alamonte. This is where our similarities end.

Johileny’s story brought me to tears, and I want to share her inspirational story on this Thanksgiving. I personally do not know anyone who has overcome as many obstacles as this remarkable young woman. She has been homeless for the last four years. Her beloved mother passed away from cancer in 2010. She has raised herself in a wheelchair suffering from cerebral palsy. Johileny lives in constant searing pain from a botched operation and is unable to walk on her own. All the while, she has maintained a 94.7 average in school. She is an honor student who hopes to start in a premed program after she graduates high school.

I cannot imagine the adversity she faces each day. Even with all of these challenges, this determined, extraordinary young woman wants to become a pediatric oncologist to help fight the disease that took her mother from her. She will need scholarship money and financial aid to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. It has been written about her that she greets each new day in the shelter with a smile, dreaming about doing something better with her life and making her mother proud.

After reading Johileny’s story, the meaning of Thanksgiving resonates with me. Her faith, courage, and determination is a reminder of how when dreams encounter obstacles, we must find ways to overcome them. While my thoughts are on what I am thankful for, I know there is a young woman who is thinking of her mother and how she will continue to make her proud.

Click here to learn more about Johileny.

I wish all of you a bountiful Thanksgiving. I hope Johileny’s story inspired each of you who read it to be grateful for life’s many blessings.



Adrea Rubin