By Alena KairysDec 1, 2021
Like many young girls growing up in Haiti, Charles faced countless perils in a country known for political turmoil and violent crime. So, at age 12, her mother was sent to live with her father and stepmother who had settled in New York previously. Unfortunately, the change of scenery did little to improve her harrowing childhood. She suffered verbal and physical abuse from her father and was treated more like a servant than a daughter. When she was 16, her family deported her back to Haiti for defying their orders. Fortunately, she was able to return with the help of her high school teachers and principal. At age 21, Charles enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Culinary Specialist. For Charles, the military was an escape from hardship and a chance to cook and see the world. “It was very traumatic for me, leaving my country, my mother. And I moved into a house with really no affection, no love, to be the help in the house. And it did something to my self-esteem and my self-worth. I felt the only way out of that, the only way to separate myself from that feeling of worthlessness was to join one of the most respected organizations in the world—the military, and that’s what I did. The Navy changed my life.”
Her first assignment was in Sasebo, Japan, where she stayed for three years. Next, she was stationed in Virginia for another three years, and finally California for two years. Charles loved being able to nurture her passion for cooking and meet new people in the field. Though her primary role was in the kitchen, Charles performed administrative tasks in other departments, increasing her skillset. In 2008 after nearly nine years of military service, Charles left the Navy to pursue her bachelor’s degree and increase her career opportunities.
Charles enrolled at Norfolk State University using her GI Bill. She was eager to earn her degree in Nutrition and Food Science. However, as a first-time college student, Charles found herself struggling academically and, soon, financially. She started falling behind on rent payments and had already exhausted her GI Bill, personal savings, and retirement savings to remain in school. Even the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) was unable to help her. After losing her apartment, Charles began living out of her SUV in September 2015.
One day out of desperation, she sought help by emailing WVEC, a local news station. Reaching out to them would change her situation and life forever. WVEC shared her story on the news and connected her with VetsHouse, Inc., a transitional housing community for Veterans in Virginia Beach, VA. Charles used her time in the shelter to reset her life physically, financially, and emotionally. “VetsHouse was a lifeline for me,” said Charles. “When I was desperate, just trying to find a place to stay, it was really just a place for me to catch my breath, rest, and come up with a plan as far as what I was going to do.” In just three months, Charles’ life started to look upwards. She received a tuition donation from a kind stranger who had seen her news feature and secured a new apartment and car. With the support of her community, Charles completed her degree in 2017.
While that painful chapter of her life is behind her, Charles will never forget its impact on her. Since then, she has made it her mission to be a guardian angel for other homeless Veterans in her community. Charles makes it a point to listen to Veterans in need and hand out toiletry packs, bus fares, and even hotel stays. One of her life philosophies is to take action to affect change rather than wait for others to make it happen. In 2019, Charles shared her story with the world with her first book, which will soon be republished as “The Cost of the American Dream: Diary of a Homeless Soul.” By recounting her life experiences, her goal is to give hope to homeless Veterans, women, immigrants, and people from broken homes.
Charles lives in Norfolk, VA. In her spare time, she manages her own YouTube and TikTok channels focused on cooking and nutrition and advocating for homeless Veterans and Haitian immigrants.
NFM Lending is proud to donate $2,500 to VetsHouse, Inc. on behalf of Charles. NFM looks forward to the opportunity to continue to honor military and Veterans through the NFM Salute initiative.
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