Soaring above homelessness

Trontez Mahaffey, SOAR graduate.

Trontez Mahaffey, SOAR graduate.

The inspiring story of a young man who was finally ready to tell it, Trontez Mahaffey.

Thank you to Lucy May, of, for hearing and feeling Trontez’s story when he wanted to tell it to her.

Trontez Mahaffey had a tough time getting to 19, but now he’s ready to share his story
‘I wanted to be different’

BY Lucy May

POSTED: 4:30 AM, Aug 25, 2015

CINCINNATI — Trontez Mahaffey wanted to tell his story. He was adamant about that.
He told me so while I was observing a Greater Cincinnati Urban League SOAR class for a story about Donna and Michelle Bush a
mother and daughter from Madisonville who were taking part in the class.

Mahaffey was there, too. At 19, he was one of the youngest participants. He grew up in Avondale and
now lives with friends in Westwood. But he found his way to the Madisonville SOAR class and was
determined to finish the three-week program.

SOAR stands for Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention. It’s the flagship workforce
development of the local Urban League, and it’s designed to help chronically unemployed and
underemployed people find good-paying jobs that lead to financial independence.

Mahaffey is only 19, but that’s what he wants: Financial stability so he can go to college and
study business and culinary arts. Someday, he said, he wants to open his own restaurant.

But first Mahaffey wanted to tell his story.

It’s a big step. For years, he hid it, and his troubles, from teachers and principals and other adults in
his life, he told me.

“I had a reputation that I needed to keep,” he said. “I didn’t want to go tell anybody my story. I didn’t
want anybody to feel sad for me because I wasn’t old enough to really speak my mind then.”

Now, he is.

‘I Wanted to Be Different’

Mahaffey ran away from his parents when he was about 15 because of problems at home, he said. He
told me he was homeless for two years, living in an abandoned house in Avondale.

He worked at the Avondale Youth Council, earning $50 every two weeks. Mahaffey said he budgeted
that money carefully so he could buy ravioli and wash his clothes. He kept going to classes at
Woodward Career Technical High School, working to keep his homelessness a secret so he could keep his reputation as a “good kid.”

When he was 16, he got a job at McDonald’s and made more money that he used to buy what he
needed for school and take care of himself.

He turned 17 during his junior year in high school and decided to go back home.

“I really missed my momma,” he said.

Things weren’t great at home, but Mahaffey stayed. He kept working at McDonald’s, kept going to
school and tried to stay out of trouble as he watched friends around him get sentenced to prison.
Mahaffey got in some trouble, too, and spent some time in jail as a juvenile, he said. Sometimes he
felt more comfortable in jail than at home, he told me. But he didn’t want to go to prison.

“I didn’t want to do time,” he said. “I wanted to be different. Go to school.”

Other friends in his circle started dying, victims of street violence that seemed to be everywhere.

“They would come to school one week, and the next thing you knew, RIP,” he told me.

Mahaffey turned 18 his senior year and graduated from Woodward in 2014.

He left home again and started staying with friends. He was still working at McDonald’s when he
went to visit a temporary service that was handing out information at the Madisonville Arts &
Cultural Center.

‘That’s What I Need to Change’

That’s where he met John Garner, the trainer for the Urban League’s Madisonville SOAR class.

Garner asked Mahaffey if he was looking for a career.

“I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I need. That’s what I need to change,'” Mahaffey said.

Mahaffey got a third-shift job at warehouse in Hebron and quit his day job at McDonald’s so he
could take the SOAR classes. He got off work at 7:30 each morning and went straight to
Madisonville. His only sleep each day of the program came after class ended at 4 p.m. and before he
had to be back at work at 11 p.m.

It was a difficult three weeks, but Mahaffey said it was worth it.

At his SOAR graduation, he stood before the
group and said he was proud of what he

“My current situation is not my final destination,” he said, and his classmates applauded.

Now, he wants to enroll in the Urban League’s Construction Connections program to get the skills he
needs to get a construction job. After he gets more stable financially, he wants to go to college.
Mahaffey told me that he knows he’s going to make it, and I don’t doubt that he will.

But I asked him, why share your story now, after trying to hide all of this for so long?

“Because I feel like I’m good,” he answered. “I bettered myself, and I can speak my mind without
worrying about anybody.”

The interview ended, and it was almost hard for me to speak.

Our region has thousands of young people who carry the burden of homelessness and poverty or
family troubles or all of the above. Scores of nonprofit organizations exist to help them, and I’ve
written about many of them and the work they do.

But I had not considered the young people who don’t ask for help, and how strong they must be to
persevere through all that trouble. That is, until I met Mahaffey.

So I’m helping him share his story, in hopes that it will open other people’s eyes, too.

The next neighborhood SOAR class is scheduled to start in Walnut Hills on Aug. 31.

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