How do you ask for help when you aren’t sure if anyone is listening? When the words you speak fall on deaf ears, how do you even know you are making a sound? If the world doesn’t seem to care, why should you? These were the unfortunate questions that were once asked by Addy Mkawasi.
Born and raised in Kenya, to a kind mother and an absentee father, Addy found herself living a much different childhood than many of us here at Beit T’Shuvah. Her stepfather, who she met when she was less than one, moved her and her sister out to Northridge when Addy was seven years old. I don’t know much about Africa, but I imagine it is a lot different than the San Fernando Valley. Her mother moved to England to get her master’s degree, leaving her daughters with Addy’s stepfather, who quickly became abusive.
After moving from Africa and knowing no one in the state, Addy and her sister became attached at the hip. They did everything together. When one of them needed something, the other was always there to help.
Immediately after graduating high school, Addy started to gain men’s attention. “Suddenly, I was going out all the time, having fun—it was all fun and games.” Soon, those games would end. When she was 19 she was assaulted by four men, including a friend of hers, at a party. She told her best friend about it and was blamed for the situation. “She blamed me for getting in the car with four guys drunk,” Addy says quietly, “I was just expecting to be taken home.”
After that, she shaved her head and did everything she could to avoid the eyes of men. It wasn’t successful and soon she met the man who would soon become her ex-husband. “He was abusive almost immediately, but I always blamed myself. He was so charismatic. Everybody loved him. So I thought that there must be something wrong with me.” Their relationship was chaotic. He was physically, mentally, and financially abusive, but she felt like she had no voice to speak up about it. Who would listen? He kept her isolated from her friends and family. With no one to turn to, she turned to the bottle. After 11 years of this, she left.
After a few short stints of sobriety, followed by longer epochs of boozing, she finally found Beit T’Shuvah. The first two weeks Addy was here, in the dead of the Covid lockdown, she was quarantined. Unlike many of us, she loved it. The lonely isolation was comfortable to her. It was all she had known. She realized very quickly upon her stay here that she had no concept of who she was. She didn’t know what she liked to do, what she liked to eat, she didn’t know what she liked to talk about. She was blank. So, she decided to try everything.
Addy made lifelong bonds along the way. None as strong as with her best friend Cody. Their love for each other was instant and powerful. Not since her sister had she felt such a strong connection to anyone. She had found someone new to attach to her hip. For anyone who has seen them together, you know that their friendship is something we all should strive for. She had an entire community of people she could talk to—people who would listen.
Once her tenure as a resident was done, she took a job working for Creative Matters and Beit T’Shuvah’s Development Department. Soon, that job transitioned into a full-time position as our Event Coordinator.
Suddenly, while everything was going well in Addy’s life, tragedy struck. After putting off seeing her mom for a few months, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, she felt the urge to visit her. She spent some time with her mom before going upstairs to see her sister. When she walked in the room, she found her sister had died of a fentanyl overdose. Her sister had been addicted to drugs since she was 16, but sadly was never able to grasp on to recovery the way that Addy did. “I feel like I was called home that day and I was meant to be there. I was meant to be the one to find her to protect my mom. That would not have been possible if I wasn’t sober.
Addy’s strength simply cannot be measured. To walk through the pain of losing a sister, a confidant, a friend—the first person to ever really listen to you, is a pain that most of us can’t begin to conceive of. After her sister’s passing, the entire Beit T’Shuvah community was there for Addy. She was blessed with a grant from project Lech Lecha that helped her go back to Kenya and scatter her sister’s ashes. “I really felt like we were taking her home. It gave me a certain sense of peace knowing she is back and I would never have been able to do that without Beit T’Shuvah.”
Gratitude is a keyword in Addy’s life now. She shows it every single day in how much she gives back to this organization. From talking to residents, to being there for staff, to even planning major fundraising events. For months and months, Addy has been planning our 31st Annual Gala, (mind you this is the first time she has ever planned a gala before). No one can deny that she has been executing it to perfection. “It has been a surreal experience. I started crying the other day because it is so unbelievable. I have always wanted to be an event planner.” It is set to be an incredible special event that will result in massive change in the lives of many current and future residents.
Nowadays, Addy knows who to ask for help. She knows people will not only hear her, but will do anything to be there for her. She spends her whole day making sure people get the help they so desperately need. Not only has she found her voice, but she is giving a voice to the voiceless. So, as we prepare for our 31st Annual Gala, I think we should all take a page out of Addy’s book and ask ourselves, “Who needs our help?”