The New York Times
By: Matthew Healey
January 26, 2012
At 19, without a diploma, a job, or a place to call home
De Andre Hill, 19, is the first to admit it: He grew up way too soon.
He was raised in Greensboro, N.C., and spent his teenage years looking after three half-sisters, preparing dinners of burger patties and spaghetti for them, insisting they do their homework and comforting them when they cried themselves to sleep.
Mr. Hill said his mother took him and his sisters with her as she moved from place to place, but was unable to look after them properly. He has not seen his father in five or six years.
When he was 16, he and his family left North Carolina for New York. By then, he had bounced among 12 schools. In Harlem, he settled in at Frederick Douglass Academy, but in winter 2011, he dropped out. His mother took the family south again.
They lived with an aunt and a grandmother, but those stints went badly. And in August, after a confrontation in which Mr. Hill stood up for his mother against her boyfriend, he realized it was time to head out on his own.
''I prefer being alone,'' he said.
Mr. Hill reconnected with a girlfriend in New York and came back to the city, but he had no home to call his own.
His girlfriend suggested he stay at Covenant House, a nonprofit shelter for homeless youth in Manhattan. There, he was given a bed and assistance in finding a job and re-enrolling at school.
One afternoon in late November, Mr. Hill sat in a small courtyard at the shelter, discussing his life. A slim, good-looking young man with a gentle voice and a sweet demeanor that belies a robust self-confidence, he said that his nighttime job in telemarketing was all right but that he was looking forward to an interview with a delivery company, where he hoped to earn $9 an hour plus tips working as a runner.
The job, he said, might help him leave the untidy room he shared with two men at the shelter.
An affiliate of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, Covenant House was nudging Mr. Hill through its ''rites of passage'' program, which helps young people figure out how to get their lives together, hold a job and live independently.
As part of the program, Mr. Hill was required to put aside $75 of his weekly income as a nest egg to use when he left the shelter. The counselors helped him enroll at the Technical Career Institute, where he hopes to finish school and work toward an associate's degree. To help buy textbooks, Mr. Hill received a $300 gift card with money from the Neediest Cases Fund.
Mr. Hill said he dreamed of opening a clothing business one day. But those dreams will have to wait. Later, he learned he had not gotten the runner's job.
''They didn't think I was strong enough to do it, but I know I am,'' he said proudly, adding, ''There's nothing I can't handle.''
Mr. Hill loves playing football -- quarterback and wide receiver -- but he said his frequent moving had kept him out of high school athletics. He stays in contact with his sisters, one of whom is in Job Corps in North Carolina, while another is living with a foster family. The third, now in eighth grade, is living with relatives in New York.
''She gets all A's,'' he said. ''I make sure they're doing good.''
In a phone interview this month, however, he said he been let go from the telemarketing job after a bout of lateness. He had also left Covenant House and moved in with his girlfriend in the Bronx.
Despite the setbacks, Mr. Hill was determined to stay upbeat. He had interviews lined up for jobs in construction and food service and at a clothing store. He said he was thrilled with his new classes at the technology institute, where he needs only 15 more credits to receive his high school diploma.
''I had good grades before I dropped out,'' he said, proud of his current 3.4 grade-point average. ''I know my education is the most important thing right now.''
With his erratic and dysfunctional early life, Mr. Hill said he felt as if he had something to prove to himself.
''I can do better than my mom,'' he said.