Photo by Alex Boerner
Miriam Valle's childhood growing up in Durham isn't something she looks back at fondly.
Her father was an abusive alcoholic, she says, and her mother was unable to protect her family. Valle says she was molested twice by family friends. She fell into depths of despair that led her to self-harm and eventually try to take her own life.
"I was so ready to die," says Valle. "I wrote a letter to my parents saying sorry, and I told God I was ready to go."
But Valle survived her suicide attempt. And then she found a reason to live: at thirteen, she became pregnant with her fifteen-year-old boyfriend's child, whom she named Jenny. This sudden, life-changing development propelled Valle to leave her home in search of a better life. She lived with her boyfriend's family in Burlington and Durham until she was sixteen. After that came complicated custody battles and a fight to stay in school as a young, single mother. Valle remembers feeling lost and discouraged, but she says she was saved by folks within the local nonprofit community who put her on the right path by helping her get her GED and providing her with work.
Fifteen years later, Valle herself has worked her way through the Durham nonprofit sector and has been named the winner of the 2016 Schewel Award, which each year honors a Triangle resident under the age of thirty-five who does tremendous work for a local nonprofit. Actually, Valle doesn't just work for one nonprofit; she works for four.
After she had her daughter, Valle was assigned a social worker and a tutor to help her through school. She began taking classes at the Durham Literacy Center, where she met Lucy Haagen, who would soon become one of the several mentors in Valle's life.
"She encouraged me to keep going when I wanted to quit," says Valle. "She told me to go to college."
Click here to read the rest of Sayaka Matsuoka's Indy Week article on Miriam Valle here: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/pay-it-forward/Content?oid=5099103