By Daniel Montaño, Staff Reporter | Photo Provided by Letisha Busatmante
Every homeless person has a face, and behind that face there is a story, that has a past and a future, and Letisha Bustamante, Digital Media major, said that she is working to change the future of those stories through volunteer work and activism.
Bustamante is currently accepting donations of hygiene products, granola bars and water bottles, with which she will make care packages that will be donated to homeless shelters and distributed to people in need, she said.
Anyone wishing to make a donation can reach Bustamante via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’ve met a lot of unique people in my life. I’ve been to funerals for friends that committed suicide. I’ve seen a lot, and I want to make things better for people who are in a bad situation,” Bustamante said.
Bustamante’s motivation to help out the homeless with this project is a simple one, and is one of the many volunteer and activist works with which she has been involved, she said.
Bustamante herself has been homeless off and on, ever since she was 12 years old, sometimes with her family and other times on her own, she said.
“For some reason we were always on the streets in the winter. Being in the cold when we didn’t have jackets, I ended up in the hospital a lot. I only told one friend what was going on, but some people noticed,” she said.
Bustamante will graduate in the spring of 2014 semester and now has a roof over her head, food in her fridge and a plan for the future; to go along with her job, school, volunteer work and her two-year old son, with whom she fills most of her time, she said.
While at the Youth Build charter high school, now called the Academy of Trades and Technology, Bustamante said that she decided to take steps to change things for herself by looking for a job and enrolling as a dual credit student at CNM while still in high school.
“Just out of the blue one day, I said ‘This has to stop; I don’t want to be like my parents’. They have bad credit, and they can’t afford to support us. We were always struggling and wondering how much longer we would have a roof over our head, and what we were going to eat the next day. I was tired of it and I didn’t want to go through it anymore,” she said.
Bustamante would eventually find both jobs and success in school, where she became involved in building student morale and increasing attendance and participation as a member of student government, she said.
“I would talk to them. I would tell them my life story, what I had gone through, and talk to them to find out what they were going through. We’d just have a conversation, like counseling,” she said.
Bustamante’s high school administration took notice of all the work that she had been putting into helping students, the amount of which went above and beyond the call of her office, and was chosen to attend a leadership conference in Chicago, she said.
“It was my first time being on the plane, so I was living the good life,” She said.
Upon graduating from high school, Bustamante was given an award for the work she had done in her school, and said that she took her experience in high school and used it as a motivation to continue helping people to this day.
Bustamante has been involved with volunteer projects at CNM with the executive council of students, but said that she has been focusing on her work on dosomething.org, which is an online non-profit organization that assists with a variety of causes.
“Helping people makes me happy. It does make me feel happy, but it also makes me feel sad because I realize that there are not that many people truly involved with trying to help the community out, especially here at CNM,” she said.
After graduating from CNM, Bustamante said that she plans to attend UNM to finish her Bachelors’ degree in Digital Media, but she also plans to continue pursuing a career in her dream jobs, which are acting and modeling.
She plans to make use of the active student body and resources at UNM to continue helping out her community, and wants to focus her leadership skills once there, she said.
“I want to motivate people who are in the same sort of situation I was—there is a way out. I would like to motivate more people—all of Albuquerque if I could—to help, to feel for those people who are in a bad situation. I got to live in both worlds and it’s sad to see them both. It’s not a pretty picture,” she said.
Although her life has been chock full of strife, struggles, and sadness, Bustamante said that it is those negative experiences that have led her to success today, and what motivates her to help other people.
Having dealt with depression herself, Bustamante said that she knows how a hard life can cause people to make bad decisions, which serves only to continue the cycle of poverty.
“You have two sides of you; the good part that needs to come out, and the bad part that will just pull you down, ultimately towards death. I see that in many people, and I just want to help bring out the good,” she said.
Bustamante said that recalling specific memories of sexual assaults, asking for money, or going weeks without solid food had oftentimes proved difficult to cope with earlier in her life.
Bustamante has now been working on a book that will chronicle her journey, from growing up in the small town of Gallup, through homelessness and up until today, when she has finally been able to find happiness and success.