135 Years, 135 Stories title image

Never give up hope

MELISSA, New York

Melissa Cuevas was 13 years old when she started receiving services at Inwood House in New York, and almost 10 years later she is back helping today’s youth. Melissa is currently a case manager at Maya’s Place, a shelter for young women who have run away or are homeless. Meanwhile she is also working towards a Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling, running her own business, and raising her daughters.

Melissa received services throughout her teen years until she aged out of the program at 21, but Inwood House continued to support her in finding a new apartment and connecting her with community resources during the transition. Within a year of leaving the program she received the 2008 Youth Inspiration Award for her accomplishments.

The constant support from staff and her social worker, combined with the many opportunities the program provided left Melissa with a great experience at Inwood House, one that inspired Melissa to return as an employee. But first, she enrolled in college and obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

Melissa returned as a volunteer at Inwood House’s Transitional Independent Living program and was hired as a Youth Development Staff in 2011, three years later she was asked to be a part of creating a new crisis program, Maya’s Place. Melissa split her time between both programs until 2017 when she became a full-time Case Manager at Maya’s Place. Looking to the future, Melissa hopes to use her Masters Degree to open her own shelter to further support New York’s youth.

Melissa has also been an entrepreneur since the age of 16 when she started off managing musicians. Her passion for highlighting all forms of art led her and her business partner to create Underground Artistry, where she is one of two CEOs. UGA provides a platform for emerging artists in all areas to develop and showcase their talents. The organization now hosts an annual F.A.M Show (Fashion. Art. Music) where portions of the proceeds goes back to supporting Inwood House as well as Spina Bifida Association, another cause close to Melissa’s heart. UGA also does events at Inwood House where they bring in stylists to give the residents a glam and self-care day.

Melissa continues to use her own experience, knowledge, and story to support the kids she works with today, and to teach them what she learned throughout her time at Inwood House, to never give up hope.