Jamilla Counts did not have an easy childhood growing up in Chicago. She dealt with abuse and trauma, including witnessing the murder of her own mother. These experiences left her filled with anger and frustration. After losing her biological mother, Jamilla was placed with a foster family, including a woman she called “Mama Strong.” Mama Strong took Jamilla in and eventually they moved to Memphis.
Jamilla’s new home had structure and love, and gave her the opportunity to help in the family business, but she still felt like something was missing inside. Consequently, Jamilla ran away from her foster home when she was a teenager. This rebellion led her to be placed in the state’s custody and housed at Porter-Leath in what is now called Sarah’s Place, a residential facility that provides a safe and nurturing environment, and therapeutic services to children experiencing troubled times.
During her time at Sarah’s Place, Jamilla learned what she calls “survival skills,” and received counseling. She learned responsibility through daily chores; she earned an allowance and learned about budgeting; she even practiced independence by cooking for herself. Her favorite thing to cook was Rice Krispies® Treats, which she still loves!
Jamilla remembered one counselor with whom she felt most comfortable sharing her struggles. This counselor always gave her full attention to Jamilla. A behavior Jamilla mirrored later when she became a substitute teacher. “It’s okay to stop and listen when a child needs your attention because you just might be saving that child’s life,” Jamilla explained.
Jamilla’s experience at Porter-Leath taught her internal strength, good choices, and what she calls “not getting in the way of your own success.” Today, Sarah’s Place continues serving teens and provides individualized treatment plans. Trained counselors provide counseling, as well as training on aggression replacement, self-discipline, and positive relationship building.
Jamilla shares her story, so that individuals struggling with similar trauma can find comfort and hope in connections with others. Jamilla highlighted that, “we must face our demons head-on,” adding, “children must learn at a young age how to address what’s going on inside them – their anger, their frustration, their pain.” She feels that places like Porter-Leath help children release the painful