Meet Shannon, A Donor Who Knows the Importance of Speaking Your Truth

Over the last two months Avenues has gotten to know Shannon*, a donor to Avenues who is passionate about supporting youth experiencing homelessness. She’s a successful I.T. professional, and happily married with two kids, step children, and grandchildren. She’s proud of her tight-knit family, and was encouraged by her daughter to give to Avenues. During a phone call, Shannon shared with staff that she decided to give to Avenues because she wants to support youth who are going through what she went through.    

“I moved 21 times between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. So when I say highly mobile, I was highly mobile,” Shannon said about her time experiencing homelessness as a youth.   

Although Shannon did not receive support from Avenues when she was experiencing homelessness, Shannon’s story highlights the needs of youth in our communities, and the systemic failures that continue to impact youth at Avenues. Shannon, who is Puerto Rican, was given up for adoption in the 1960’s and adopted the same year by a white family, the Rollands*.

“They adopted fifteen kids,” Shannon said about the Rollands. “Which for the record, I don’t think anyone should be able to adopt fifteen kids. We definitely felt like we were growing up in an institution or prison.”

At the time, the Rollands were a well-respected family in Minnesota. John* Rolland was a minister and he and his wife, Lynette*, had four children of their own. When they started adopting children, it was a public affair. Shannon’s adoption was shared in the Star Tribune, highlighting the fact that the Rollands were adopting bi-racial children.

“They adopted us for fame,” Shannon. “And to abuse us. I was adopted by a family that was well-to-do and very respected in the community, but they were horrible people. Behind the scenes we were being abused in every way imaginable.”

They adopted us for fame.


Shannon and her adoptive siblings experienced years of abuse at the hands of the Rollands. Because of their status in the community, it went unchecked and unnoticed. It wasn’t until Shannon’s older sister fled the house and went to The Bridge for Youth, a partner of Avenues, that things changed.

“My sister ran away to The Bridge and told them what was happening to us,” Shannon recalled. “I came home from school one day to hear, bam, bam, bam on the door. It was the police. They told me to grab a couple of items and they took us away. I didn’t know where we were going or when we’d come back.”

Shannon stayed at St. Joseph’s Home for Children before she had to testify at a grand jury. Despite her and her siblings testifying about what was happening at home, the Rolland’s were found not guilty. Shannon and her siblings were separated, each entering the foster care system or ending up on their own. Shannon was thirteen, and for the next four years would move 21 different times.

A turning point in Shannon’s life was when she got pregnant with her daughter at seventeen. She was a senior in high school at the time and living in a foster home. During that time she got connected with another youth service provider who helped her apply for jobs, apartments, and furnished her home. She went to MCTC, and landed a job at Wells Fargo, who paid for her to go to a four-year college.

“When someone says having a kid as a teenager will ruin your life, I say no it doesn’t,” Shannon said. “It makes you better. It made me better. Because of their (her children) love for me, I learned how to love myself.”

Because of their love for me, I learned how to love myself.


Eventually, the Rollands were charged but never served a day of prison. Even though the system failed Shannon and her siblings, she wants youth to know that there are people who will listen to them and believe them.

“It’s important to say this because so many people who are abused have to hide it and silence themselves,” Shannon shared. “It’s so important for kids in the system to know to not be afraid to speak your truth. Tell, because if you stay silent you’re going to allow them to keep doing what they’re doing. Your voice is so important. If someone doesn’t believe you, tell someone else, and tell someone else until someone does believe you.”

Shannon has moved away but her two children still live in Minnesota. Her daughter has her master’s degree and is a teacher and adjunct professor. Her son is a programmer and is currently building his portfolio to become a gaming programmer. Shannon describes them as the three musketeers.  

“Really I believe that the reason I went through what I went through was so that I could help people,” Shannon said. “I’m still working on me because I’m broken, but man, I have a good life. I love who I am. I’m thankful every day for what God has brought me through and how strong I am.”

Shannon shared that during her life many people assumed she was a bad kid because of the way she was acting, where she lived, or when she missed school. Youth experiencing homelessness are still faced with those assumptions in the classroom, justice system, healthcare, foster care, at work, and even in programs like Avenues. Shannon’s story challenges us to ask youth for the why of their behavior, and believe them when they do share their story.    

“That’s how we get back at the system,” Shannon said, “We give kids a way forward.”

 *Names have been changed to protect Shannon’s privacy.