LEFT, MICHAEL BADGER with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger; right, Marcella Clark and her mother.
LEFT, MICHAEL BADGER with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger; right, Marcella Clark and her mother.
At nine years old, Marcella Clark was homeless.

"We bounced around a lot," she explained. "We went from friend's place to friend's place. It was all a blur."

Now 23 and residing in her hometown of Schenectady, Ms. Clark recalls the childhood years she spent traveling with her mother, Kimberly Valentino. Between the ages of nine and 13, Ms. Clark recalls staying with her mother's friends or relatives in Virginia and Kentucky as her mom searched for stable housing. At times, they lived in their car.

Moving around so much was "really hard emotionally," Ms. Clark said. It was hard for her to make friends or maintain good grades in school.

Mrs. Valentino was on disability and unable to work because of a back injury. Mother and daughter both struggled with severe depression.

Still, Ms. Clark said, her mother would always make sure she was safe and well cared for. They were "like best friends" to each other.

Mrs. Valentino also loved the holidays. No matter the circumstances, she found a way to make them fun. Sometimes, she would go to a food pantry and get ingredients to cook a holiday meal, Ms. Clark said: "We would watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and she would always manage to get Christmas presents."

When Ms. Clark was 13, her mother found an apartment in Brandenburg, Ky. There, the two stayed for several years. Ms. Clark was able to make close friends and even graduate from Meade County High School in Brandenburg in 2012.

"It was great, because I struggled a lot with mental issues," she said. Finishing school was "huge."

Things changed in April 2015, when Mrs. Valentino was diagnosed with leukemia.

"I was scared," Ms. Clark recalled. "I didn't want to lose my mom."

Mrs. Valentino started chemo­therapy, but the disease was extremely aggressive. She passed away in January 2016.

Somehow, Ms. Clark rallied. She moved back to Schenectady and in with her older sister, Noney Grier, until she was able to find her own place. Today, Ms. Clark is studying human services at Schenectady County Community College.

She's also finishing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process at her parish, St. John the Evangelist in Schenectady. Her growing faith, she said, has been the greatest help in getting her through her mother's death and the struggles of her past.

"It's helped me a lot," she told The Evangelist. "People have a lot of judgment against the Church, but it's worth experiencing it and, in time, your heart will open."

Despite never having been baptized -- making her a "catechumen" in the RCIA process -- Ms. Clark said she grew up with a strong faith. Her mother was a Catholic; back when Mrs. Valentino was living in Schenectady, she had Ms. Clark's sister baptized.

But Ms. Grier is 18 years older than Ms. Clark. By the time Ms. Clark was born, her mother's religious practice was different, though she was still faithful in her own way.

"She always would do novenas to St. Anthony," Ms. Clark recalled. "No matter what, she still had faith."

As Ms. Clark dealt with depression, she felt like something was missing from her life. After her mother passed away, she decided that joining the Catholic Church would be something "good to do for myself and for my mom."

Now, Mrs. Grier helps pay for her apartment while Ms. Clark focuses on her studies. Mrs. Grier is also sponsoring her through the RCIA process. Ms. Clark is going to counseling, too, which she said has helped tremendously.

"I think my faith and [counseling] are the two biggest things that have helped me," she said.

A fan of reading and creating art, Ms. Clark hopes to graduate from SCCC and become a social worker. She wants to help other young adults like herself who also struggle with mental illness.

Going forward, she is looking into joining her college's Christian student group, and is excited for the upcoming Easter vigil at St. John's, where she will be fully initiated into the Catholic Church.

"It's the best decision I made in my life," Ms. Clark about her newfound community of faith. "I think it will help me, and it is helping me, to share my faith in others."