Hello friends! Remember a few weeks ago when I was like, “I’m going to do a product review once a week from now on!”…and then I only did that one…and I haven’t gotten around to writing another…? Yeah… Sorry about that. Eventually, I’ll start writing on a consistent basis, I’m sure of it. And THIS is different than what I typically publish, because THIS is a speech. I was asked to speak to a group of volunteers and donors of an organization that is very special to me– and, I figured, since it’s already written I might as well publish it. If you are on the fence about volunteering or donating goods or supporting a non-profit financially, my hope is that this tiny portion of my story will push you closer to saying YES and giving yourself away. I hope you are all having a fabulous week!!!–the sun is shining…the wind is blowing…Thank you God for this new day!
I’m not a speaker. Speaking to a group regardless of size is not something I enjoy. However, when Rachel asked if I could do this for her…there is absolutely no fear or excuse great enough to keep me from behind this podium.
When I submitted my application, I had just over a year clean from drugs and alcohol. I had an 18 month old daughter. I was in a toxic relationship. And I was trying so hard to get my head out from under water…and I couldn’t. (Brief caveat: I was a preschool teacher…and I made $10.51 an hour, which is above minimum wage. But at $10.51 an hour, you also don’t qualify for any public assistance. No food stamps, no rental assistance, no TANF…) No matter how much I tried to save, no matter how hard I was trying to make decisions that would benefit myself and my daughter, I just couldn’t seem to catch a break.
At the time, I was living with my mom in Excelsior…Hillcrest had been mentioned to me several times and each time I disqualified myself: “I’m not ACTUALLY homeless. I have a place to stay.”…really what I was saying to myself was, “Someone else deserves it more than I do.”—One day I ended up in the teacher’s lounge where I worked…with a parent of a child who attended this school…and this parent happened to have very great knowledge of Hillcrest. So I took a deep breath…and asked her about it…and she said, “I think you’d be a great candidate.” And I said, “Well, I’m not REALLY homeless though…” and she just smiled and said, “I think you should apply.” So I did… I applied by myself…and during the interview asked if my boyfriend could stay with me (because things were likely not going well when I had filled out the application, but were better by the time I interviewed)…and Rachel told me “NO”…and I’m so glad that she did.
I moved in really close to Christmas…forgive me for not having the exact date, but I remember so clearly getting a knock on the door one of my first nights there… It was my church sponsor…with gifts. They just came in and set all these gifts on the table, prayed for me, and then they left…and I cried and cried, because I was grateful…and I confused…because I had made so many awful mistakes…and again with that “Someone else deserves it more than I do.” –And, as a non-Christian…not quite an atheist…maybe an agnostic…it began awakening my soul… Those gifts of towels and a homemade scrap booking kit were so much more than merely towels and a homemade scrap booking kit…
During my stay, I was taught everything—not necessarily because I didn’t know how to do them, but because I didn’t have the confidence in myself to do them without someone’s guidance. For years, my decisions were poor. My decisions were NOT good…they got me in trouble…over and over and over again. So while I was there, I was taught everything…how to clean, how to follow rules and meet expectations, how to shop, how to budget, how to do laundry, how to microwave a hot dog, how to manage time, how to make popcorn, how to pray, how to ask for help…
It was hard. Staying at Hillcrest was so hard. One of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished (and I’ve had three children, so that’s saying something). …There was a time while I was there that my boyfriend took my car…a time when he took my money…and of course a time when I could no longer deny that he was getting high again……and usually I’d forgive him and continue on in this cycle of chaos…but during one of our case management meetings while discussing this relationship, Rachel asked me if I wanted Journey to think that this is how a father behaves. She didn’t word it like that…but essentially that’s what she said. …And something clicked. I told him I never wanted to see him again…and, to this day, I’ve maybe seen him three times, and I’ve left as soon as he’s entered the room…he has minimal contact with our daughter through letters…and I’ve told him repeatedly that he needs to go through the courts if he wants any sort of visitation…because when I was at Hillcrest, I learned how to set healthy boundaries for myself and my child.
Close to the end of my stay, I was telling my resident managers about how upset I was about being alone (being alone was uncharted territory)…and how I was struggling with not answering the phone when my ex called…and they told me pray for the right person/people to enter my life. And by this time, I’d learned to pray because it had been demonstrated regularly by my resident managers…prayer was the solution for nearly everything it seemed…and it WORKED and it turned me into a believer. So I prayed. And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed…and I have no idea for how long it was…it logistically couldn’t have been longer than a few weeks, I met the man that is my husband today. …He asked me out for coffee and I told him that I couldn’t spend any money…and he said, “I’m not going to ask you out and make you buy your own coffee…” And that was different. I’d never dated anyone who had offered to buy my coffee. I had never really DATED at all. –I was so confused, because he had it all together…WHY would want to date a single mom…in recovery…in transitional living for homeless…… “Someone else deserves him more than I do…” But I kept praying…and we COMMUNICATED (which is something else I learned here)…we got married in 2014 and today we stilllike each other.
I feel like I’ve been here and there…and I’ve tried to touch on just a few of the highlights of my stay…but I want to reiterate that this program is so, so, so, soooo much more than a shelter…or a temporary solution… Beyond the ability to save during my stay and getting childcare reimbursement and little treats for meeting expectations…this program gave me a life beyond what I would’ve ever imagined. I learned indirectly and directly about God…about Jesus…about selfless service…about communication…and boundaries and recovery and credit reports and confidence and that I deserved so, so, so much more than I was giving to myself. Today, I know with all of my soul that I am WORTHY of a place to call my own…I am WORTHY of healthy relationships…I am WORTHY of assistance…and my story is WORTH telling. Oftentimes, because my story is mine…and I’ve lived it and heard it many, many, many times…my story loses it’s sparkle. It loses it “WOW”…until I share it with someone who hasn’t heard it before…and all that shock factor and “OH-MY-GOODNESS…GOD-IS-SO-GOOD…” comes flooding back.
Hillcrest changed my life. –Actually, Hillcrest gave me the skills I needed to change my own life. Completely. I am a homeowner…a car owner…my credit is LOVELY…I’ve gone on a trip to Haiti to love on orphans and talk about Jesus…I’m the owner of a bachelor’s degree…I have almost 8 years of recovery…I am a stay at home mom and I can be because we SAVE and we PLAN and we don’t go on a bunch of trips because we BUDGET… …When I say that Hillcrest helped to change my life…I mean it. I can do hard things. Hillcrest has played a huge role in teaching me that truth.
Really quickly, before I’m finished up here, I just want to say that Rachel, Anne, other employees…people who donate time and talents for community living…and food and goods for the pantry…and church sponsors for the apartments…volunteers at the thrift store and volunteers on the campuses who build and clean and organize and pray— you are all so vital. As a graduate looking back, without any one of those pieces of the program, something major would have been lacking. Thank you so much for helping to create the person that I am and the life I have the opportunity to live today.