It’s 7:30 a.m. The alarm goes off and Alyssa starts the process of waking up three children ages 9, 7 and 5. For the past five months, the family of four has been sharing a two-bedroom unit with another family in the Emmaus Family Shelter.
“I was petrified of going into a homeless shelter,” said Alyssa. Alyssa said after she made the decision to leave an abusive relationship, she moved into an apartment, but had trouble paying the rent. She was evicted in June.
Her children start filing into the common room in various states of being ready for school. Her youngest needs her hair brushed. Her oldest is looking for her jacket. Her middle child needs his shoes tied. It’s the same chaos that families everywhere experience in the morning.
Alyssa is just one of 54 families who will be staying in Emmaus’ Family Shelter tonight. Last year, Emmaus helped a total of 840 families and 1,561 children, including 179 households in the Emmaus Family Shelter alone.
After the family gets their belongings together, they head downstairs to the Family Shelter common room. If they’re lucky, the daily donut delivery from Dunkin’ Donuts will have arrived. Dunkin Donuts has been donating donuts to Emmaus for almost a year.
It’s a good day–the donuts have arrived and the children grab one before heading out to the bus.
Alyssa sees each one off with a hug and a kiss.
” I love you very much,” she says. “Please be good.”
“The kids have adjusted well to their schools,” she said. “They are doing well here.”
Families come to Emmaus with many complex needs such as domestic violence, job loss, medical problems, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Emmaus looks at each family, each single adult, individually to develop a plan that will help each person reach their fullest potential.
This model suits Alyssa well. She loves meeting with her case managers who have helped her figure out how to find apartments, what job training programs are available–Alyssa used to be a CNA (certified nursing assistant), and where she can find other services for her and her children.
Alyssa uses her free time while her children are in school to search for apartments, something she must do each week and report her findings back to her case manager. She has also participated in a skills workshop and meets with her case manager. She likes being busy, she said.
She said coming to the shelter after staying with friends and then friends of friends was scary. At the time, she said, her family couldn’t help her. Alyssa didn’t know anything about a shelter setting.
“I didn’t know if we would have individual rooms or is it like you see on TV, with a big room and everybody sleeping on cots all together,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to be here–be in a shelter–but I have supports here, we have a roof over our heads, and I feel like God was watching out for me.”
Rebuilding Starts at Emmaus
Alyssa is hoping that she will be ready to move into her own apartment in a few months. An avid animal lover, she gave her cats up when she moved into a shelter. She would love to have pets again. She said she doesn’t want to move out of the shelter until she knows she’s ready as she never wants to have to come back.
Her children are doing well in school, her oldest daughter has a best friend and Alyssa proudly showed off the “Best Friends” necklaces she bought for the pair.
Alyssa said she’s really enjoyed the programs offered through Emmaus’ D’Youville Center for Social Justice, especially the Empowerment Project. Through that program, Alyssa has participated in parenting skills workshops, women empowering women and other support groups, as well as art classes. Recently she painted artwork for the Emmaus Breakfast, created jewelry and painted holiday ornaments.
The Emmaus Empowerment Project started a year ago and since that time is has helped 113 adults, mostly women, build self-esteem, gain job skills and learn how to search for employment and apartments, budget and be financially independent, and become better parents through parenting skills workshops.
The primary goal of the program is to empower homeless parents, primarily mothers, to build their self-esteem, define their aspirations, embrace their inner strengths, and access tools that will foster self-sufficiency.
In addition, Alyssa’s children also participate in the Emmaus Explorers Program, an educational enrichment program offered during the summer and after school. Since the Emmaus Explorers began two years ago, 200 children and 150 families have participated in this program.
Alyssa also participates in the “Let’s Get Cooking” workshops where she’s learning how to make meals in the microwave. Led by a volunteer, this workshop has been a big hit with families.
“I miss cooking,” Alyssa said. “I just want me own apartment so I can cook for my children.”
Alyssa said she’s grateful for all Emmaus has given her.
“I have everything I need for my kids and I don’t need to stress right now,” she said. “This is beyond anything I could have expected.”
Family Shelter Director Jaime Romero said Alyssa is a “delight” to have at Emmaus.
“She always maintains a positive attitude and expresses her gratitude for being here,” Romero said. “Alyssa is working hard to keep herself and her three children on the right track to move beyond shelter. We look forward to her success.”
Alyssa is looking for a job in the medical field. She said she may get her CNA licence renewed or pursue a career as a radiologist technician. She’s also hoping to learn Spanish.
“I see that I have options now, I came from a relationship that put me down a lot,” she said, noting that the Empowerment Project has really helped her improve her self-esteem. “I do not want to end up homeless again.”
She said one day she hopes she can give back to Emmaus.
“I would love to one day be able to make a donation to Emmaus,” Alyssa said. “They are so helpful to so many people. They give people food when they need it, support and your basic needs and more.”