Cindy’s Story

Cindy’s comfortable, some might say luxurious, lifestyle came to a screeching halt when her husband’s business failed. She was blamed when illegal business activity was discovered and spent a night in jail. The life of private schools for her children and self-indulgence was over. The failed business and problems with the law didn’t leave them with any money. Cindy and her children came to HEARTH, where she was able to go back to school to get re-certified in nursing. She has since gone on to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees also.

Cindy’s husband owned his own business but when times got tough he left some of the accounting work to her, including writing checks. Cindy had been a registered nurse (R.N.) 16 years ago but had given it up to raise her children. She was not qualified to do accounting work but was loyal to her husband and wanted to help in any way she could. She was unaware that the checks she was writing were fraudulent. Eventually, it was discovered, and Cindy was arrested, spending 18 hours in jail.

She left her husband and moved herself and her four children in with her parents. Her world felt like it was crashing around her. The crowded, uncomfortable space at her parent’s made Cindy realize she needed a fresh start. After her divorce was finalized, her sister’s friend recommended HEARTH. She knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime and called immediately. Cindy entered the program in 1997. She brought three of her children with her to Benedictine Place.

Benedictine Place was an adjustment for Cindy and her children. Her kids were now enrolled in a public school and no longer had luxuries like long vacations and big shopping trips. “HEARTH taught me how to be humble,” said Cindy.

Cindy decided she wanted to get back into the field of nursing. While at HEARTH she enrolled in a RN refresher course at Community College of Allegheny County and worked as a nurses’ aid at Windsor Place, an assisted living facility.

She finished her RN refresher course in December 1997 and left Benedictine Place in early 1998. Because of HEARTH’s support and her employment as a floor nurse she felt ready to leave. Cindy moved in to a townhouse in the North Hills and continued working at Windsor Place.

“Making ends meet and being a single mother were the hardest parts of being independent,” says Cindy. HEARTH helped her get the right foundation to succeed on her own.

Cindy is now working as a nurse for Kane Regional Centers of Allegheny County and has her master’s degree in nursing. She remarried in 2004 and resides in the North Hills with her husband. Her children went to college and are working now. Cindy is very proud of their independence and success in their chosen careers.

“I’m most proud of mine and my children’s educational successes.” Cindy hopes that her children take away independence and strength from her experience. She wouldn’t want them to take anything for granted. She feels that life is wonderful and looks forward to continuing her work.

“I don’t know where I would be without HEARTH. Once I came there everything fell right into place.”

Tracey’s Story

Tracey came to HEARTH after battling harassment at work which ended, in her eyes, her “perfect life”, resulting in homelessness. After dealing with the death of her mother and her divorce, Tracey and her daughters sought a fresh start and left Pittsburgh for Virginia. For the first time, she was on her own, without a safety net of family and friends.

Everything fell into place for Tracey and seemed perfect – house, neighborhood and school district. She even found a perfect job as a medical assistant but was offered a more perfect job with a national insurance company and was promoted in the first six months. Everything was perfect.

But soon it all began to fall apart . . . she began receiving strange emails at work which knew too much information about her home, work and children.

Tracey sought help from work and received none. Then she sought help from the police and still didn’t get any. The emails continued, arriving multiple times a day, referring to places she had been, food she purchased, conversations she had, clothing her children wore. Tracy didn’t feel she or her children were safe anywhere.

As the intensity of the harassment increased, Tracy repeatedly asked for intervention at work. She received no support. Dreading opening up her computer and fearing for herself and her family, Tracey stopped going out, refused to go to work, got fired from her job, and tapped into her life savings in order to pay her bills.

Almost out of money, Tracey and her girls went back to Pittsburgh, broken and tattered, leaving all of their belongings in Virginia. Back in Pittsburgh she stayed with her sister for awhile, but soon moved to a shelter. With a limit of 45 days and no money, Tracy needed to find a job soon. She went back to her sister with a list of referrals from the shelter. An unsuccessful job search brought Tracey to the realization that in order to succeed she needed a degree. But how would she get that degree with no home and no money?

Then Tracey found HEARTH, located in the North Hills which offered a good school district for her girls, safe area for her family and a means of educating herself to get that degree she needed.

A housing program had not been the answer Tracy was looking for. But, knowing that her girls were watching and that she needed to be an example for them, Tracey picked up the phone and called HEARTH.

That December, Tracey and her girls moved into HEARTH. When she walked into her “condo” as she called it, for the first time, she was overwhelmed by the Holiday Spirit. There were boxes of gifts everywhere and a tree that was decorated, could it be that they would actually be safe and have a Christmas after all . . . ????

HEARTH has provided Tracey the opportunity to, “catch her breath.” She is enrolled at the Community College of Allegheny County and will graduate in the spring of 2011 with an Associate’s Degree in Legal Administration. HEARTH has given Tracey the courage and knowledge to rebuild her life.

Tracy is only one of the women that is helped at HEARTH every year. Through the thousands of hours of support and guidance that these families receive from staff and volunteers, more than 556 women and children have been helped in the last 15 years.

The Chance for Change

There is an old saying, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” DeShay can attest to that. While she was trying to provide a good life for her family, she lost her Section 8 housing and was laid-off from her job. Welfare benefits did not cover rent for a place to live. She was struggling to find a solution. How could she provide for herself and her children? At that low point, DeShay believes, “God was at work in my coming to HEARTH.”

DeShay’s godfather had a chance conversation with a co-worker about HEARTH and he passed the information along to her, encouraging her to consider it as a possible solution. For a while DeShay resisted the advice. She did not see herself living at a location like Benedictine Place, but she finally made that initial call to gather information about the facility and the program. After conversations with the staff, she made the decision to move in with her children. It was one of the best decisions of her life.

One of DeShay’s driving life goals was to earn her college degree, but life circumstances kept putting barriers in her way. The HEARTH program gave her, “. . . two years to overcome those barriers. HEARTH allowed me to make school my primary focus.” Not only did the program provide the time, it also provided the support she needed to keep her focus on earning her degree.

“Everyone wanted to see me do better and that was not my life experience.” DeShay sees HEARTH’s emphasis on giving you a “hand-up” not a “hand-out” as one of the keys to her success. “I learned how a community can build you up.” DeShay saw that everyone: the staff, the volunteers, the North Hills community, and the sisters were vested in helping her succeed. The families at Benedictine Place bonded and helped each other work toward accomplishing their individual goals. She understands that HEARTH gives her the how to, she had to get it done on her own. All of this has changed her view of life.

DeShay has seen changes in her children. Before HEARTH the children were more about themselves. When they had the opportunity to see how others helped and supported their family, they became more appreciative. The children began to look for ways in which they could help others. DeShay has seen tremendous change within herself. She earned her college degree and is employed as a part of the legal system. She says, “I am now more patient and giving. I’m not so quick to judge others. I’m more open to people. I look to brighten others’ situations. I am more hopeful.”

Her advice to others who need help, “Always have faith – stay with it. Whatever I’ve gone through has made me the person I am.”

It is a powerful moment when you give someone the support and the chance to change.

April’s Story

April came to Benedictine Place with two children, ages 8 and 10. She had little education beyond high school and received no support from her children’s father.

April had always wanted to go back to school, but the constraints of paying the bills and taking care of her children didn’t permit it to happen. “I knew I needed help but I didn’t know where to turn. DPW (The Department of Public Welfare) doesn’t give you resources,” April said.

At Benedictine Place, donations of food and coats for her kids supplemented April’s tight budget. HEARTH’s personal growth classes helped April learn how to manage her household. “With that support, I was able to focus on school,” she said. April set her goals and was given incentives by staff to meet them.

Upon completing paralegal training at Duff’s Business Institute and a law firm internship, April secured a full-time job with an Uptown law firm. She has been accepted into Point Park University’s Saturday program to work on her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. With two children, a full-time job, classes, and studying, life will be challenging. But it is a challenge April looks forward to meeting. April’s children have adjusted well to their new stable life. They take computer classes at HEARTH and attend a weekly program with other children their age at a nearby church.

Mary Beth’s Story

Mary Beth was born and raised in the North Hills. Although she gave birth to her daughter Caterina while in high school, she still finished on time in 1999. She started college at The Community College of Allegheny County that fall but later transferred to Bidwell Training Center to pursue a career as a Travel Agent. She graduated in March 2001 and got a job in July at a travel agency in the North Hills. However, the attacks on September 11 dealt a tough blow to the travel industry, and Mary Beth was laid off.

After a series of temporary jobs as mainly a receptionist or secretary, she secured full-time employment as the Assistant Manager at a video store, where she worked for two years. After a short maternity leave after the birth of her son Alex in November 2007, she went part-time at the video store before getting laid off in March 2008 when the video rental industry plummeted.

Mary Beth had been living with Alex’s father in Brookline until this time. After they parted ways, she used up her savings for rental housing until she moved into Benedictine Place in August 2008. She says, “I knew I had to get back on my feet. And HEARTH strives to give people the tools to do that.”

At Benedictine Place, Mary Beth says she got back involved with her family and children (her daughter Peyton was born in December 2008), got back in school, set up a savings account, and learned budgeting skills. Through her individual case management meetings, she learned how to say no to people, stand on her own two feet, and stand up for herself. She is very introspective and, by creating a timeline of her life, is assessing how her experiences as a child have affected her in adulthood.

Mary Beth has struggled with depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) since childhood. She has been in and out of therapy and on and off medication for her depression since she was 15 years old. She says, “I struggle with being accepted; I want people to like me, and I look for ways to get attention.” She has had difficulties with ADHD since she was 6 years old and has been on and off medication. Her ADHD causes her to have concentration issues and be “fidgety and flighty,” and she now feels this has contributed to her making poor decisions.
Mary Beth chose to enter the PRIDE Program because she was not ready to live on her own. She says, “I need to be stable for my children. I don’t want to fail again.” She is currently enrolled at CCAC in the MOST Program, which stands for Modern Office Systems Training, and she loves it! She will finish in September 2009 and remain in the PRIDE Program as long as she wants to.

Krysta’s Story

After Krysta graduated high school, she took a few college classes but admittedly had no focus. She says, “I went to school, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t take it seriously because I didn’t have a future goal.” She was living with her father, who was also supporting her financially, so she had little responsibility.

Because she had no focus, she began a slide down a slippery slope. She began to party with friends and lead a lifestyle she now calls “self-destructive and disastrous.” Although her father continued to support her, the relationship between them became strained. Recognizing this situation, her siblings severed ties with her and advised their father to stop indulging her. They saw how she was using him and other people and felt she did not care about anyone but herself.

In July of 2005, when Krysta was 22 years old, she had her son D’Angelo. Now that she had a child, someone else she had to take care of, she knew she had to get her life in order. However, she felt she had done a lot of damage, and she was not sure if she could repair it. To start, she and D’Angelo entered a housing program. D’Angelo’s father was not in the picture, as he went to jail when D’Angelo was three months old. The housing program, though, was not what Krysta wanted, and she told them she planned to move.

Then, the case manager from HEARTH called this other program to refer a client, and the case manager there told us about Krysta! Krysta and D’Angelo moved into Benedictine Place in November of 2006. She chose to enroll in the Paralegal Associate of Science Program at the Community College of Allegheny County. She says, “I had no clue as to how the legal system worked, but it was something I always wanted to learn. I thought the paralegal program sounded interesting.”

In the Benedictine Place program, she worked on several different areas of her life. First, she worked on becoming self-reliant, which included her learning how to budget her money. She never had to be responsible for herself because she knew her father would never turn his back on her; he would always support her financially and open his home to her, no matter how much this negatively impacted his own life. She wanted to learn how to rely on herself and break her habit of seeking help from her father.

Second, she worked on parenting and being the head of the household. Being a single parent, she has all the responsibility of caring for her son. It was difficult, though, for her to balance her time between being a mom, going to school, and taking care of her apartment. However, in the “real world,” these were things she would have to do, so she needed to gain some skills in these areas.

Third, she worked on her attitude towards and relationships with others. She stopped “using” people and began offering her help, including to other program participants. She learned how to maintain healthy relationships with people and interact like a “normal” person. She did become friends with several women in the program and remains friends with them today. As for her siblings, when they saw her stop relying on her father, they began a relationship with her again.

At CCAC, she enjoyed learning and did very well in her program, making the Dean’s List every semester. She graduated in May of 2008 with degrees in both General Studies and Paralegal. She was hired full-time in a downtown law firm in August of 2008, a happy ending in which HEARTH played a part. One of the lawyers spoke to the Benedictine Place program participants about wills and providing for custody of children, and, at the time, Krysta was looking for an externship and gave him her resume.

Krysta and D’Angelo now live in an apartment in the West View area. When she looks back on her experience at Benedictine Place, she says, “HEARTH provided guidance and a cushion, but I had to learn to be responsible for myself and how to make appropriate choices for my future. I am thankful for my experience there.”

Sharon’s Story

Sharon and her 9-month-old daughter came to Benedictine Place after Sharon left an abusive relationship. They arrived with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

Sharon was required to enroll in an education program to gain marketable skills. Because Sharon’s prior student loans were in default, she needed financial assistance to attend school. While she worked on getting the loans paid up, HEARTH connected her to a scholarship provided by ZONTA through Point Park University’s adult accelerated full-time Saturday program. Sharon worked hard at school; she worked at a part-time job; she cared for her infant daughter; and she participated in weekly life skills classes.

While living at Benedictine Place, Sharon received emotional support from the staff, supplies from the food pantry, holiday gifts from the community and most importantly, she gained the confidence and skills to become financially independent. Sharon graduated with honors and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in May 2006.

Sharon says, “Without HEARTH many of us would never be able to go school and take care of our families. HEARTH has given me the push I needed for self-sufficiency. I now live in Warrendale in a beautiful house with a roommate who also was a HEARTH program participant. I also volunteer for HEARTH whenever I am needed.” Sharon is seeking a job in probation, parole or in a correctional facility. And once again she is back at Point Park — pursuing a master’s degree! “I never would have been able to do all this without HEARTH.”

Cindy L’s Story

In many neighborhoods, there are now former Benedictine Place residents who have met the challenge, faced their hardships squarely, changed their lives, and are now successful, contributing members to society. One of many success stories, Cindy L. came to Benedictine Place with four children, desperate to provide a better life for them. One of her sons balked at the idea of “living in a shelter.” He chose to live with his father instead. The other three children adjusted quickly and grew to appreciate the care and concern that is so evident at Benedictine Place.

Even though Cindy had completed some nurse’s training 16 years earlier, she knew that to be a viable employee, she needed to update her skills. Benedictine Place gave her the opportunity to do that. After eight months, Cindy had finished her training and was eager to get her children established in a good school district in the North Hills.

“Benedictine Place gave me back a sense of worth and security. In addition to helping me to return to school, the emotional support they provided me was a blessing.” The success story continues now that Cindy has recently been promoted to RN supervisor in the hospital where she works. Not only is she a valuable member of society, but Cindy now returns the favor to the community by helping others as much as possible through her job and her everyday life.