When a child arrives at Benedictine Place, their baggage comes with them. While their tiny arms tote along very little of material possessions, like clothes and toys. Often times, an unmanageable load of anger, confusion and resentment weighs heavily on their shoulders. Benedictine Place will probably be the most secure home they’ve lived in all of their short lives.
Just the same, the fear of change and uncertainly mixed with unresolved feelings about divorce, abuse or homelessness often triggers a resentment towards the new atmosphere. It takes time, but with the help of the small staff at HEARTH and its many volunteers, the children are provided with the love, respect and support that makes a fresh start possible.
That “mending” often begins with the mothers and rubs off on the children. “This is the best thing to ever happen to me and the kids,” said Donna, a single mother of two. As the mother of a 6-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son, Donna said she has experienced the full spectrum of problems. Her oldest can remember an alcoholic and abusive father, who has been out of their lives for more than a decade. He can’t seem to forget the way he was always shuffling around, living in eight different places in as many years.
Then there’s Donna’s second husband, her daughter’s father, who walked away from the family five years ago and hasn’t paid a cent in child support since. “He has a lot of anger that he carries around with him,” Donna said about her son. “Like a lot of kids here, he’s seen things he shouldn’t have and has had to deal with a lot at a young age.
Before turning to HEARTH, the final straw came less than a year ago when illness prevented Donna from cutting hair, her livelihood for 20 years. The loss of that income meant she could no longer keep up with the rent on the family’s West View apartment. They were evicted after falling one month behind on rent. “We were homeless and had nowhere to go,” she recalled. “There was complaining the whole time we lived there. I was the first to bring kids into the building, and I constantly heard about it.”
The sisters of Mt. Nazareth suggested the Benedictine Place Program to Donna. After her arrival, the years of neglecting her deteriorating health finally caught up to her. At Benedictine Place, Donna was given the chance to have the surgery she needed to begin mending her ailing body. Now that she has begun the road to recovery, she has more time and patience to spend with her children. She has the time and energy to be a mother again.
“I used to have so many things to worry about and I wasn’t feeling well. Not that it’s easy now, but I actually have the time to spend with my kids. I have the patience to listen to them, and my daughter listens better now than she ever has. I think that it has a lot to do with me spending more time with her. My daughter asked me if we were poor. I told her maybe a little, but that we were rich in love. This place has showed us that,” Donna said.
But even more important than the presents at Christmas and at her daughter’s birthday is the sense of family that they are recapturing. While Donna attends mandatory weekly meetings about everything from parenting skills to balancing a checkbook, her daughter joins a dozen or so other children in child-care provided by volunteers at HEARTH. For the children it’s a fun place to create their own network. For the mothers it is a Godsend. “It’s her neighborhood. She has a lot of friends here. She enjoys it so much I have to drag her away some nights,” Donna said. “Sometimes I wish we could stay here forever, but I know we’re lucky to be here for the two years. It really gives you the chance to put your life back together for you and your kids.”