Facing imminent eviction with her children, Melissa Brandt felt alone, overwhelmed and hopelessly stuck.
One day before her eviction hearing, she turned to Bridge of Hope, Harrisburg Area, an organization she actually had volunteered with years earlier.
“I didn’t think that I qualified for their program,” Brandt said. “I didn’t realize, also, that they helped prevent homelessness.”
Bridge of Hope negotiated with her landlord to prevent the eviction.
Jenny Nace, the local group’s communication and development coordinator, explained the tough choices faced by many single mothers.
“When a single mother comes to us, she’s more often than not having to make hard decisions that are out of her control,” Nace said.
For instance, she may be able to pay her rent, but also making the car payment is not possible on her income, Nace said. If she makes the car payment, she may not be able to pay her rent or childcare.
“She’s always having to decide which crucial life need is most important,” Nace said. “But when they are all necessary, the decisions are impossible to make.”
Bridge of Hope, with 25 offices in 13 states, works with Christian organizations to assist single mothers who are unhoused or facing homelessness, using social capital and “neighboring.”
Social capital is the resources and networks that many often take for granted because they’ve always had them. Neighboring offers those resources to others, providing them with someone to call, someone to ask. Neighboring groups consist of six to 10 members willing to share resources, knowledge and time.
In Brandt’s case, members of her neighboring group helped her update her résumé and dropped off meals. For Astrid Troche, group members provided transportation, language help and driving lessons.
Troche spoke little English when she arrived in Lebanon from Puerto Rico. Then she and her husband separated. She tried to keep the family housed, but they were eventually evicted. A cousin in Harrisburg took her in, but, after a family conflict on a cold December night, Troche and her two sons, ages 2 and 8, found themselves out on the street.
“We didn’t have anywhere to go,” Troche said. “So, we found an abandoned house, and we went inside with no electric or gas or anything.”
A friend took in the younger boy, but the older, with a disability, stayed in the house with Troche—for a month.
A pastor at her Spanish-speaking church directed Troche to Bridge of Hope. After learning about the program, Troche expected help with food and housing, but she was most surprised by the love and acceptance.
“I go to see my volunteer, and I feel like family,” she said.
Nonjudgmental support is pivotal for mothers who may feel ashamed of where they find themselves and their children. Over a bagel at Panera, Brandt talked about the depth of her despair before Bridge of Hope.
“Because of the shame and the fear and my issues with addiction, I had really isolated myself from other family members and really having any close connections with people in my life,” she said.
Compounding her situation was the loss of her nursing license due to substance abuse and fearfulness that prevented her from participating in a program that offered an opportunity to get it back. Bridge of Hope helped her think through her difficult situation and dig herself out of this hole.
The program also gives participants case management to work through practical issues like finances. Brandt credited this help with allowing for long-term self-sustainability.
“If I could just get through this addiction, I felt like that was the only thing holding me back,” she said. “But when you really look at things like the self-confidence and budgeting skills I had forgotten—I was making a lot of money beforehand, and I was wasting it a lot of the time.”
Bridge of Hope cultivates this accepting environment through what it calls cultural humility.
“In serving with cultural humility, we invite single mothers from all walks of life who bring different perspectives and voices to our program,” Nace said. “We invite them into a neighborhood of support that is humbly serving one another, encouraging them to feel comfortable so they are empowered to fully embrace their uniqueness and come to the table just as they are.”
Many participants have likely heaped enough condemnation on themselves already.
“I felt like I couldn’t do anything for my kids,” said Troche, wiping away tears.
In her harried desire “to do something,” she nearly quit the program, but decided to follow the guidance of the group and work on getting her driver’s license and improving her language skills. Sometimes, progress through the program is slow, but it’s tailored to each family’s needs.
The clouds have now parted for Brandt and Troche. Brandt had her nursing license reinstated after participating in a rehabilitation program for medical professionals experiencing substance abuse. Troche works as a home health aide, obtained an apartment, learned English and provides for her children in a way not possible before.
Brandt’s voice cracked as she recalled a time when she was despondent and frozen with fear for the future. She wants others to know that there is hope.
“I would say that there is help, that you have to be willing to accept it,” she said. “These people are not there to judge what your situation is. They’re there to help you find solutions and to get through it.”
For more information on Bridge of Hope Harrisburg Area, visit www.harrisburg.bridgeofhopeinc.org.
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