End Homelessness in DC - One Family at a Time

by Hope and a Home, Inc.

The World Is Our Oyster-Kendra's Journey From Homelessness to Wholeness

In 2012, my daughter and I began to swim across the pool of poverty in which hundreds of families, in DC, find themselves when they are classified as homeless. It was heartbreaking. I am a college graduate who wrote numerous papers that articulated my desire to defy the cycle of poverty. From adolescence to early adulthood, I engaged in academic exercise that was designed to prepare me for the marathon of strokes and kicks that would be required to move me away from the rip tides of adverse pathologies and into the calm waters of accomplishment. But somewhere along the way, I must have missed a few practices or skipped a couple of drills because there I was, in the water, treading, feeling unable to endure, without any indication of the distance I would need to cover to get my daughter and I out of the murky waters of despair.

I was optimistic at first. I have family in the metropolitan area and I figured that with their love, support, and generosity, I would be able to piece my life back together and move forward. I tried, but the barriers to establishing stability were immense. I suffered from mental illness that had long been hidden from family members and they did not know how support me and maintain their households at the same time. We moved from place to place, and it felt like I was drowning. Until, finally, we ended up in the DC shelter system. It was not the ideal circumstance under which to raise a child, but I started to find guidance toward the resources I needed to help my daughter and I find dry land.

We had been in the shelter system for about a year and a half when I was presented with an opportunity to apply for a living space with Hope and a Home. I was elated! Finally, I would have an opportunity to experience self-sufficiency again. After being accepted into the program, I received the keys to my own two bedroom apartment for which I am responsible for all the associated utilities. It makes me feel like a provider, an adult, a mother, and a productive member of society. The program has presented itself as the ladder to the helicopter hovering over my weakened body prepared to take me to safety and all I have to do is climb. And so I do.

When I was without a fixed address, I realized how multifaceted parenting is. Having your home is not just about the provision of physical shelter, there are skills that support emotional solvency that are indirectly cultivated by the atmosphere in the home. The freedom to create structure and boundaries assist in developing a safe space for your child to manifest a sense of self and responsibility. At the time I applied for Hope and a Home, I could not afford the market rent required for a two bedroom apartment in the District of Columbia. However, it was a necessary component of my parenting at this stage. Because of Hope and a Home, I have been able to stop my daughter from co-sleeping with me, we have worked on enhancing her self-soothing tactics, I have employed a consistent bedtime, and she has accepted the responsibility of making her bed and maintaining her own space. From field trips to gap camp, Hope and a Home inspires me to engage my daughter in experiences that enrich her life and exposes her to activities outside of her comfort zone.  

In the past year, I have also been able to maintain employment. I have enrolled my daughter in school and she has been in engaged in extracurricular activities. Furthermore, I have volunteered at her school and I continue to make connections to resources around the city that are designed to empower those who are downtrodden by economic instability. Hope and Home is more than a transitional housing program. It is an incubator designed to nurse those who have been beat up by the waves of the same ocean in which they must dive to find that oyster we were all promised at birth. You know the saying, “The World is Your Oyster”. With wholistic case management that provides support with parenting strategies, education, financial planning, housing and employment searches we are encouraged to inflate our life jackets and get back into the water so that we may lay claim to the oyster we are all entitled to find.

Sankofa Camp
Sankofa Camp

                                           Sankofa Summer Camp Reaching Back To Move Forward

Our Hope and a Home children had many wonderful, enriching camp experiences this summer. Hope and a Home made it possible for 38 children to attend 8 weeks of camps that included 1-3 weeks of overnight camps for many of our older children. One of our students auditioned and was accepted into Debbie Allen’s dance camp in Los Angeles. We were able to provide funds to her family to help make this camp a reality.

 Following the 8 weeks of camp there is a gap at the end of the summer when most of the camps have ended and the school year has not yet begun. This year our staff organized a one week gap camp that we named Camp Sankofa. “Sankofa" is a West African word that teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.

We began the camp by asking for each child’s interpretation of what Sankofa means to them. For some it was what their parents have taught them. For others it was a sense of their heritage and history. Each child was given a journal that was theirs to keep at the end of their camp experience .On the first day they reflected on what was important to them from their roots. This daily journal then became a place for the children to record and reflect on what they had learned from the activities of the day.

The emphasis of the camp was on education and on making learning fun. We visited many places in Washington , D.C., the city where we live. We took public transportation whenever possible so that we weren’t dependent on cars and vans to take us on our excursions.

Some of the experiences that we planned were an African American Underground Railroad hike where we walked the trail through the woods that the slaves had traveled and   reenacted what it may have been like to survive in the forest and not get caught. We took an in depth look at zoo animals and rode the train to Baltimore to visit the Baltimore Aquarium where we saw many aspects of   sea life.

We were explorers and investigators and inventors. . We explored the Henley Meadows Wetlands through a scavenger hunt finding turtles, frogs, red winged black birds, and beaver dams. We discovered things living in the Wetlands that were not on our list. We explored our city by visiting places that some of the children had not visited before like the Arlington National Cemetery and the National Museum of American History.

We investigated why we wouldn’t want to build a city on the Wetlands, why animals behave in a certain manner, and why taking care of our environment is so important . We did hands- on experimenting with the inventions at the at the Spark Lab at the National Museum of American History and had the opportunity to create our own inventions.

Each day the children learned new things about themselves , their city , and their history. Our Hope and a Home children are enrolled in camps throughout the summer and participate in many extracurricular activities during the school year. We love to see the Hope and a Home children achieve their full potential as they move forward. Please support Hope and a Home as we bring enriching experiences to our children. They are worth the investment.

Graduation-Not The End, But The Beginning

 

In June our thoughts often turn to graduation celebrations-honoring the accomplishments of our family and friends. At Hope and a Home we also celebrate our graduates. When families leave our program and move into permanent housing we call them graduates. They have worked hard and made great strides in accomplishing the goals that they set for themselves.

 Here are some of the stories from our Hope and a Home Graduates.

 Lonnetta came to Hope and a Home from a shelter with her two children. She struggled to find her way. She worked in a variety of work settings and tried to find a path that would lead to  rewarding work but she was frustrated in her work life. All along the way, Lonetta expressed a deep, abiding love for dance. Hope and a Home helped her enroll in several dance classes. She interned with a dance company and taught several dance classes, but couldn’t make a living wage doing that for other studios and organizations. Her desire was to have her own dance studio. During her time in Hope and a Home she realized that to accomplish her goal she would need to learn money management and best business practices. Hope and a   Home requires a monthly budget and credit repair. She took this very seriously and through much hard work and planning was able to position herself to begin her own business. Her breakthrough came when she developed a business plan and with much vision and careful planning started her own business. Today, Lonetta is the owner of a very successful dance studio. This summer four of her students were selected to attend Debbie Allen’s prestigious dance camp in Los Angeles. She is living her dream.

 Kaya is a single mom who balances many things in her life. She was working in a low paying job in the medical field. She loved helping people and wanted to make nursing her career but was stuck in work that was not fulfilling. Through Hope and a Home’s goal setting program she began to formulate her plans for the future. She completed Licensed Practical Nursing classes. By the time that she graduated from Hope and a Home she was doing contract work with a local public school system. She proved herself on the job. They loved her work and hired her to work for them full time. She is now employed as a school nurse with full benefits. Her time in Hope and a Home was the catalyst for change. Her hard work and vision have paid off.

 Anna was a teen mom. She had little support from her nuclear family. When she came to Hope and a Home she was very young and needed direction. The Hope and a Home staff surrounded her with support and partnered with her to get her son placed in an excellent school. She loved working with children but didn’t see that she could make that a profession. We challenged her to follow this passion and encouraged her to get the education she needed to make this a reality. She gained confidence in herself and began to   focus her vocational plans. Our staff connected her to scholarships and programs that suited her situation and helped her to flourish.Today she is an educational tutor in a Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. She has recently completed her Associate Degree in Education and has her sights set on further education. She is proud of her accomplishments and we are proud of her too!

 We are very proud of our graduates. When they move from our program into permanent housing situations it may seem like it is the end of an era, but really it is only the beginning. The way that Hope and a Home challenges and encourages our participants helps them to learn and grow and prepare for a wonderful future. Congratulations to our Graduates!

We Are On This Journey Together

Hope and a Home’s mission is to strengthen the fabric of each family it touches by offering the guidance and support needed for families to overcome obstacles and achieve their full potential.

We know that our parents want to be great parents and we know that effective parenting does not happen all at once. It is a process.

Hope and a Home is walking along side our parents as they journey to become great parents. Parenting is the most important work that we can do. Giving our children the nurturing, care and guidance to grow to be successful, productive and loving people is a goal for all of us.

Hope and a Home has embarked on The Parenting Journey. This is a curriculum that focuses on the emotional understanding of what it means to be a parent. The Journey begins each week with some ritual questions that focus on how we take care of ourselves because taking care of ourselves is critical to being able to take care of others.

Each week parents reflect on how they were parented and how that informs the parenting of their own children. Parents find their own path to self-awareness through self- reflection and insights into their own upbringing as well as reflecting on their own current parenting practices. Goal setting is a vital part of this process where parents seek to change unhealthy behaviors and set goals around developing new behaviors that make for a healthy family life.

Hope and a Home is journeying together each step of the way with our families. A key part of the Parenting Journey is that the case manager who works with the family answers the same questions that the parents are expected to answer. This deepens the relationship between the case manager and the parent and creates a safe space to explore experiences and create new paths to great parenting going forward.

Hope and a Home has a creed that we say together when we gather for our monthly family workshops. Part of our creed states that “We build on our strengths, ask for help when we need it, and offer aid to others when we can. We know that life can be difficult as well as joyous. We are here to learn from each other, to encourage each other, and to create a brighter future for us all. To these ideals we commit ourselves.”

We believe that all families can grow stronger and will contribute to the life of their community. We are on this journey together and we see a brighter future for us all.

The Reading Road Map is Hope and a Home’s exciting new reading initiative that we began this summer in an effort to encourage more reading among our families.

The goals for the program are as follows:

  • Helping young children build reading and language skills.
  • Preparing children for success by developing early language skills.
  • Motivating teens to read and discuss literature.
  • Encouraging adults to experience the joy of reading

The children are required to complete a book form that lists information about the books they read. Once completed, each participant in recognized and rewarded with a variety of incentives. In addition to receiving incentives such as restaurant gift cards, sport memorabilia, special admissions in museums and parks, they also receive   a certificate of recognition that is presented at our monthly workshops in front of the parents and children attending.

Children are regularly requesting more book forms. We love to see this growing excitement about reading and hearing through their reports about the world that reading opens up for our Hope and a Home children.  

Hope and a Home believes that by creating strong readers, children will perform better in school,  have the skills needed to perform as productive professionals, develop financial independence and break the cycle of homelessness.

We need your help to provide funds for books for the Hope and a Home children so that they can build their own home libraries. In this season of giving please consider the gift that keeps on giving-the joy of reading.

 

                                                                                

 

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Organization Information

Hope and a Home, Inc.

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.hopeandahome.org/​
Hope and a Home, Inc.
Project Leader:
Lynn French
Executive Director
Washington, DC United States

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