Friday, February 22, 2013

Anniversary of a Better Life

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Zenovia celebrates her two-year anniversary at
Mt. Carmel on February 22, 2013

Exactly two years ago today, Zenovia (name changed) spent her first night at Catholic Charities’ Mt. Carmel House.

She was nervous. She was busy, washing every speck of clothing she owned after coming from a large women’s homeless shelter. But what she remembers best is shutting her eyes in a room of her own and having her first good night’s sleep in months.

“I knew I was safe. Most of all, I knew I was on the right path,” said Zenovia.

Like many of us, Zenovia grew up believing that if you go to school, get a job, and work hard, everything will be OK.  “But really,” she said, “even if you do those things, one hiccup can start a scary downward spiral.” For Zenovia, it was when her boyfriend pushed her so hard that she tumbled over a couch during an argument, causing a hip injury and nerve damage that led to serious complications. As a result, she lost her security job which she had worked for over 15 years, since it required long hours on her feet. With the added stress of this financial hardship, the abuse Zenovia suffered grew worse.

Zenovia loves taking advantage of the
shared kitchen at Mt. Carmel.
 “It became unbearable to live with my boyfriend and feel constantly threatened. I left our home and entered a program for survivors of domestic violence. I had no job, no place to go, and I needed a walker to get around because of my injuries,” Zenovia said.

“Just like that, I was homeless.”

As part of the survivors program, Zenovia could stay in a secure location for 45 days. After that time, she moved into a large women’s shelter. “There’s no guarantees in a shelter,” she said. “Each day you have to begin again worrying about a bed, shower, and food. You’re so worried about day to day, that there’s nothing left of your energy to plan for the future.”

She learned from staff at a food program about Catholic Charities’ Mt. Carmel House (MCH), an independent housing program for homeless women, and applied for a room. At MCH, residents maintain their own living space with shared common areas while they build savings and pursue careers.

“I needed a place to truly recover, not just a place to stay,” Zenovia said.  She moved into MCH on February 22, 2010 and staff quickly supported her in securing a job and maintaining her health, as she attended therapy for her continuing leg problems.

“When Zenovia first came here, she was dealing with some depression. She was used to working, but she could no longer get a job in the field she loved, security,” said Lorraine Lynch, Program Manager at MCH. “She was offered a job in retail, and though it wasn’t her ideal job she took it, and she’s worked hard at it ever since.”

Lorraine (left) said Zenovia has become a role model
for other clients at Mt. Carmel. "They look up to her
and are inspired by all she's accomplished."
Since then, Zenovia has advanced to lead cash wrap, and she’s taken on a second job as well as a professional nonprofit fundraiser. It’s a packed schedule, up to 55 hours a week, but she’s grateful for the opportunity to work. “For so long I wanted to be a productive member of society again,” she said. “I’m not wasting any opportunity.”

Like all the residents, Zenovia puts a fixed percentage of her income towards rent,  and another percentage to build a nest egg for the future. “We want to ensure our clients have the skills to budget their money wisely, so they’ll be prepared for financial independence when they’re ready to leave the program,” said Candice Johnson, Social Worker at MCH.

Zenovia also volunteers at fundraisers for Mt. Carmel, including their upcoming Longaberger Basket Bingo and the Help the Homeless Walkathons. Soon, she’ll undergo surgery that she hopes will be the final healing step in recovering from her domestic violence injuries.

“Thanks to the staff here at Mt. Carmel, I have all the tools I need,” she said. “They give us these tools, and then motivate us to use them. We are really improving our own lives, day by day. Today I can look back and see two years’ worth of accomplishments, and most of all I can look ahead at all I will achieve. I’ve got so much to look forward to now.” 

More Catholic Charities!
Mt. Carmel House's annual spring fundraiser is just around the corner - Longaberger Basket Bingo on Sunday, April 21. RSVP for bingo here or support their work with a monetary donation!