In late 2005, Tonya Brown-Munn and her daughter, Veronica, stayed for several weeks at the La Posada Family Emergency Shelter in Toledo. Her own home had burned down, and she had nowhere to turn and no funds to tide her over.
Now, fortunately, Tonya is doing much better, but she still remembers the time she spent at the shelter as a time of healing, learning and growth.
“Being there was humbling. It made me reflect on how tenuous our lives really are,” Mrs. Brown-Munn, now a Business student nearing graduation from the University of Toledo, said. “Those people made us feel like we were at home when we didn’t have a home. They were so good to us. Now whenever I drive by, I beep the horn just to say hi, just to say thank you.”
In fact, Mrs. Brown-Munn does much more than that. This past April, she organized a Build-a-Bear and pizza party for the 20 children who were staying at La Posada at the time.
Dogs, ponies and an alligator
The party’s sponsors – Build-a-Bear and Marco’s Pizza – were approached by Mrs. Brown-Munn, who wanted to do something for the children of La Posada.
“I was working with executives at both Build-a-Bear and Marco’s on a project for school. In the course of that work, I happened to visit a Build-a-Bear store, and I saw the smiles on the faces of children who were enjoying building their own animals,” she recalled. “I thought, I’d like to bring those same smiles to the faces of kids who aren’t as fortunate, who maybe can’t afford to go to Build-a-Bear.”
She approached both organizations about sponsoring a party at La Posada, and she got a green light. So, on Good Friday evening last April, parents brought their little ones into the front room at La Posada and opened the bags of assorted stuffed Build-a-Bear animals – fluffy dogs, a huggable unicorn, an alligator, a few ponies, and – not surprisingly – several teddy bears of different sizes, textures and colors.
The smiles took place as scheduled, as wide-eyed children, excited at their sudden good fortune, clutched their furry new friends.
It was a party worth remembering for both parents and children, Jeanelle Addie, La Posada’s Case Manager, said. “I don’t think any of them will forget it any time soon.”
“Doing things for people – paying it back, paying it forward, whatever you call it – just makes you feel good,” Tonya said. “The people staying at La Posada don’t have much, and they can’t always do what they’d like to for their kids. But they enjoy good things as much as anyone. I just remember that the people who took us in at La Posada were able to make my daughter and me feel really good at a time when we were feeling really bad. And I wanted to do something to make the people who are staying there now feel good.”
When LaQuita Hamilton and her infant son walked into La Posada Family Emergency, she didn’t want to be there and she didn’t want to talk to anyone. Staff members Robert Nalls and Case Manager Janelle Addie were persistent to change LaQuita’s mind.
Living in La Posada was a whole new world. There were rules and guidelines that at first LaQuita resisted. With the help of her case manager and the La Posada staff, LaQuita opened up and let go of her past. She credits the staff’s persistence and compassion with helping her start a new life.
After three months, LaQuita was able to find permanent housing for herself and her son. She says the experience at La Posada taught her how to set rules and boundaries. Now she says, “I make myself a better mother.” LaQuita knows that her journey is just beginning and that she is responsible for continuing what began at La Posada. Today she has a place of her own, and when her son walks out the door she says, “I want him to know that there’s still hope and that he has a chance.”
It’s easy to think of the work of Catholic Charities in statistical terms – the numbers of people assisted, meals served, families sheltered, children adopted.
But one morning several weeks ago, those numbers sprang to life on the main floor of La Posada, our family emergency shelter in South Toledo, as more than a dozen residents gathered to meet the new agency director and to tell him how they feel about being there. The individuals on hand – male and female, adults and children – told stories of finding themselves suddenly out of work, staying with relatives, living in cars or on the street.
“I went from having a job and making payments, to nothing – almost overnight,” Yolanda said, cradling Anthony, her big-eyed two-year-old on her lap. “It was startling. I wasn’t used to asking people for anything. But what was I going to do? I junked my car for the two hundred bucks I needed to stay in a hotel for a while. But then I didn’t have a car.I thought, how is this happening to me? I never thought I’d be one of those homeless people – but there I was.”
It was when she found La Posada that things started turning around.
“They helped me sign up for extension classes, so I could get some skills for a better job. I’ve gained knowledge, too, on budgeting, on nutrition, on how to use my resources so I’m able to get the most out of them. Some things I hadn’t thought about.”
Catholic Charities Case Manager Janelle Addie confirmed that La Posada’s residents often seem surprised – “shellshocked,” as she put it – to find themselves among the homeless.
“That’s not typically how people see themselves. Nobody thinks, ‘I want to be homeless when I grow up.’ But it can happen – and does these days, to more people than we’d ever like to think.”
Evanbay, holding a squirming and beautiful five-month-old baby girl in his lap, talked about how a man feels when he’s not able to provide for his family.
“It’s a difficult thing – emotionally. But here, they don’t let you hang around feeling down,” he said. “They help you take definite steps so you’re able to get a plan to do what you need to do to survive. That way you’re able to stay together as a family, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
“This place means peace of mind for me,” said Amanda. “I was homeless for a while. Being here means I have a place to lie down every night, which is a big burden off me.”
When asked what kind of additional help they receive from La Posada – apart from shelter and meals – Missie jumped in.
“They don’t let you get down in the dumps,” she said. “They help you do for yourself – get some schooling, find a job, save up rent, look for an apartment. They want you to get out into the community and provide for yourself. This place is such a blessing. When I needed it most, when I had nobody left in the world, you guys took me in and helped. And I will never, ever forget it.”