This was the first Christmas Kimberly was able to celebrate with her three-year-old son. After years of living in an abusive relationship, Christmas had faded on her calendar to just a regular day.
“All the holidays were ‘just another day,’” she said. “I had this man who came home drunk and wanted to fight and argue. My son never even had a Christmas tree.”
She became homeless after she left the house she shared with her abusive spouse. A counselor at a Toledo shelter referred her to Catholic Charities Permanent Supportive Housing program where she was able to find a safe home for herself and her son.
Determined to give her son Christmas, Kimberly applied for the Project Bethlehem program through Catholic Charities. The program matches clients with community sponsors who fulfill clients’ Christmas wish lists for toys and household items. Kimberly and her son were one of 124 families who were helped through the program this year.
A volunteer component was introduced to the program last year. People we served had expressed a willingness to share their gratitude for those who helped make Christmas possible for their families. They helped serve meals or volunteered in other ways at Helping Hands of St. Louis.
“They really enjoyed volunteering,” said Vickie Williams, program coordinator. “A couple of people said volunteering for Project Bethlehem made them interested in volunteering again. That’s part of the reason why we continue to do it.”
Volunteering was a change in perspective for Kimberly. She volunteered at Helping Hands of St. Louis Clothing Center. She said it was a joy to hang and organize clothes for the Clothing Center’s guests.
“It’s different being on the giving side,” Kimberly said with a smile. “Instead of receiving things from the Center, I was able to help give back to others.”
When she picked up her gifts, she said she looked forward to decorating her new home with a Christmas tree and lights.
“I’ll probably have to tell my son to leave the tree alone. He’s going to want to touch it and say ‘Mommy look,’” she chuckled.
She is grateful for those who helped provide a happy Christmas and a new beginning for her and her son.
“I was able to give to others, and I was able to give my son Christmas by helping. That made me feel good. I am so thankful that I have my own household and Christmas celebration because of these programs.”
It was right in the middle of the holiday season when Celeste arrived at work and found the doors of the salsa plant were locked.
“I got there and the plant was closed,” Celeste recalls. “There was no notice, no sign … nothing.”
For Celeste, that meant she was out of a job. As she left the plant, she began thinking about the uncertainty she faced. Celeste had four children waiting at home who were counting on the money she would have made that day. She attempted to pull together all of her resources, hoping to find some financial relief.
“I tried to get assistance from other agencies, but since it was during the holidays, their funding was low and demand was high. They were unable to help me,” she says.
“I was hurt. Christmas that year was terrible because I couldn’t give the kids anything. We lived off of noodles and hot dogs for weeks,” Celeste said almost in tears.
By the start of the New Year, Celeste and her children were completely out of food with no money to buy more.
“I was at the point where I had very little faith and nothing else to look forward to. I didn’t have anything, and I felt like I was drowning,” Celeste says.
With little hope left, she called United Way’s 211 and asked for help.
“They referred me to La Posada,” she says. “I was scared and really did not know what to expect.”
Celeste and her family moved into La Posada three weeks after Christmas. “I told the kids, ‘this is where we’re going to stay until Jesus finds us a new home.’ ”
Life at La Posada
With the help from La Posada staff and other residents, things began to look up for Celeste and her children.
“We were like a big family,” she says. “It was safe, clean and the kids were able to make new friends.”
While there, Catholic Charities connected Celeste with resources and programs that would help her get back on her feet.
“I started to receive financial assistance, found a job, received counseling for depression and parenting, and started taking classes at a local college.”
Celeste even attended her home church regularly.
“The staff was very supportive of me through everything. They made sure I was still in school and going to counseling.”
Celeste made such great progress that case workers Jeanelle and Vickie thought Catholic Charities’ Permanent Supportive Housing would be a good fit for her.
The program helps clients who are homeless by providing tools to become self-sufficient through government subsidies for housing and support services such as job referrals, financial education and case management.
“I guess they saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time. It was motivating, and it made me want to do more,” Celeste says.
Since entering the Permanent Supportive Housing Program, Celeste is back on track and living on her own.
“Celeste has made tremendous progress. She is employed and has maintained housing for over three years. She is an outstanding mom because being single and raising four children is not easy, and she is very successful,” says Vickie Williams, program coordinator.
Celeste is now settled and lives in a four-bedroom home with her children.
“I have a job with the county, and I am ten credits away from graduating with a degree in business,” Celeste shares.
“My goal is to open my own business and raise enough money so that I can give back to the program that helped me.”
With constant motivation from Catholic Charities staff and others, Celeste and her family are in a better place.
“The kids are progressing in school. They love it here. I’m happy now and at peace.”
“To the donors, I just want to say thank you so much. I don’t know where my life would be without the help of these programs.”
Gratitude, confidence and hope have replaced the darker days that left Pam Belew feeling as if the bottom had fallen out. In the not-too-distant past, the 58-year-old grandmother of 9-year-old Cory, whom she has legally adopted, struggled to parent and provide. She was unemployed, homeless and suffered from anxiety and depression.
Pam’s beginning with the program came about after good intentions gave way to a downhill spiral of events in 2011. In 2010, Pam and Cory had moved from Ohio to Florida to live with her son, Cory’s father. Things didn’t work out and not long after, she and Cory returned to Toledo.
With no job or home, Pam and Cory moved in with her mother who was living in senior housing. But that was a temporary situation and she realized she had to do the unthinkable – contact a homeless shelter. “I cried my eyes out every day,” she recalls of that desperate time.
Then a God thing happened. Someone at the shelter told her about Catholic Charities. “They interviewed me and I qualified for the program,” she says. Soon, Catholic Charities paved the way to secure housing – and ultimately, a brighter future – for Pam and Cory.
“Pam’s self-esteem was very low when she entered the program and being the age that she is, she felt it would be hard to get a job,” says her caseworker, Vickie Williams. “I suggested to her a few times that maybe she should go to school. She eventually made the decision to enter Stautzenberger College’s phlebotomy technician course.”
Initially intimidated, Pam ultimately graduated from the program and is now actively seeking work in her new field. “It was scary to go back to school,” says Pam. “Everyone was so much younger than I was.”
“Throughout the entire time that Pam went to school she was determined to get good grades, and that she did,” says Vickie. “She also knew the expectations of our program and continued to manage her apartment and set goals for herself.” Addressing her mental health issues – and taking care of her overall health – was also required to manage the depression and anxiety that had been derailing her.
Catholic Charities remains by her side as she forges ahead amid trials that test her spirit.
“Cory is doing exceptionally well,” says Pam, a testimony to her success in creating a new future for them both and setting a great example for her grandson. It shows in little Cory’s smile and energy as he plays with other kids in the neighborhood. “I thought he’d be more affected” by the moves and his experience with homelessness, she adds.
But she believes one thing for sure, “Without Catholic Charities none of this would have been possible. They’ve created opportunities for me. I am so thankful for the donors. Please let them know.”
Ashley is 28 years old, but it seems to her as if she’s only now growing up. A client of Catholic Charities’ Supportive Housing program, Ashley struggled with alcoholism since she was in junior high school.
“For so long in my life, I had nothing at all, no one to lean on. If I had a problem, I just checked out. Just another excuse to party. But for a long time I didn’t see what the party was costing me.
“Now, I’m actually grateful for what I went through. It was painful, but it was actually a faster way to God. If I hadn’t had the troubles I did, I may never have gotten to the point that I knew – knew for sure – that I needed to rely on a power greater than myself.
Reality pulls no punches
Because of her situation, Ashley was finally forced to face reality – the reality that she herself was responsible for the way her life had gone. And that she was suffering from an addiction to alcohol.
She’s grateful for the help she’s received from Catholic Charities and from her addiction program. Thanks to those who support Catholic Charities’ Supporting Housing program, Ashley has gotten help financing her new apartment, plus some used furniture to help make it a home.
“I have a feeling of overwhelming gratitude now, every day. I know there are people who have prayed for me who I will never even meet. I want to say thank you to them for all the prayer. They’ve helped lift me up.
“I used to be so against religion. I didn’t like it when people talked to me about religion – I think I was jealous. But now I see they were just trying to share this gift. I get it now, and I’m so grateful they didn’t give up on me.
“With my higher power, I never have to be alone again.”