You cannot imagine (and it is hard to truly explain) the enormous feeling of relief that comes from having a safe place for your kids to sleep. A ‘safe place to sleep’ is one of those things that you just don’t realize you have until it is gone.
On the third night in the program, I was actually able to cry. Like - loud, snotty, ugly cry. I had been putting on a brave face for my kids for so long. I finally broke down and let it all out. One of the volunteers sat with me as the tears poured and poured in a flood of grief. It was the first time I let myself feel it - the loss of almost everything we had and the shame of finding ourselves in this situation. Another volunteer played with my kids and distracted them while I fell apart.
Since that night, I have actually been able to breathe. Every day I feel more and more hope. Each day I get stronger. The other day I even laughed with my kids - something I hadn’t done in a very long time!
I want to share with you what a typical day looks like as a Family Promise family.
We wake up in a room in the host congregation. Each family gets their own room. It is safe, quiet, and secure since the volunteers stay there with us. As I said, the difference between sleeping in a safe space vs an unsafe spot (or not knowing where we will sleep) is something I’ve never quite been able to put in words. Trust me when I say it is a huge deal. Being able to relax, let go, and sleep makes me feel ready to take on the day as well as tackle my bigger problems.
I usually enjoy a few minutes of serenity first thing in the morning to watch my kids sleep and make my prayers for the day. Since beginning this program, I feel like I have rediscovered my relationship with God. I am leaning on my faith in a new way these days, so it has been so good to start each day with prayer.
Then, the faith community that is hosting us offers a quick breakfast prepared by the volunteers. They also have some food available so I am able to pack lunches for Oscar and Sophia. After breakfast, we gather up all of our stuff. One of the rules is that we have to be out building really early. So the van takes us over to the Day Center to take showers and get ready for the day.
Family Promise helped me find a job. Even though the work is a little different than what I am used to, I am learning. I am just so unbelievably grateful to be working and earning a paycheck! And since we do not have to pay rent or utilities while we are in the program, I will be able to save some money so that when we graduate, I can have a deposit for a new place to live.
Right before we came into this program, a friend of mine had given me her old car. I was so glad at the time because that is right before we lost our house. So at least we had something. But a few weeks ago that old car broke down for good.
Family Promise has a van that takes us to the host organization, to the day center, drops my kids off at daycare, and then me at work. On the weekend - usually Saturday - the van will take us to the grocery store to get things we need. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’m so happy for the help. But it is really hard not having a car. If I forget something at the grocery store or need something in the middle of the week, I can’t just go get it. I have to wait until the next Saturday. It is not easy.
After daycare and work, we go back to the day center. It is my favorite part of the day. I didn’t realize how alone I had been feeling. I have made two new, wonderful friends who have been through a lot of the same stuff we have. One has three kids and the other has one. While the kids play, we talk about what is going on for us while we take care of our required chores and do our laundry. We share our wins and our losses and support each other along the way. I think they will be friends for life - I love them just like sisters!
Then, in the evening we all head to the host congregation for dinner. The food is always so delicious and you can tell it is made with so much love. Just knowing that I don’t have to figure out where the next meal is coming from gives me such relief. I know my kids will be fed and safe which frees up my mind so I can start thinking about our next steps in life.
Sometimes in the evening, the volunteers spend time with our kids and we take a class. Last week the class was about saving money. I’m learning so much. For example, no one ever told me I was supposed to have 3 - 6 months in savings. If I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have gotten in this mess! Of course, maybe I would have. It is not easy managing a family on one income.
I am learning how to have some grace with myself. I felt like such a failure for so long. That is starting to change now. I’m learning how to not be so hard on myself. One of the classes that they offered us was about budgeting. I’ve never known how to do that either. When my husband was around, he took care of our finances. After he left, I had no idea how to manage it all. These classes are actually showing me that I can do it.
Everyone has been beyond nice and beyond helpful. My 3-year-old daughter cries when we have to leave the church because she loves the volunteers so much. They play with her and read her stories and make her feel so loved. I think she would want to stay forever!
My caseworker has helped me set some big goals and I am determined to achieve them. Not every day is easy. Sometimes I still feel down or like we are never going to make it to graduation or we are never going to be able to have a home again. Most days, though, I feel inspired and motivated to get us back on track.
Family Promise is teaching me how to get my family out of this hole and stay out. For the most part, I can actually say I have hope again. I can even say there is a part of me that is glad this happened. I have met some wonderful people and learned so much. It is not an exaggeration when I say that Family Promise saved our lives.
Disclaimer: This story is based on the experiences of families experiencing homelessness both in our community and around the nation. The names used are fictitious but the circumstances faced are very real. We hope you will stay tuned for Part III next month to learn about a day in the life at Family Promise of Greater New Braunfels.