My Nonprofit Reviews
Review for Genesis Home, Durham, NC, USA
Time to Figure Out a Future: Helen's Story
Sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to be able to step back from our day-to-day lives, take a deep breath, and figure out manageable steps toward making the wrong parts right. When Helen found herself four months pregnant and in a dysfunctional living situation in New York in 2000, she did not have the luxury of perspective that would allow her to see a brighter future. “I didn’t know how to understand or appreciate anything,” she says. “I was in such a depression. Something inside was missing.”
But deep down, she knew she needed to make a change. So she got on a Greyhound bus with $100 and one suitcase and headed to her home state of North Carolina, where she had a contact at a church in Fayetteville. She asked God to help her make it.
Helen stayed at several homeless shelters, but she knew she needed more than the short windows of time they allowed people to stay to get her life back in order. That’s when she found Genesis Home. She was relieved to be assigned a case worker for therapy, counseling, and career support at Genesis Home – and to have the privacy of her own apartment to spend time with her young son, Daniel. “Genesis Home had all the resources I needed and offered me relief from worrying about the necessities of life so I could give full attention to getting healthy and thinking about who I wanted to be,” Helen says.
Helen stayed at Genesis Home for 14 months. “It took that entire time to get to a sense of peace,” she says -- a peace she felt “for the first time ever.” She learned the importance of having goals and plans: “Knowing there was a possibility of coming out of poverty and pain gave me a whole new reason to live. I knew I could rise above my past.”
While living at Genesis Home, Helen began to work at retail hair salons (she had been a hair stylist in New York since the age of 17) and was able to find child care for Daniel. Eventually, she gained approval to move into her own apartment with Section 8 assistance. Realizing that the best way to economic independence would be to own her own business, Helen opened her own hair salon, The Beauty Spot, in 2004, and began building a loyal clientele.
Soon, however, she realized that it was tough making ends meet. A friend and customer who believed in Helen was willing to put up the collateral for her to get a microloan from Self-Help. With that support, Helen has been able to grow her business. “Through the support of my case worker at Genesis Home and the loan officer at Self-Help, I have learned about money and finances,” she says, “and I am still learning. I also learned to give back when I meet people with depression. My work lends itself to listening, helping, giving back. I love my job and don’t want to do anything else.”
In October 2010, Helen was approved for a home loan. “Now I’m a homeowner and a business owner! My credit score is going up. I am so proud,” says Helen. “Having come from a dysfunctional family and environment, I realized I had to choose to stay or wipe my hands of the past. I had to do a radical thing and step out. It was the hardest but most rewarding decision of my life.”
Helen has been back to Genesis Home to encourage others with her story. She says, “It can really happen. You can have a better life, be on the top and not always on the bottom.” She tells others that, when she was homeless, people treated her like she was different, less capable, “but now I can look them in the eye and say I am confident. This is who I am, who I’m going to be. I have self-esteem.” She reflects on how far she has come: “When we finally think of ourselves as equal to others, then we can really understand our self-worth and have respect for self and money. Everything can turn around. If you CARE, you can say thank you. You recognize others are helping.”
Helen admits that she must keep learning how to deal with setbacks, obstacles, and challenges. She is still learning how to manage money in both her business and personal life. She says it’s important to get back up and keep working. She also realizes the effects of her actions on her own children, Daniel, now 10, and Estelle, 8: “It’s very important to teach your children about saving and spending and having goals. They get it. They learn the value of money when you teach them and talk to them young.”