By Christopher Fay
Some years ago, as Thanksgiving approached, a mother with a young son and daughter entered Homestretch. They had spent months in a family shelter, after spending time in their car until the weather got too cold. Having fled an abusive home, with nothing but a few bags of clothes, both mother and children were depressed by all that they’d experienced.
Some volunteers had staged a home for this family. They had decorated the boy’s bedroom with a soccer theme, the girl’s room with a “Frozen” theme, stocked the refrigerator and shelves, and made up the beds with plush new linens and comforters. Upon entering the apartment for the first time, the mother, surveying the beauty of their new home, collapsed in tears. Meanwhile, the boy and girl ran through the home, jumping on all the furniture and squealing with delight as they discovered their rooms.
The boy dashed into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and gasped. He yelled, “Mom, come look at all the food!”
He ran to his mother carrying a gallon of milk, almost as big as him, and announced, “Mom, look – real milk!” The mother was struck by the love and care shown to her by people she had never met.
Albert Schweitzer said, “At times our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
This mother felt an ignition of hope within herself and for her children, knowing that someone truly cared for them, and the sadness of the past months could be replaced by hope for a better life. The love the volunteers had put into staging this home gave her the faith to trust the staff of Homestretch and to undertake the hard work of rebuilding her life.
Homestretch serves about 75 families a year with a staff of 24 people and 500 or so volunteers. These volunteers teach life skills classes, run household supply drives, landscape our homes, tutor adults and children, read to children in our preschool, and provide pro bono expertise in numerous ways. This week, every family will be given gift cards for a Thanksgiving meal, all thanks to devoted and generous donors. The same thing will happen at Christmas, when every family in Homestretch will be adopted by another family in the community, or a church or business. They will receive a bounty of holiday gifts for the family, carefully chosen according to wish lists provided by the parents. This will not only ensure that every child in these families has a wonderful holiday; it also ensures that the parents can save their money to build savings, pay down their debts, and focus on all they hope to achieve in Homestretch, like acquiring skills, earning certifications, repairing their credit, restoring their health, and resolving legal problems. Most importantly, it says that someone cares for them, and has faith in them, which inspires them to have faith in themselves.
A recent graduate said, “Homestretch will not change your life. You will change your own life. But Homestretch will show you how to do it and they will be with you every step of the way.” This graduate, a young mother with one daughter who became homeless when she fled an abusive home, is now employed at a great job, saved over $30,000 and graduated with a credit score of 750, which means she qualifies to become a first-time homeowner.
The love and generosity of our volunteers and donors tells these families that they are worthy, that they are loved, and with hard work, they can accomplish great things. And Homestretch families do accomplish great things. Another recent graduate, who started a nursing degree program while in Homestretch, was just counted as one of the best nurses in Washingtonian Magazine’s annual list of top medical professionals in the metro DC region.
We are deeply grateful to all our volunteers and donors and friends, who, through their love and generosity, rekindle sparks of hope and faith among homeless families so accustomed to sadness and loss. Those sparks of hope are priceless. Thank you to everyone who gives of their treasure, talent, and time, so that someone else can imagine a bright future of their own. You are our heroes.