Category Archives: empowerment

A Fearful Moment Leads to Grace: A Graduate’s Story

By Kim Eppehimer, Friendship House Executive Director

Eileen Taylor came to the Friendship House Transitional Housing program after she graduated from a program at the Salvation Army in February, 2016. Struggling to remain out of her addiction and homelessness, Eileen was determined, scared and just stubborn enough to overcome every obstacle.

While employed as a job trainee at the Friendship House Clothing Bank, Eileen applied for a position at BJ’s Wholesale Club. Although the position was part-time, Eileen was thrilled to receive the job.

Eileen worked hard on herself and at her job. Her part time hours became full-time and her responsibilities began to increase. Once she graduated from our program in January, 2017, she and another graduate shared an apartment for a year. Lacking part time experienced workers at our Clothing Bank, Eileen agreed to come back to help manage the warehouse. At this point, Eileen was self-sufficient enough to rent a place of her own. She was working hard, often tired, and going strong.

Then, in November of last year, tragedy struck; tragedy accompanied by a miracle. Eileen got home from work and was relaxing when a friend called and asked if they could get together that evening. Reluctantly, Eileen pulled herself together to go out. During that evening, the building in which Eileen had an apartment burned down due to an oxygen tank explosion. If Eileen had been home, the fire department said she may not have survived since her apartment was right next to the one in which the fire started.

We were all incredibly grateful she was alive and deeply saddened she had lost all her possessions, as well as her home. Eileen was experiencing homelessness all over again. However, this time, she had a loving, supportive community to hold and uplift her.

Friendship House Board members and volunteers donated gift cards so that Eileen could buy clothing (after she had gotten what she could from the Clothing Bank). As a graduate of Women’s Housing, Eileen was welcomed back into one of the Palmer House apartments, to stay as long as necessary. Thus, she had a roof over her head; she had friends to support her; she had gifts of money to feed and clothe herself. Mostly, she had time and space to recover from the devastation and trauma. A very special gift came from Mark Aitken, a good friend and supporter of Friendship House, which covered all of Eileen’s expenses, including new furnishings, when she was able to move into her own place.

Although devastated by her loss, Eileen remained grateful to God and to the many friends who helped her. She has been in her new apartment for several months and continues to work hard at BJs. In fact, her hard work won her the Employee of the Year award from BJs!

Eileen never lost faith in God or herself during this tragedy and has regained everything she needs. Without the Friendship House community, she would truly have been lost. To all of you who support Friendship House, we gratefully say, “Thank you.”

Tending My Garden

By Marcy Perkins, Friendship House Assistant Executive Director and Director of Transitional Housing

In this blessed Spring of 2019, my thoughts turn to gardening. Like so many before me, the garden represents my relationship to creation and to my Creator. Planting seeds, tending plants, watching them grow and mature are deeply satisfying activities. Nurturing the soil and the plants feels as if I am giving thanks to God who has given me so much.

At Friendship House, we have actual and symbolic gardens. Through our “Mother’s Day Garden” fundraiser and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we have created a small paradise behind each site in Women’s Transitional Housing. As we weed, plant and prune the actual garden, I am reminded of the living “flowers” whom we also tend: the women and children living in our houses. The creation of beauty in the garden is symbolic of the re-creation of the lives of our residents.

Gardening also reminds me that God’s seeds, whether in my garden or in my women, always bear fruit.

Back in the 1990’s, when the Wilmington Empowerment Center was known as the Women’s Center, I had just started working for Friendship House. In the basement of St. Andrews’ Church (as it was then known), there was a drop-in center for women. Some of them were “hard core” street women. Some were seeking emergency shelter. Some came for the coffee and community. And then some to use the phone, receive mail or, sometimes, all of the above.

On a book shelf running through the middle of the Center, was a plant (a philodendron), housed in an old plastic food container which was filled with the hardest, driest dirt one could imagine. It was a miracle the poor thing was alive, being in a dark basement, in hard crusty soil, mostly ignored, quietly living its life waiting for someone to give it a bit of water.

It occurred to me how much that little plant was like our clients. They, too, had been abandoned, ignored, waiting for just a bit of attention so they could try to make it one more day on the streets. The tenacity of the philodendron was symbolic of the tenacity of our women who refused to give up or give in. Some were quietly persistent; others were loud and, frankly, obnoxious at times. Mentally ill, drug/alcohol addicted, rambunctious, in need of a shower or quietly hoping for help, our clients came in day after day, year after year. Some of them, over 20 years later, still come in to share their woes and their joys.

Fast forward to 1999 and the purchase of our Lincoln Street property which would become Palmer House, in memory of our friend Rev. Mark Palmer. One day, starting up the front steps, I saw a small petunia growing in a crack in the cement. It had obviously been seeded by a passing bird or a gentle breeze. It seemed to me that this small flower, so vulnerable yet so pretty, was symbolic of the women who lived in those houses: growing up starved, but still growing. Awaiting their chance to blossom.

Since that day, I have noticed more flowers growing in crevices around our properties.  Indeed, we even have a thorny old rose bush growing in the wall at the front of Palmer House. It has the most beautiful roses!

As Jesus told the disciples, “Feed my sheep,” I can hear a similar call: “Tend my garden. Be gentle with those who have been mistreated. Give them space to grow and to blossom.”

In response to this call, Friendship House offers beautiful houses, beautiful gardens and a structured program to help women blossom into their truest selves. Some residents take root immediately and thrive, while for others, this is not yet their season. The seeds are planted but not yet ready to bloom. Faith teaches us that the plants will emerge when the time is right, perhaps in a way that we cannot anticipate.

The miracle of Divine Love is that the Creator keeps the garden ready for all of us, waiting for us to find our way home.

 

You Are Enough

“You have been treated generously, so live generously. Don’t think you have to put on a fundraising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment.”

~Matthew 10:8-9 (The Message translation)

By Kim Eppehimer, Executive Director (November 2018)

You don’t need to believe in Jesus as anything more than a really cool guy to believe the message he shared through the writings of Matthew. It’s a similar message delivered by caring people worldwide yet falling on silent ears and buried by others full of hatred. It’s a message that says, “you are enough.” We live in a society where people are constantly told they are not good enough. They have the wrong sexual orientation. They have the wrong skin color. They worship the wrong way. They are living the wrong life or making the wrong decisions.

At Friendship House, we leave our differences at the door so we can serve God’s children with love, grace and compassion. Because it’s enough to just need help.

In August of this year, Delaware experienced the highest rate in overdose deaths from opioids than ever before.  Recent reports indicate these numbers are beginning to level off nationwide.  Not decrease—but not increasing either.  Yet I do not feel like celebrating.  Yes, a stable death rate is better than an increase.  It is just not good enough.

It is time for each of us to say “enough is enough” and believe we are enough to make a difference.  We are not called to do it all; we are called to do our part.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”

Friendship House is one piece of the puzzle in making an impact, yet a very important piece. Our life-changing, life-saving programs in each of our ministries are critical for someone working on living self-sufficiently; living to put the pieces of their life back together; living just to live another day.

Often we feel incapable of making a difference. All you need to do is visit us for a day and see the hundreds of impacts our amazing staff make simply by being available to someone in need. It can come in the form of saying yes to a bus ticket, helping to get an ID or birth certificate, giving away clothing after a house fire, providing sanctuary, offering motivation before a job interview, and opening our houses to let someone stay as they rebuild their life. It just takes showing up, listening, and willingness to meet someone for who they are and where they are in that moment.

I think of Friendship House as being in the business of saving lives this way: not to prevent death, but to promote living. We connect people to the love and grace of God every day simply by being there – and therefore help create a life worth living. Because hope can be enough to keep someone moving.

I think it’s fair to admit we are not always succeeding. As a society, we are failing the young man who has asked for help because his family was embarrassed about his mental illness and abandoned him. We are failing the grandmother who has custody of her grandchildren after her daughter died of an overdose and only receives a monthly minimal social security check. We are failing the men and women who live every day the best they can because they are told they are not good enough by being discarded and ignored. We are failing those who are experiencing homelessness and displacement every day.

And yet, if we are willing to show up it will be enough to move the message away from negativity and towards compassion.

You are enough. Together, we are enough.

Clothing Bank Graduate Story

By Kathy Griffin-Graham, Clothing Bank Director  (November 2018)

It is difficult to be a teenager. Try to fit in, be a good friend, a good sibling, a good cousin, a good student and, as it so often happens, trying to do all these things while avoiding peer pressure and making poor choices. This story is so common among many young people, including Tayra.

Tayra, a bright student and high school basketball star wanted nothing more than to be loyal to all her friends and family. Falling prey to peer pressure was something she never dreamed would happen to her. She truly thought she was stronger and smarter than that. At 18 years old, she learned the difficult way peer pressure sneaks up on you and before you know it, you are making the worst choice of your life. In Tayra’s story, the wrong choice left her scared, scarred and incarcerated for 3 years.

We met Tayra at the beginning of 2018. It took only a few minutes in her interview at the Friendship House Clothing Bank for us to know there was a bright light hidden beneath the shame of her past choices. When she began working with us, she was reserved and scared. The thought of people judging her for her past was unsettling and embarrassing. Slowly, though, she began to see that we embraced the young women and she was not the same girl who made a mistake. She began to show her work skills and ethics. She began to trust us and was an active participant in our Empower Hour. She invested in herself, searching for ways to improve herself, rebuild her reputation and focus on a bright future. It was not easy. There were many tears when her background kept her from getting the job for which she had interviewed. But, she kept pushing through.

Tayra showed so much effort, dedication and promise in herself and to the job that we moved her to our senior sorter and extended her position from our 15-week training program to 22 weeks. (A great benefit to accepting no state or federal dollars.) We also sent her to be an office assistant once weekly in our administrative office. No surprise, she excelled in that environment as well.

It did not take much longer for another employer to see the same bright light and dedication we saw at the beginning of the year. Tayra’s hard work paid off when a local, popular hotel hired her for a great room service position. She is exceeding their expectations of performance and reliability. So much so she is currently in training to be a front desk customer service representative.

Today Tayra is still happily employed and looking into advancing her education. She has said her experience at the Friendship House Clothing Bank was a huge part in renewing her confidence, giving her hope, forgiving herself for her past choices and giving her the strength to take the next step to becoming successful. We have no doubt there is no stopping her from reaching any of her dreams and goals.

Thank You and Congrats Gina!

We would like to recognize one of the graduates of the Friendship House Housing Program, Gina Martinez. She truly is an inspiration to all of us and her positivity is contagious. We are so thankful and blessed that she remains close to her Friendship House family by volunteering her time and energy with us. She started out as a part time cashier at ShopRite, and she is now an Assistant to Director of Security and Technology. Congratulations for being recognized at ShopRite for the amazing things you do!