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Posted: May 14, 2017 5:00 a.m.

Gingrich Cushman: Angels around us

While we tend to celebrate our own mothers on Mothers' Day, this year I am celebrating all mothers who overcome odds to take care of their children and others' children. "Janice" (not her real name) is one such woman.

Janice is a teacher at Our House, an Atlanta non-profit that provides shelter to live and education to thrive for homeless children and their families, which are predominantly led by mothers.

Janice is in the grace business. She meets her clients where they are and transports them somewhere else. Her bright, twinkling eyes, warm smile and welcoming demeanor help her do that. But it is her background and life experiences that have led Janice to be empathetic and understanding of her students and their families who are experiencing homelessness.

Seven years ago, she found herself suddenly homeless and unemployed. When her son was three weeks old, "the altercation happened -- it was the last of many," involving her son's father. Janice left and stayed with her sister, who became afraid for her safety as well.

So her sister could feel safe again, Janice left and moved into a temporary homeless shelter for 30 days. Then another and another.

"I was so depressed," she said, talking about her experience as a homeless mother of a newborn. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to come from being not pregnant, having a job, having my own place; to meeting this man, being beat on, getting pregnant, not having a job, not having an education, not having anything. My family was afraid of dealing with me because of this man."

Soon she noticed that, everywhere she went, she heard about Our House. After moving a few times, she found her way to Our House and was quickly welcomed into the community.

"When I got to Our House, they pretty much held my hand through everything. I got him (my son) into Our House. It was just amazing. I've been working with kids for years ... I knew what quality looked like and the first day I was so comfortable. I was excited -- I knew right off it was going to be the greatest fit for the both of us."

It was a great fit. While Janice's son was enrolled in the early learning center, Janice's advocate at Our House helped her earn her GED, find housing and enroll in the Child Development Associate Degree program.

"I thought it was going to be like a college," Janice said. "When I got there they had Play-Doh at the table and little toys." Her class proved to be strenuous; it started with more than 20 students and only about a quarter of those enrolled graduated.

Janice said she cried during her graduation speech. "I never in my life started something major and finished it. It wasn't easy, but the program kept me there." Even though Janice was still struggling with depression and had trouble finding traditional housing, she had persevered.

Her classmates were from different states and different backgrounds. "We would have these arguments" with some saying "No, it is not just babysitting. We all learned we are really educating these kids. We are not babysitters, we are teachers."

Seven years after she had to flee an abusive partner, taking her baby with her, Janice is living life on her own terms and her son is in second grade. "I"m now in my own apartment and he goes to a charter school."

But she had plenty of help. Our House continued to work with Janice through the transition as she found a job and moved out on her own. "I had to learn how to handle money again," she said. "Our House worked to help me manage my money, I was able to sustain employment and my own place... we are good now."

Now that Janice is "a completely different person" (her words), she is using her compassion and understanding to help others who are experiencing temporary homelessness. "It makes them feel comfortable when they hear that I've been through the program. That I've been homeless and that I'm doing great."            

"The hardest part is to see the stress and struggle" of the families, she said, recalling a 4-year-old's story of having witnessed an altercation and arrest the night before. "But we are here to help them." Janice knows that by giving families a shelter to live and an education to thrive, she meets them where they are at that particular moment and helps them rise up to a new level.

Happy Mothers' Day to all the angels around us.

To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

 

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