[singlepic id=1 w=320 h=240 float=right]Photo by Dan, freedigitalphotos.net
Gloria was a liar and a thief. Her four girls wanted nothing to do with her. She stole from her family and was spending her money on drugs and alcohol. She didn’t even have money for food. Her life was headed in the wrong direction and she begged God to help her stop. In a desperate attempt to feed her children, she decided to rob a store. Her prayers were answered when she was caught and the moment the police slapped the cuffs on her she sighed in relief and said, “Thank you, God.”
Most of Gloria’s life was riddled with bad decisions and substance abuse that ultimately led to prison. It was this punishment that forced her to make a choice about where her future was headed. After she was released, Gloria found herself back in the same environment that attributed to her bad choices. It was in that moment of reflection Gloria saw a glimmer of hope – Hosanna Home. Here was a chance where she could find a safe place to get back on her feet, learn to make good decisions, and take care of herself. She would have a chance to rebuild her life without relying on the people and things that led to destruction. Also, she would be able to grow emotionally and spiritually.
Gloria is not alone. Issues such as poverty, education, marriage, pregnancy, and fewer employment opportunities have played a pivotal role in the lives of women. The Center for American Progress says that it is because of these issues as well as unemployment and abuse that lead women to become substance abusers and eventually end up in prison.
The Womens Person Association found that of the women who are in state prisons, 28 percent (at the end of 2005) were sentenced for drug offenses. Property offenses accounted for another 28 percent of the female state prison population. Together, property and drug crimes (non-violent offenses) make up nearly two thirds of the population of women in prison. By the end of that same year, 35 percent of women in prison were convicted of violent offenses.
Hosanna Home was born out of necessity. In 2006, Linda Patterson, a Sparks city clerk, was asked to come to a board meeting for Faith House Ministries and take minutes for the meeting. She did and was then asked to come to the house and teach the women how to write a resume. These two events gave Linda a desire to do more. When she went to the house, Linda realized it, and the services, were inadequate to help these women. The house, located on Center Street, was in such disrepair that the board of Faith House Ministries shut down the program. At the time, it was the only place in the Reno/Sparks area for women. Linda’s intention was not to close the doors of Faith House Ministries, but to improve it. As a result of its closure, Linda started Hosanna Home.
Hosanna (in the original Hebrew)means to rescue or save. A home is a place where you belong and are loved. The inspiration for the name came from a church service Linda attended on Palm Sunday. The pastor explained the meaning of the word Hosanna.
From the time Linda took over the house that belonged to Faith House Ministries, it was a year and a half before the first residents were able to move in. The two story Victorian had to be stripped to its studs and completely rebuilt. A foreshadowing of the stripping and rebuilding Hosanna Home would provide to its residents.
The residents of Hosanna Home come from many places: the Volunteers of America Shelter, Northern Nevada Mental Health, jail or prison, local churches and by word of mouth. Gloria learned about Hosanna Home from a friend of her daughters.
“I went to my daughter’s birthday party and a friend of hers told me about Hosanna Home,” said Gloria. Within just a few days of hearing about Hosanna Home, Gloria had applied, been interviewed and was accepted into the program. On January 1, 2009 Gloria stepped through the doors of Hosanna Home to begin her journey rebuilding her life.
“I needed more structure.” Gloria had moved in with her sister when she was released from prison. “My sister still wanted to go out and was drinking and I knew I couldn’t be around that.”
Gloria admits to having made a lot of bad decisions in her life. She was addicted to drugs and was an alcoholic. Her life revolved around satisfying those needs which left her family in the wake of her destruction.
“What I did was really bad. I was a liar. I stole from [my family]. Not only did I hurt myself, but I hurt my family.”
Gloria knew the commitment that Hosanna Home was asking of her. They required a strict policy of no boyfriends, no cell phones, employment, and mandatory attendance to the life skills classes taught by the volunteers at Hosanna Home. For Gloria, that meant not seeing her daughters for another six months. Her youngest encouraged her to go through the program because she knew it would help her mom.
“Hosanna Home has made me stronger in my faith, in my life, and in my relationship with my daughters,” Gloria said. “You would not believe the person I was even two years ago. Everybody says, ‘you’re so different.’ It’s all because of the grace of God that I was saved.”
Before coming to Hosanna Home, Gloria was scared. She said she felt branded by prison. “I felt like I had a mark, like people knew what I did.” After going through the program at Hosanna Home, she had more confidence and no longer felt the stigma of prison. “I don’t feel that way anymore. They helped me grow and love myself. I learned that God loves me and I’m forgiven. That’s all my past.”
Gloria graduated from the program at Hosanna Home on July 3, 2009. She returned to Hosanna Home almost immediately to serve as a care partner – a volunteer that talks with and listens to the resident about what’s going on in their life. “My goal was to give back. I don’t have much, but I’m grateful.”
Casey, a current resident of Hosanna Home, moved to Reno as a way to escape from her past. She had been a Christian since she was a teenager but had made choices that led her in a direction away from her faith. She was at Volunteers of American when she heard about Hosanna Home. After hearing Linda speak, she knew that this is where she needed to be. Her journey began with little idea of what she wanted out of life. At just six weeks into an approximate six month stay, Casey has already found her motivation to graduate from the program and knows what she wants her life to look like after she leaves Hosanna Home.
“I want to be a rescuer,” Casey said, “in whatever form that looks like.”
In addition to a focused attention on her life, Casey’s life has been changed by learning self-discipline, gaining confidence, safety, and that the world is open and full of possibilities.
“I have choices and I can make them,’ Casey said.
Many residents do not graduate the program that Hosanna Home provides. Of the 148 applicants that have been accepted into the program, only 30 have graduated. Casey said that her motivation to stay in the program has been seeing the previous success stories of the women who have graduated from Hosanna Home. It is in her difficult times, that Casey reflects on these successes to keep her going.
There are many resources in Nevada available to those in need, but Hosanna Home offers something quite unique to its residents. Not only does it provide a safe place to start over, but it provides structure, boundaries with consequences and teaches the women a new mindset about how to approach life. They learn skills to maneuver life’s difficult challenges so that they can make better decisions than the ones that led them to be in need of Hosanna Home. They clothe the women with gently used and often brand name clothing, as well as establish a fund into which the women deposit $400 a month. This money goes to help the women reestablish their lives once they leave Hosanna Home.
Esther’s Closet is a branch of Hosanna Home. It began as a way to provide clothing to the residents. Many of the women were coming off the streets or out of prison and had nothing but the clothes on their back. The clothing was provided to the women so they would be able to socialize and search for jobs with dignity. Over time, the 300 square foot room they were using to store the clothing began to overflow. Hosanna Home had more clothes than they knew what to do with. Linda had a vision to help the women in the community by providing quality clothing.
Patty McCord, the assistant manager at Esther’s Closet, assists the director with scheduling the volunteers, pricing the clothing, moving inventory in and out, re-gifting and personal shopping. Re-gifting is something that Esther’s Closet does with clothing that is tired or worn but can still be used.
“Esther’s Closet has been blessed so much with donations that we are able to keep only the clothing that is pristine,” said Patty. The rest of the clothing is sorted and donated to Good Shepherd, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and Savers. Patty boasts that nothing they receive goes to waste.
“Even old jeans are used,” Patty said. The pockets of old jeans are removed and one of the volunteers makes gift card holders out of them. The rest of the denim is donated to be used as home insulation in Mexico.
All the money that Esther’s Closet receives from selling the donated items goes to Hosanna Home to pay for the utilities, provide glasses for the residents, and dental or medical bills the residents may have.
Esther’s Closet is more than a thrift store or boutique to the volunteers, residents, and community that shops there. It has changed the lives of the women.
Lessie Wiltz, a regular shopper at Esther’s Closet learned about it from her job at Job Connect. Many of Hosanna Home’s residents would use Job Connect to help them find a job. Lessie would complement the residents on their outfits and ask where they got them.
“It’s a treat,” said Lessie of Esther’s Closet. “I find nicer outfits than at the department store and for a good price.”
Due to the difficult economy, Lessie was let go from her job at Job Connect. She has been searching for a new job, and the clothing she has found at Esther’s Closet has given her confidence in her interviews.
“I get new clothes and I feel comfortable,” said Lessie. For the first time Lessie found a pair of nice heels that fit.
“I always come here because everyone is so nice and you get to know everyone,” said Lessie.
Shannon Gallagher, a new volunteer at Esther’s Closet, said that she loves boutiques and that women can get nice clothes for cheap at Esther’s Closet.
Esther’s Closet is more than a clothing store to the women in the community surrounding it. For many, it has become a favorite place to hang out, to talk, and to share their stories. Patty recalled one volunteer who has very little income. As a thank you to the volunteers, when they work a shift they are permitted to take one item of clothing. “This volunteer is able to afford to have nice clothes, where without Esther’s Closet she would not,” said Patty. For this one story, there are many more just like it.
Linda recalled a story of a lady who had called up one of the volunteers and had asked if they would be able to help her find some coats for her and her two sons. The volunteer was able to give her one of her son’s coats and Linda was able to give the other son a coat of her husbands. The woman was then given the opportunity to go to Esther’s Closet and pick out some clothes and a coat for herself.
”We were able to meet the need of a woman in our community,” Linda Said. The ability to help this woman is what Esther’s Closet and Hosanna Home is about.
“Christians are supposed to give the best of what they have and Esther’s Closet does that,” said Shannon.
Hosanna Home has three main principles: safety for the residents, staff and volunteers; to glorify Christ – every decision and every teaching is based on Biblical principles; and to facilitate life change.
“God is the only one that can change people,” said Linda. The vision of Hosanna Home is to help women find God’s plan and its mission is to care for women in a Christian home and to rebuild their lives. It is the house manager’s responsibilities to make sure that the residents are held accountable to the rules and to make sure the household runs properly. Deborah Ward, the house manager comes alongside the residents to teach them and help, but not to do it for them.
Deborah came to Hosanna Home after spending two years taking care of her ill mother. She had previously volunteered with the homeless and prison ministries and knew that Hosanna Home was where she was supposed to be.
“I shared the opportunity with friends and they all encouraged me,” said Deborah. “I am learning everyday as a house manager and as a woman. We all go through the program.”
Hosanna Home has helped Deborah overcome her insecurities. “I have a past, too,” Deborah said (to listen to Deborah speak click here).
Hosanna Home’s program is structured around covenants and consequences. “So many of us are on auto pilot,” Deborah said. “There are times when I need to make the residents aware of inappropriate behavior.” If a resident breaks a rule, there are consequences for that such as no TV, having to complete and extra study, write an essay, do extra chores, or in severe cases, they can be asked to leave the program.
When Linda is asked to speak to potential residents she is clear about the process and what is expected.
“We start with the bad,” Linda said. The applicant applies to the program, interviews with Linda and she explains the structure and the rules. They explain that it isn’t a place to hang out, but a place to work on oneself. If an applicant is accepted into the program, it generally runs six months. The resident is required to look for and obtain a job. The resident pays $400 a month in programs fees. This money is put into an account and at the end of the program is returned to the resident to use to get back on their feet. It has been used to put a deposit on an apartment, to buy a car, etc. The resident is held to a curfew, is not allowed to have a boyfriend or a cellphone while in the program. They are also required to take classes. They are taught how to establish boundaries, to manage money, resolve conflict, to date safe people, and to take care of oneself, in addition to studying the Bible.
Glenda is one resident that was asked to leave the program because she decided not to follow the rules. In 2009, Glenda found herself at Volunteers of America because she had lost her job and couldn’t make rent. After leaving Hosanna Home, Glenda went through a rehabilitation program and she reapplied to Hosanna Home because she wanted to try again.
“I felt bad I didn’t finish the first time,” said Glenda, “[it was] a big disappointment.”
In 2008, Glenda experienced the deaths of several people close to her, including her third husband. She has two grown children who live out of state. She said she was unstable and that drugs and alcohol controlled her life. There came a point when Glenda knew something had to give.
“You gotta change this or lay down and die,” Glenda said, “I guess I’m not ready to die.”
Between her first and second time at Hosanna Home her perspective on life has changed. She said that before she grumbled a lot. Now she says she is aware of it and can choose not to grumble.
“I have many things to be thankful for,” Glenda said.
Currently, Hosanna Home can have up to seven residents at one time. The board of directors is looking into creating another Hosanna Home that has the ability to house women with children. The current residence is not capable of accommodating them now.
Looking at Linda’s life now, it is completely different now than when she stepped into the first board meeting for Hosanna Home. In 2006, during the span of about a month her husband passed away, she started a new job, and she started Hosanna Home.
“The Bible says you find your life when you lose it. There was a time I thought God was trying to kill me. Now, I have no time that doesn’t involve helping others,” Linda said.