by: Debra Nesbitt
The key word, “hope” is the primary operative here. As I toured the grounds there was a tangible sense of being uplifted. The individual cottages and common areas are arranged to encourage interaction and community support. Young mothers walked with or strolled with their children. Some of the children, smiling and chattering, rode bicycles alongside their mothers on the paths adjoining the cottages, others held the hands of their moms.
There are also areas of peace, purposeful as part of the overall design. There was a sacred hush in the prayer garden, a reflective place to pray and study. Lisa Risdal, the executive director, expounded on the importance of safety and trust: “Many women come here street-hardened. Then their demeanor changes. They are laughing, smiling. They feel safe. Trust blooms. The children also learn to trust. Now I know why I am here at Acres of Hope.”
Lisa emphatically continues, “It is very compelling because I see the tangible impact every single day. It’s exhausting and energizing at the same time. The moms and their children grow. Their lives change. Homelessness isn’t the issue, it’s the root issues. Those root issues drive the behavior and they must be addressed over time. In 16-18 months these women learn to break the cycle and work a program; that instills change. We are truly transitional, not just a hamster wheel and a temporary Band-aid with no real change.” According to Lisa, that breaking of old patterns is the reason for their high success rate, thereby decreasing the inborn recidivism that comes with most cycles of homelessness.
Jackie Turner is the staff member in charge of Ministry Outreach and Counseling Services. Jackie, the daughter of a young teen mom, whose life circumstances were a strong driver to form her desire to help mothers and children, states, “It is healing for me to see young mothers fighting for their children and their worth. We need to give people a hand up. Many people judge instead of embracing them back to life. We help women find their own way. We give help to find jobs and to take responsibility for their mistakes and their lives.”
After the tour, I had the opportunity to sit down with Britany, a bright and insightful young mother of two beautiful girls who has made a home at Acres of Hope. Her exceptional candor was refreshing as she conveyed the magnitude of her incredibly moving story:
“I was a thief. I made such bad choices. I didn’t think that I was worthy of anything. I numbed myself and isolated myself. I lived in a tent and eventually became addicted to meth. Meth addiction will take a person to all kinds of nasty places. I didn’t think I was worth anything. I lost my precious daughters. The cycle of guilt, shame, drinking, and eventually, drugs, was my life until I came to live at Acres of Hope.”
The spring of 2016 was the turning of a resplendent new leaf for Britany when she came to live at Acres of Hope in Auburn. “After homelessness and losing my children, I have learned to recognize safe people, to create healthy boundaries, to release co-dependency, and how to heal,” she said.
“I have had to work very, very hard here. My eyes are open to where my fault is and the choices I made,” affirms Britany. “I want my girls to see me strong. I want them to know that I cleaned up my past. I am not willing to ever again lose my kids. I have a new vision of what I want for my life. I now have faith, trust, and joy in God. My big dream is to be a juvenile probation officer.”
A cycle is broken when moms and their children have strong tools and new hope. Not just a happy ending, but a new beginning. Opening eyes and engendering hopeful lives at Acres of Hope.
Credit to: Auburn Journal
Published: December 6, 2017