Finding a Home for Her Sons
Family Promise Southwestern Pennsylvania
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
If Theresa Gates could use one word to describe herself, it would be “mom.” “Since my children were born, I have defined myself as a mother before and above any other role,” said Theresa, who has three teenage sons. “I dedicated myself to raising my children in the most caring, loving, and stable environment possible.”
But two years after Theresa and her husband divorced and her ex-husband stopped paying child support, her family lived in a motel room, paying by the week. The social worker assigned to her case suggested that Theresa consider turning to Family Promise for assistance. At first, she refused. “Although our family wasn’t making any forward progress and we were crammed two to a bed in a 10 foot by 14 foot room, we were living independently,” she says. “‘Shelter’ has such a negative connotation.”
As the social worker continued to provide Theresa with more details about Family Promise, she decided to apply for a spot, which she calls “one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.”
Laura Vincenti, Executive Director of the Family Promise Southwestern Pennsylvania Affiliate (FPSWPA), recognizes that Theresa’s decision to enter the Family Promise program was, at heart, “a desire to protect her sons and provide well for them.” Theresa quickly warmed to the Family Promise model, especially since it was the only sheltering option to keep her family intact, as most shelters separate mothers and older children. After completing the program, Theresa sees amazing differences in both herself and her children.
“I am a much stronger and more confident person. For that, I can thank Family Promise,” says Theresa. She boasts of the growth she has seen in her sons: her oldest graduated from high school and is a private in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard; her middle son has matured into a young man who is comfortable with himself; and her youngest, once painfully shy, is more outgoing.
Now a Family Promise “graduate,” Theresa is renting a small three-bedroom home from a landlord associated with FPSWPA. Before reaching that milestone, FPSWPA’s case management program provided Theresa with the budgeting skills she would need to determine an affordable rent. Laura notes that Theresa received security deposit assistance from a local agency; the Affiliate provided funds toward utility deposits and the purchase of appliances. FPSWPA’s “Home Again” program furnished the space, and Family Promise volunteers helped move the family and their belongings to their new home.
Theresa could not be more grateful for all the support she received in her journey to a fresh start. “There was one person who got up early to bring me coffee before we left the church in the morning, which seems like such a small thing, but made me feel more at home and human. Another wonderful person took my son’s dress clothes to her home and laundered and pressed them, since it was a busy week, he would be wearing them back to back, and I didn’t have time to do it,” she notes. “There are people who touched us throughout the program who will be in my thoughts and heart forever.”
Like many former guests of Family Promise, Theresa is giving back so that others can receive the same assistance. She is a passionate advocate for the program and the priceless gift of self-sustainability it has provided to her and her sons. Laura notes that she frequently asks Theresa to accompany her on visits to supporters or others interested in learning more about Family Promise: “Theresa’s words and thanks are so heartfelt, she makes me cry every time I hear her speak.”