Finding Strength in Hard Times: One Participant’s Journey

Throughout this ongoing crisis, we’ve heard endless stories of hardship, desperation, but also resiliency from the participants we serve.
One such story is that of Christa. In 2017, after years of emotional abuse and manipulation, Christa became a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband. She lost her job and was constantly sick from stress. She didn’t have a good support system of friends and family at the time. Christa always enjoyed prayer and considered herself as having a close relationship with God—but over the years, her husband had stripped away her dignity, her hope, and even her faith.
When she finally gained the courage to leave, she struggled with homelessness and was forced to live out of her van. She experienced constant harassment from her ex-husband and his friends, and at one point they even destroyed her van.
“I was so scared all the time. But the destruction he caused only made me stronger.” 
Christa was connected to Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (S.P.A.N.)—whom she says were wonderfully helpful—and they were able to help get her housed and employed. But just as things were looking up, she was laid off in June 2019, and by November she was homeless again.
After happily reconciling with family, she was able to move in with her elderly mother—but then COVID-19 hit. Christa didn’t qualify for unemployment, and she feared getting a job that would expose her immunocompromised mother. When it became apparent that the virus was the new normal, Christa knew that finding a job wasn’t an option anymore. She made the painful decision to move out and spent the next few months rotating between couches, sleeping in tents, her car…
“I felt like the world was against me. I was vulnerable and unsafe out in the open, but I was terrified of going to a shelter and risk catching the virus.” 
Sister Carmen was here to help. Christa was recommended to Sister Carmen Community Center and learned about the Housing Stabilization Program (HSP). HSP is a short-term rental assistance program for anyone in Boulder County. Most participants are recovering from some type of trauma such as medical, divorce, or domestic violence, where one month of support just isn’t enough to get them back on their feet permanently. SCCC’s full-time HSP Coordinator acts as an advocate for participants, helps them to apply, and stays with them throughout the program. HSP can be competitive and the process of being accepted can be a long one—especially while waiting during difficult circumstances. But Christa handled the situation with patience, saying she only had a positive experience with SCCC through the entire process. She was finally accepted and able to move into a condo in July!
“I can’t express my gratitude enough toward the people who work here. They’ve been so patient with me—even when I had an emotional breakdown. They restored my faith in myself and I’m so happy.”
SCCC also connected Christa to other programs that would help her on her path to success: a career workshop, support group, and a financial wellness class. She utilizes the Food Bank, and Sister Carmen Thrift Store vouchers helped cover basic items for her new home. Now, Christa is building credit, making career plans, and hopes to attend future classes and programs as opportunities open up.
“Sister Carmen has made me feel whole again. I feel complete. I have my faith back.” 
We stand in awe of the resourcefulness, resiliency, and dedication shown by the families we serve—we know that ultimately it is the participants themselves who do the heavy lifting. We strive to be there to offer a hand up when people need it—meeting them where they are at, no matter where that happens to be in their journey.
This holiday season, we hope you can find it in your heart to give a hand up as well. Please consider a gift to Sister Carmen Community Center as a way to support your neighbors experiencing crisis and surviving during these difficult times.
To donate securely online, visit ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen.

Bob and Betty: An Elderly Couple’s Journey through Unexpected Homelessness

Bob and Betty, a loving elderly couple, spent much of their lives secure and happy—working hard and living the dream in California. Unfortunately, the recession hit them hard: Bob, a contract worker, was laid off, there was no work to be found in his industry, and housing costs were quickly on the rise. They knew staying in California was unsustainable, so they tried moving to the Colorado Rockies and starting over. During the next 5 years, Bob found unreliable on-again off-again contract work and the couple were barely getting by. Social security was not enough to cover the necessities, and their savings slowly dwindled away.

Then Bob found a good job opportunity in Boulder, so they packed up along with their two cats and moved to Lafayette in their truck—a seemingly temporary necessity—when the job fell through.

So in the spring of 2019, the couple found themselves living out of their truck in an unfamiliar area with no money and no friends or family that could help. Their phone was turned off when they couldn’t pay their bill. They moved the truck from place to place every night, because they weren’t allowed to camp anywhere for long and their gas was disappearing.

“We were just floating,” said Betty.

Bob said they never imagined they’d be in such a situation: he was employable, has a lot of skills, they were responsible and have good credit. Things just shouldn’t be going this way.

“But we never felt sorry for ourselves or less than. People need to know that if they’re in a situation like ours, they still count, they matter,” said Betty.

But the couple stayed resilient and were extremely resourceful. Soon after being in the area, they found hot meals available at Josephine Commons and help from a local church they began attending. The Lafayette Senior Center became a place for Betty to spend the day, where she could shower, exercise, have some tea and muffins while Bob used the computers to find work. But Bob said the hardest thing to get was gas. No one really offered gas money, the truck was their only home and transportation, “and it’s a gas guzzler,” said Bob.

Betty said the hardest time for her was losing her beloved cat, Mickey, who usually spent every night curled inside her sleeping bag with her, but ran away while they were moving their truck. Weeks went by and they had driven all over town trying to find him. Then, after dropping Betty off at the Senior Center one day, Bob saw Mickey just walk right by him! Betty and Mickey were finally reunited.

The couple was initially referred to Sister Carmen Community Center for help with food, but they found so much more. They met with an SCCC Advocate several times and were eventually connected to Brittany, SCCC’s Advocate Manager for more support. Bob and Betty said that Brittany is a very special person and that often just having someone to talk to makes the biggest difference.

“We didn’t know where to go or how to get started. But this (SCCC) was a haven. The difference with Sister Carmen is that once you walked in, there’s like an aura of compassion, caring, and an outpouring of love. Everyone made us feel like we were doing okay, but they can help us get better. We kept reminding ourselves this would only be temporary.”

Not only did Bob and Betty get food for themselves, but they got cat food from the Pet Pantry that comes once a week, they were able to get connected with gas cards, money to cover some medication of Betty’s when it ran out, and most importantly, a deposit and first month’s rent to get into an apartment. In September, after five months of living in their truck and just as Sister Carmen was helping the couple to get housed, Bob finally secured a job! They moved into their new place and spent the first night in just their sleeping bags on the floor. The next day they woke up to the first snow of the year and were so grateful they didn’t have to spend the night in the truck.

After they were housed, SCCC gave them thrift store vouchers to help get settled in their apartment while they were still getting things out of storage. They are now happily settled.

“It’s important for people to know that it gets frustrating,” said Betty, “but if you have a good attitude that helps a lot.”

Portrait of A Strong and Caring Woman: How One Participant Said “Thank You!”

In early March 2020, the weight and enormity of the COVID-19 crisis began to fall heavily on the shoulders of Sister Carmen staff members. As Boulder Valley School District closed on March 13th and statewide closures began two weeks later, we quickly realized that already vulnerable members of the community were going to need so much more help to make it through this.

Micklina, who works as a Bilingual Advocate at Sister Carmen Community Center, was especially worried about some of her participants who are immunocompromised. One of them, Stewart Ressler, is a retired 74 year old artist who lives alone. He usually supplements his income by selling his art in public, but he cannot do that safely anymore. Micklina gave him a call to ask if he was alright and if there was anything he needed. Stewart said it meant so much to him that she took the time to reach out and personally connect with him. He told her that he was doing alright for now, but was worried about how he was going to make ends meet now that he couldn’t sell his art. That income was vital for him to pay rent and keep afloat. He doesn’t have any other safety net.

After a couple months Stewart’s situation got even tougher as it became obvious he couldn’t go out to sell his art anytime soon. So he called Micklina again and asked for help and advice. She was able to give him partial rent assistance for two months from SCCC to make sure he wouldn’t lose his home while he figured out a long-term plan. She then helped him apply and get approved for the LEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) and AAA (Area Agency on Aging) programs. In addition to connecting him to multiple programs, they talked through ideas for a more sustainable plan, such as getting a roommate.

Stewart was extremely grateful and wanted to do something for Micklina in return. So he painted this beautiful portrait of her, saying that he wanted to portray Micklina as he saw her: a strong and caring woman.

Since mid-March, Sister Carmen Community Center has assisted thousands of people through our food bank with over 400,000 pounds of food. We’ve prevented hundreds from becoming homeless or losing other basic needs such as water and electricity by distributing over $500,000 in direct financial assistance for families, and have only been able to do so, because of generous community donations. Please consider the profound impact your gift can make for each of these neighbors. You can make a difference today by donating securely online at ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen.

Like Tea and Water: One Family’s Journey to the United States

“As a refugee coming to the United States, I didn’t want to be like oil and water. I want to integrate completely, like tea and water.” – Hamid Jounou

Sister Carmen Community Center is a local organization that works to help those in need—anyone who considers East Boulder County their home—without discrimination. We support people with a wide variety of backgrounds—sometimes with a history and story that is very different from our own—but, in other ways, may be all too familiar.

Meet the Jounou family: mother Hanifa (age 62); her sister, Aisha (54); Hanifa’s daughters Rudi (32) and Bana (25); and her sons Hamid (30) and Ussef (24). In 2013, the family fled war-torn Syria to become refugees in Lebanon. Leaving was the last thing that Hanifa wanted to do.

“In the beginning, I refused to leave. It was my home—my country. I was going to wait for the war to end.” – Hanifa

Hanifa’s younger children evacuated with the United Nations for safety, leaving only her son, Hamid, to stay with her. They held out as long as they dared—until there was no electricity, gas, or running water. They burned their belongings for warmth while shooting rampaged in the streets. Finally, having no other recourse, they left secretly in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs, so as to stay hidden from soldiers.

The next 6 years were spent in a refugee camp in Lebanon, where the family was known for their dedication to helping others. Most days were spent caring for their fellow refugees and volunteering with their church, Horizons International. Bana would greet new refugee families and help them get settled by providing clothes, household items, and other necessities.

Their hard work and empathy caught the eye of Kathy, one of our Lafayette neighbors, who went to Lebanon on a mission trip with Horizon in 2016. Despite the language barrier, she discovered a fondness for this amazing self-sacrificing family and offered to become their sponsor as immigrants to the United States.

Kathy often says to them, “You’ve lived your life serving other people. Now it’s your turn to let others help you.”

Immigrating to the U.S. wasn’t easy. The next few years were spent in a web of bureaucracy, forever waiting to hear if they’d been approved and tediously completing medical exams. Finally, the family moved to Lafayette in 2019 with Kathy as their host.

Many local resources were available for the family, including Sister Carmen Community Center. Zoya—a full-time Advocate at Sister Carmen and a fluent Arabic speaker—was able to connect with the family not only through language, but on a community and cultural level. She introduced them to others who spoke Arabic, connected them with free English classes at Intercambio, and continues to assist them in navigating the new country. Zoya also assists in translating for seemingly simple tasks, like getting a bank account or permit to drive, but ones that make a world of difference and allow them to be active members of society.

Within weeks of being in the United States, the 4 adult children all had jobs, permits to drive, and were learning English. Rudi works with Horizon in Boulder, Ussef at Flatirons Community Church, and Hamid and Bana at King Soopers. Weekly, they carpool to their church in Aurora, the only Arabic-speaking church in the area.

The Jounous are looking towards the future: Bana loves to bake and cook, and one day would like to open a restaurant, “or become a translator, like Zoya!” Ussef wants to go into movie production and tell people about his story. Hamid wishes to become a pastor. Rudi wants to focus on her English and do any job that involves helping people.

When asked why they wanted to share their story they gave two reasons: “We want to encourage other refugees, let them know that America is still a land of opportunity, that people are nice and welcoming. And we want to make a good example of what refugees can be: hard working, learning English, and striving for a better life here.” -Hamid

Over the coming months, many of us will enjoy visits from friends and family. We’ll welcome them into our warm home and offer them a meal at our table. As we do, let us not forget those who are still trying to make a home of their own, picking up the pieces of one that was left behind. In donating this holiday season, you will earn the gratitude of thousands of people directly benefiting from the efforts of Sister Carmen Community Center—those from near and far.

Please consider the profound impact your gift can make for each of these people in your community. You can make a difference today by donating securely online at ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen.

Nina’s Story

Nina lived her life knowing she always had enough money to cover expenses and  the
means to get what she needed.

When she and her husband divorced her life changed dramatically. The emotional burden
of the divorce weighed on her heavily and she became very depressed.

Initially, Nina received alimony to cover living expenses for her and her daughter.  As she moved
forward and worked towards re-defining her life as single woman her economic lifeline was cut off.
Her ex-husband moved out of the United States and was no longer required to  pay alimony. Nina
did not know how to live without the income she was used to—she had always had financial security.

“There was nowhere to go. I didn’t have many friends here.

They moved from their large family home into an apartment. Nina took a position as a reserve
flight attendant—reserve employees are not guaranteed a full week of work.  Her daughter was working
and contributed to expenses for a while, then she moved out to live with some friends. With not enough
income she fell behind on her bills and was facing a two week eviction notice.

“I was thinking of suicide. There was no way out of this.”

She went to Boulder County Housing and Human Services and they referred her to Sister Carmen Community
Center. She met with our advocate Jen, and left that day knowing her rent would be paid and she had some
time to find an affordable living situation.

“I had to admit I needed help. My life was different now.”

She also left with food from our food bank and a list of things that she could do to help herself.

The first time Jen took me to the food bank, I cried. I could see other people in the same situation
and how lucky we are to have that.”

Within a few months Nina moved in with a friend as his roommate. She was so relieved to find an affordable
living situation and pleasantly found herself feeling at home.

“There is life after despair. I am proof that you can do it.”

Through this transition Nina realized her life holds a new richness and life is not about “What you live in
or what you have.”

“When you look in your purse and only have $5 to last the whole week your perspective changes.

I appreciate the small things much more. Food. Eating.”

As Nina continues her journey her eyes and heart are open to new opportunities and to learning something
new every day.

“I’m thankful I have a job and I love what I do.”

She is working hard to advance within the aviation industry to secure better pay and a solid schedule.
When asked whyshe chose to work in the flight industry, she said:

“I used to hate flying, and I can’t explain what happened. I was looking for a big change— maybe
confront some fears and over comet hem. If I’d stayed married, I never would have done that. Being
forced into a new situation made me see life differently.”

Her greatest hope in sharing her story is to encourage women in a similar situation not to be ashamed of
their circumstances and it is okay to ask for help.

“I feel eternally grateful of the support I received at SCCC.”

With confidence and a new found resiliency Nina is looking up towards the sky and helping others confront
their fears along the way.

I love watching people fly for the first time. They always look kind of terrified.  I tell them, ‘look
out the window—it’s beautiful.”

As a community, we can give the wonderful gift of dignity, hope and gratitude and the opportunity to soar.

Living on the Edge in Lafayette, CO

My name is Cynthia.

I had lived a good life. I was married with four beautiful children. I worked full time, had a house, a van, and was living what many people perceived as the American dream. In 2008 all of that changed—my marriage was breaking up and I had two very ill children that needed constant attention. In August that year, I lost our house and we were homeless.

This set off a whirlwind of staying on friend’s couches, shelters and even sleeping in our van just to keep my children safe. Unfortunately this lasted for years and because of the instability I lost several jobs during this time. Watching my children go through so much had negative side effects as well.

 We as a family lost hope. Hope we so desperately needed but could not find.

In June of 2011 we moved into a pay by the week hotel in Lafayette. Once again fate had a cruel twist—I was becoming increasingly ill and required several surgeries. As a family we really needed this home—even if it was not permanent. I didn’t think my children could endure any more than what they already had.

I was lost. I felt there was no hope. My mind was going to dark places where I wasn’t so sure my children wouldn’t be better with a stable family and me leaving them.

A miracle finally happened.

The manager of the hotel mentioned Sister Carmen Community Center to me and offered to take me there to get some food.

I was expecting to reach out for help and made to feel insignificant yet again. To ask for food and be given food that was already rotting or that I wouldn’t be able to turn into a meal because I wasn’t a professional chef. I was expecting some non-cooked beans and spaghetti noodles.

I was expecting to break down, beg, and cry in front of so many people—instead I met Andrea and she met with me in a private room. The crying was very private and her compassion was immeasurable.
During that time Andrea made extra time for me. She didn’t push me out the door. Suddenly I was getting help.

It’s amazing how something so simple turned into something that saved our lives.

I was given food. Real food. Food the children would eat and food I could actually make. Then she told me Sister Carmen Community Center would cover the expenses at the pay by week hotel for one month while I recovered from the surgeries.

I left there that day and wept.

These tears were no longer of sorrow but suddenly of hope. I saw a future for the first time since I don’t know when. I went to the hotel and saw a bright light in my families’ future that I didn’t think existed anymore.

Everyone at the Center helped me so much in just a matter of months. I received counseling for help with PTSD; workshops to help me further my parenting and job skills; food to keep us fed, and clothing for school and work so everyone felt normal again. In January 2012 they helped me move into permanent housing and by June they had started me on a path to a career that would be stable. Through this entire process everyone at the Center was there for me, and supporting me and my children.

It has been 5 years since then.

My children and I have some side effects from that dark time. But we all know that we are not alone. If we need help we have only to ask these kind people. Our lives were touched by the kind people of Sister Carmen and our future became so much brighter. I would like to say everything worked out fine but this isn’t a fairy tale and life throws curve balls. But, we do now have a hope that we lost and a strength from the supportive services we received.

As a family we are able to better face now whatever comes our way.

Thank you Sister Carmen’s for the continued support and for never turning us away when we needed you. We have truly been blessed by the services and support you gave us.

 

Want to help families like Cynthia’s? Check out our volunteer opportunities or other ways to give.

Living on the Edge in Louisville, CO

“Your neighbor may struggling and you don’t even know it.
I want people to know it is okay to ask for help.” –Tanya

Tanya and her three children have been living on the edge since her divorce.  She has been very resourceful in adjusting her lifestyle to survive off of one income—she found a house to rent for a reasonable amount, maintained a full time management position and carefully orchestrated the delicate, however albeit precarious balance of childcare, getting kids to school, going to work and managing bills.

When unforeseen expenses came up, such as a prescription for a sick child or a car repair—and with no savings—Tanya would use her credit card.  According to Boulder County Trends a family of four living in Boulder County requires an annual income of $75,906—just to cover the basics. Tanya was not making this much.                       

Unexpectedly Tanya lost her job.  Immediately she started applying for any position she thought she would qualify for.  Tanya was already behind on a few bills but now she was behind on her rent and utilities and was uncertain about getting enough food.

She initially came to SCCC to get assistance with her past due utility bill.  Tanya met with one of our advocates and talked about why she was seeking assistance.  Tanya left that day knowing SCCC would pay her utility bill in full, she had food from our food bank to take home, emergency financial assistance with her rent and she enrolled in the Housing Stabilization Program.

“I have a renewed faith that there people out there wanting to help you.”

With an understanding landlord who was willing to be flexible with Tanya’s situation we were able to keep Tanya and her three kids in their home.  Within a month Tanya secured a job, and a few weeks later she interviewed for a higher paying position and was offered the job.

Even though she secured employment early on in the program she continued to receive financial assistance for a few more months.  With this support Tanya was able to apply her new income towards bills that were past due and late fees, complete much needed repairs on her only car and was able to build a small savings account. Tanya felt secure and poised for success.

 “I just need to get to the next level. I got the basics covered. I just need peace of mind.”

Tanya is deeply committed to attaining financial independence and moving beyond living paycheck to paycheck.  Her goals are to get a higher paying position and she intends to take finance and budgeting classes.

“I want to build a strong foundation for my future, to have enough savings
for hard times and to own a home.”

Want to get involved to help families like Tanya’s?  Check out our volunteer opportunities or other ways to give.

Krystal

“Believe in yourself and keep moving forward. The road blocks will move.”

Krystal’s life back in Virginia was stable and comfortable with a well-paying job, large house, nice car and everything she and her son needed. However, her life took a sudden turn when she lost her job and could no longer sustain her family.  With reluctance, Krystal decided to return to Colorado, where her mother lived, as she and her eight-year old son needed a place to stay until she could get back on her feet. Going into this situation Krystal knew that it would not be sustainable emotionally.

As a single-mom and unemployed she needed some extra help—and having nowhere else to turn—she came to Sister Carmen a year ago for food and clothing. From there, she was referred to Maryann, the Center’s onsite Mental Health Partners’ therapist, as well as to Candice, one of our Individual and Family Advocates. Candice became and essential resource for Krystal, helping her identify and strategize the short-term goals that would help Krystal achieve her aspirations of having independent housing, a stable career, and a good education for her son.

It’s nice to have support here when I don’t have it anywhere else. It has really helped encourage me…I get support from Candice that I can’t get anywhere else.

That’s one thing Sister Carmen showed me: that there are people out there who care.

The guidance Candice and Maryann were able to give Krystal helped her start to regain ground and feel more hopeful for her and her son’s futures. Still struggling to figure out how best to approach her son’s Attention Deficit Disorder, she attended our Nurturing Parent Program. These classes awakened her to the fact that she herself was not raised in a supportive environment and she had some work to do on herself to make the life changes she yearned for.

Before the Nurturing Parenting classes, my confidence and self-esteem was really low. So was my son’s. Now I have more confidence and so does my son. I’m able to give my son love and it’s changed our lives.

Krystal is very proud and profoundly moved by the changes she and her son have made together through this program. As a parent she developed a new sense of self-awareness, increased her parenting knowledge and skills, and started building, what she describes, as the first strong, solid relationship she has ever had with her son.

She also observed that as her outlook on life became more positive—as she gained confidence and more lightheartedness—she saw these same qualities reflected in her son and in his relationships with his friends and classmates.

When Krystal first came to Sister Carmen, she was disheartened and depressed. Over the course of a year, Krystal has worked extremely hard to come a long way and has a lot to be proud of. She recently graduated from a job training program with the County, and she continues to actively seek self-growth and skill-development opportunities. She optimistic that she will be able to attain safe and stable housing through the Family Self-Sufficiency program. Additionally, although currently unemployed, Krystal is determined to return to school and find a meaningful career that would allow her to remain in Boulder County, in main part so that her son can finish his education in the Boulder Valley School District.

I look at Facebook photos of my son and me together and think about where we were before. Now, my son is smiling in photos and I think, ‘it might not be perfect now, but it’s the best it’s ever been.’

Krystal now sees herself as a role model in her immediate and larger community; through her own actions and transformations, she shares with others the skills and knowledge she has found to be so valuable and life-changing. Most importantly, she is building a new relationship with herself and her son, one that will lay a strong foundation for a future where they can both realize their hopes and dreams. She now looks with confidence and optimism on her life and what she will achieve.