Meaghan’s Story: Family Found & Family Saved

This holiday season, we want to share with you a story about family—a family found and a family saved. It starts with a young woman named Meaghan from Ouray, CO, who married at 18 to escape the abusive household where she grew up. After graduating from a small Bible college in the Midwest, Meaghan and her husband moved to Telluride, where she had a successful career in the tourism industry for over 10 years. During that time, they welcomed a baby girl, but the marriage fell apart and they divorced. Following the divorce, Meaghan became involved in an abusive relationship, so her ex-husband moved with their daughter to Longmont.

“I lost my world when I lost my daughter—lost my home, lost my car, lost everything,” she says. Heartbroken by the loss of her daughter, Meaghan moved to Boulder to be closer to her, and also to escape the abusive relationship. She worked as a leasing agent at an apartment complex close to her daughter’s school and started to build a new life for herself, but then her abuser found her and convinced her to take him back. Fueled by his drug addiction, the abuse continued and worsened. She worked, and he spent all her money on drugs until she was left homeless and pregnant.

“Not knowing where I was going to sleep from night to night while I was pregnant was scary,” Meaghan remembers. She was admitted to the Mother House, a shelter for pregnant women in Boulder, but was forced to leave because she was still seeing her abuser. In 2019 after a great deal of time and effort, she finally received a subsidized housing assignment in Lafayette for herself and her new baby, a second daughter.

When she went from being homeless to having an apartment to furnish, Meaghan had only one bag of personal belongings. She visited a thrift store nearby, the Sister Carmen Thrift Store, to see if she could find anything there. While shopping, she learned that she might be able to get a voucher from Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC) to help buy items for her new apartment.

Sister Carmen provided the fresh start Meaghan needed when she moved to Lafayette. Besides the voucher to purchase mattresses, household and baby items, she also learned she could use the Sister Carmen Food Bank. That’s where she met Ginny, our Nurturing Parent Program Coordinator, for the first time. “I knew just by looking at Meaghan, by the way she stood, that she had been abused,” Ginny recalls. “I know the signs.”

She told Meaghan about the parenting classes offered at Sister Carmen and also the Circle of Parents Support Group for those impacted by addiction in their families; Meaghan registered immediately. Then Ginny followed up with a phone call to ask, “What else do you need? How old is your daughter?”

“She brought me bags and bags of clothes for my baby daughter, and I was just in tears,” shares Meaghan. “Not only that, but she asked me what I like to do. ‘I like to create. I’m an artist. I like to draw and paint,’ I told her. Then she brought me all kinds of art supplies. I was blown away because I’ve never had anybody just open up their heart that instantly towards me, without even knowing me. It was the best welcome I could have ever gotten, and I’ve been with Sister Carmen ever since.”

In addition to the thrift store, food bank, parenting classes and support group, Sister Carmen has provided Meaghan with bus passes, food delivery, child care, a resource for eyeglasses (Eye Doctors of Louisville), and financial assistance for utility bills. She’s attended community fun nights, wellness workshops, and exercise, financial education, and civic engagement classes. But the thing she values most is the community she’s found here.

“Circle of Parents is the glue, my saving grace. We’ve developed a real sisterhood too,” she shares. “Even though we come from many different backgrounds, cultures, language barriers, and parenting styles, it doesn’t matter. Those are my girls. We’re just there for each other. It’s completely confidential and non-judgmental.”

One time while the group was being held on Zoom, Ginny received a text from Meaghan which read: “Call the Police immediately. Send them now!” Ginny quickly excused herself from the session, saying she left something on the stove, and made the call. “She didn’t even question, ‘Why? What’s going on? You seem happy.’ She just did it, and she saved me,” Meaghan says. “I never had people in my corner before Sister Carmen and Ginny.”

Over the course of their seven-year relationship, Meaghan’s abuser was in and out of jail for harming her. “I had a bad habit of letting him back in. The cops would be called. There were so many reports, I jeopardized my place,” she explains. “Sister Carmen has been my grounding force because I’m trying to do this differently on my own, but when all you know is what you’ve known, it’s hard not to fall back into those patterns. Sister Carmen—Ginny in particular—is always there for me. I’ll call and she’ll just listen. That’s something I never had in my whole life. I didn’t know what a supportive family looked like until Ginny showed me. She is my rock, my friend, and my mentor.”

Meaghan is safe now. “Because I had the support of my Sister Carmen family behind me, I had the strength to stand up for myself for the first time in my life,” she shares. “I was able to tell my abuser that he would no longer be a part of my life or our daughter’s life. I think that inspired him to get sober.”

Ginny also connected Meaghan with legal advice that taught her how to advocate for herself with the courts. She told them that she didn’t feel safe with her abuser nearby. As a result, he received two years of probation that enabled him to go to rehab and a ready-to-work program, and now he’s become a good father. “It’s been life changing! This man is totally different without the drugs,” exclaims Meaghan. “If I hadn’t advocated for myself with the courts, he would have gotten off scot-free and wouldn’t have gotten the help he needed, and the whole pattern would have perpetuated itself. I’m so proud we were able to stop that generational pattern of abuse.”

Now that Meaghan is in a healthy place, her next goal is getting a new job. “I want to find something where I can give back. My heart is so full and Sister Carmen has given me so much—all the resources to be successful. It’s so amazing to find family. I call them family because they truly are. They know your faults, they know everything about you, but they don’t judge you because they just want to see you grow,” she continues.

“I know what it feels like to lose everything, and to feel utterly broken and alone. For someone to just lend a hand and say, ‘It’s going to be ok, and step-by-step, we’re in this with you’ has changed my world. And it’s not just affecting me, it’s affecting my former abuser, my kids, and the generations after me. Now my legacy, and my kids’ legacy, will be one of resiliency and triumph and making the world a better place.”

If you are able, we hope you’ll make a gift to Sister Carmen this holiday season to help us keep changing the world, one family at a time.

Lupita’s Story: Paying It Forward

If you have ever visited Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC), chances are you’ve crossed paths with Lupita. She has been one of our most active and enthusiastic participants ever since she first walked through our doors over a decade ago. Although in recent years, she’s usually the one giving help rather than receiving it.

Originally from Durango, Mexico, Lupita first came to the United States as a teenager in the late 1990s. She left a province with a lot of poverty and violence in search of a better life.

This mother of nine children, ranging in age from 2 to 22, has had her share of hardships, particularly toxic relationships with abusive and alcoholic partners. For 14 years, she did her best to raise her children as a single mother.

Lupita in front of the food bank mural she helped commission as a member of SCCC’s Participant Advisory Committee

Friends told her about SCCC in 2011, and she started taking classes here. First, it was the exercise (Zumba, yoga, walking club) and healthy cooking classes, then she learned about our parenting classes (Nurturing Parent, Active Parenting, and Circle of Parents), and finally she moved on to our computer-literacy (Bridging Digital Divides) and leadership (Family Leadership Training Institute – FLTI) classes. In addition to these programs, Lupita found that Sister Carmen offered resources that could help her. Our Advocates provided financial assistance for rent, utilities, and transportation when she had nowhere else to turn. They also connected her with our food bank and thrift store, as well as other agencies located within SCCC—like Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN), which helps survivors of domestic violence; Mental Health Partners, which provides therapy, and the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition (CSPC), which strives to ensure that children in marginalized communities have the same access to education as any other child.

After making the most of every opportunity provided by Sister Carmen, Lupita was eager to give back to SCCC and pay it forward in her community. She started by joining our Participant Advisory Committee (PAC), which provides feedback to improve SCCC programs and services, and also plans events, like Community Fun Nights, and special projects, like a recently completed mural in our food bank and an upcoming playground project. She’s also the first to volunteer whenever a need arises—whether it’s filling in for a class facilitator or speaking at an event.

She uses the leadership skills she learned at SCCC outside of our walls as well, in her professional life and as an advocate for her community. Lupita recognizes that, “There are a lot of barriers for people in my community—language, skin color, education. They have a lot of skills, but can’t grow because of these barriers.”

So she helps remove the barriers. She asks her community members about their needs and learns how she can offer support. If they’re uncomfortable calling various agencies on their own, she calls on their behalf. She helps her friend run a catering business. She advocates for other small business owners as well. She volunteers with the Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) network of child-care providers and the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition (CSPC) to promote the importance of early childhood education. She also provides child care for the Boulder Valley School District’s Families and Educators Together (FET) program. She helps facilitate lactation classes at the OUR Center in Longmont.

Two years ago, she started volunteering with Promotores Verdes (PV) —“Green Promoters”—a nonprofit that immerses families in nature and environmental activities. Lupita’s leadership skills were noticed at PV and she was hired by WRS Restoration, a company that plants trees to reforest mountain woodlands lost to wildfires, to lead the Spanish-speaking volunteers. She’s also involved with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City and with Nature Kids at Thorne Nature Experience. Lastly, she’s an activist speaking up for the rights of immigrants. Lupita is not yet a U.S. citizen, but plans to apply as soon as she’s eligible next year.

This 40-year-old powerhouse wears a lot of hats—mother, teacher, volunteer, advocate, activist. And she’s grateful to SCCC for giving her the support and skills she needed to fulfill all of these roles, especially as a single mother and immigrant.

“Sister Carmen is my second home,” she shares. “It has always been a warm, welcoming, non-judgmental place where I could turn for help. It brought tranquility to my family in stressful times and gave me hope that everything would be okay.”

After living in Boulder County for over 25 years, Lupita recently moved out of our service area to live with her new partner and the father of her two youngest children. He’s been on the scene since 2015 and has opened his heart to Lupita and her whole crew. He purchased a home for the family in Dacono. He works hard to provide for them and supports Lupita in all her pursuits. Initially Lupita was sad to leave Boulder County because they couldn’t afford to buy a home here, but now she sees that Dacono may be where she’s meant to be. There are a lot of plans to improve the growing community, and of course she wants to help. We’re just grateful she still has the energy to keep giving back at SCCC as well!

How our Staff Keeps Showing Up for the Community

by Suzanne Crawford, CEO

“I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.” – Stephanie Sparkle

The past year and a half has not been easy for our staff and volunteers. When COVID first hit, other businesses were shutting down but we knew that was not an option for SCCC. Food, financial assistance, and other resources (like digital literacy training and parent support groups) were more needed than ever. We had to keep providing support to our most vulnerable community members, so we adapted our operations in order to continue offering services in a safe manner. During that early time, when we were going through so many transitions as an organization, our staff and volunteers were having their own fears and reactions to the pandemic. Every person in our organization seemed to be in a different position on the continuum of concern and how a person felt could change from day to day. We learned very quickly to apply our philosophy regarding how we work with our participants to each other: we needed to meet each other where we were in that moment. We had to let each other feel what we needed to feel and give each other grace. Supporting each other became our number one concern because we knew we were only as strong as our weakest link.

Our staff—and a core group of dedicated volunteers—continued to show up day after day after day after day. They adapted, they filled in for each other, they took on new roles and responsibilities when necessary, and they met an unprecedented demand for financial assistance and food. What is truly remarkable about this is that so many were dealing with major life issues outside of work: weddings, deaths, breakups, illnesses, home purchases, and family emergencies. All of the major traumas that happen during normal life still happen during a pandemic. Yet our folks continually showed up for each other and showed up for our community.

Despite the heartache of this past year, there is also a deep well of joy that comes from being a part of such a wonderful team. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to this amazing team for all you have done to support your community and each other. You continued carrying those buckets of water, despite the stresses you were personally going through. For this, you have my deepest gratitude, respect, and love.

The Food Bank Pays it Forward

In 2020, many local farmers and ranchers were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as their biggest buyers (restaurants) closed down. Sister Carmen Community Center was fortunate enough to receive funding from Boulder County, the CARES Act, Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, and Colorado State’s Food Pantry Assistance program. By partnering with local producers—Wisdom Natural Poultry, Ollin Farms, El Mercado, Vitamin Cottage, and Morning Fresh Dairy—we were able to supplement our donated typically non-perishable items with fresh nutritious foods including vegetables, eggs, dairy, and poultry. We were even able to purchase culturally appropriate foods for the holidays—something that we wouldn’t have been able to do without the additional funding. This support greatly helped us to keep up with the demand we were seeing in the community, but this funding also had the added benefit of helping those local producers—doubly giving back to those in need:

Jay and Cindy Wisdom of Wisdom Natural Poultry: “We first came to hear of Sister Carmen when one of your wonderful supporters contacted us to buy our product to be delivered to the community center to help with the increased demand for the food challenged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the state closed down in March, we lost nearly 100% of our business when the restaurants and Farmers Market would be closed until further notice. It was the single most devastating thing that has ever happened to us. We started to change our business plan for more direct sales to individuals, but, without the help of that supporter and Sister Carmen buying from us we would not have survived this very hard time. COVID-19 is far from over and we would very much like to continue to do business with Sister Carmen.”

Kena and Mark Guttridge of Ollin Farms: “Working with Sister Carmen had a positive impact on our business in 2020.  Our farm had increased our vegetable production and saw our outlets shift or get cancelled due to COVID so supplying different food access programs became key in our farms economic survival as we transitioned our business model. Our experience with SCCC was extremely positive. At Ollin Farms we are passionate about growing nutrient dense food that can provide health to our local community, we have worked with a number of organizations over the years on food access programs, so partnering with Sister Carmen and seeing our produce go through their distribution channels to reach a greater audience was great. The values and goals of Ollin Farms for growing healthier communities align so well with the same values and work that Sister Carmen has been championing for years, these are the kind of community partnerships that we appreciate most, and we would love to continue to work with Sister Carmen. Let’s keep growing it!”