Mary Ellen’s Hearth at Nellie Burge, an affiliate agency of the River Region United Way, is a transitional home for homeless women with children under the age of 12. Residents can stay for up to two years, during which time the program offers a variety of lessons, tools and life skills to help them get back on their feet and succeed in life.
If residents are not working or actively seeking employment, they must be going to school or taking classes. Classes are offered on everything from parenting to financial planning. Each woman has chores for which she is responsible and a set of goals to achieve. The staff works hard to ensure that residents are given the tools they need to succeed on their own.
It’s not just helping the women get through a tough time in their lives; the staff is working hard to change a mindset.
For Sharmane, that has been the most important challenge.
The young mother was sleeping in her car before coming to Mary Ellen’s Hearth. She would take her son to stay with her sister, claiming that she had to work overnight. But in reality, she was too proud to admit that she was homeless.
“It was a very shameful process,” said Sharmane.
Sharmane had been through a lot in her short life. Her father died when she was young, and her mother eventually remarried a man who was abusive to Sharmane through her teens. It was after the Department of Human Resources began investigating that Sharmane’s mother finally divorced him.
Though her relationship with her mother was strained, Sharmane stood by her when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She held down at least two jobs throughout high school in order to help pay bills for her ailing mother, who was in a nursing home. Weeks after Sharmane graduated high school, her mother passed away.
“After Mom died, I didn’t understand why God would keep allowing bad things to happen to me,” Sharmane said. “I had completely cut God off. Any time you do that, he will completely shake your foundation.”
Sharmane continued to work multiple jobs, but would usually change jobs after a few months, and spend money on unnecessary or nonessential things. Eventually she and her son, Jeremiah, lost their home. Sharmane spent three weeks sleeping in her car before family convinced her to put her pride aside and go to Mary Ellen’s Hearth in October 2012.
When she began her time at MEH, she admits she had a bad attitude.
“I was in a really broken state,” she said. “No one knew what I was going through.”
But as she began to get to know the staff, she realized that these people could relate to her problems.
“God placed people in my life to make me a better person,” Sharmane said. “I stopped fighting the process.”
And once she began to follow the program, she quickly became a role-model to others.
Sharmane has been able to purchase her first home thanks to the lessons she learned
through her time at Mary Ellen's Hearth.
Thanks to the intervention and support of those at Mary Ellen’s Hearth, Sharmane found a steady full-time job, as well as a part-time job, bought a car, paid off nearly $11,000 worth of bills and is no longer receiving public assistance. She was able to buy a car to get to and from work. In 2015, she graduated from Mary Ellen’s Hearth, and purchased her first house. Now she is married with a new baby, and her son, Jeremiah, is making all A’s in school.
“This is the most stability I’ve ever had,” said Sharmane. “I’m excited, I’m proud of myself.”
“She’s learned so much, and become a better mother,” said Joetta Davis, a volunteer with Mary Ellen’s Hearth. “What a change in a person.”
Now that she’s come so far, Sharmane hopes that her struggles might inspire others in similar situations.
“All the hell that I went through wasn’t just for me,” she said. “I want to share my story to help others.”
Because of donors to the River Region United Way, Mary Ellen’s Hearth and other affiliate agencies are able to make a difference in the lives of women like Sharmane.
“She’s going to make it,” Davis said. “I really know she’s going to make it.”
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