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'Transformational’ housing program gives single moms a new lease on life

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A little over a year ago, Kala Maybury was in a domestic violence shelter in Winchester with two small children and another on the way. The cycle of abuse had been going on for five years and she knew something had to change.

“The situation was getting to be dangerous, not only for me, but for the children,” she said. 

Then at the shelter, she started noticing little ways in which God was working in her life. A meeting with a counselor about jobs and housing got canceled — but she met with the counselor’s boss instead. “While I was sitting in her office, she got an email from Catholic Charities, saying they had vacancies” in a housing program for single moms. 

She wasn’t sure she met all the criteria, but “I felt a little nudge from God to just try it,” said Maybury, 27. 

A week later, she was accepted into the St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional and Maternity Housing program. Today she is creating a new kind of cycle for herself and her children — a cycle of success and hope.

“Everything just happened, one thing after another, by God’s grace,” she said.

The program is housed in a small apartment building in Woodbridge that the diocese bought and renovated 10 years ago, said Veronica Roth, program director. Twelve of the 14 units are townhouses and apartments, and two have been turned into administrative offices for social workers, counselors, a child care manager and other staff, including on-site security. Donors have funded outdoor play equipment and other projects, and a small army of regular volunteers helps with landscaping and minor repairs.

The program, named for the patron saint of homeless people and single mothers, takes “a very pro-life and family-focused approach” to helping single moms and children, Roth said.  “We help mothers stabilize, so they can thrive and flourish. As much as we can provide a supportive environment for them to grow, their children will grow,” she added. 

In its 10 years of operation, the residential program has served about 100 families and 250 children, Roth said. Two moms have gone on to buy their own homes and many others have moved into stable rental housing. Nine women and 22 children currently are in the program.

Unlike a room in a shelter, housing at St. Margaret is “self-contained and furnished,” Roth said, and clients can stay for up to two years while working on their finances, career growth and other competencies. “It’s really a step into independent living. They are making their own meals, doing therapy, life skills, community meetings and case management.” 

In addition to spending three or four hours a week on meetings and classes while they juggle jobs and child care, clients contribute 30 percent of their adjusted gross income for rent and services provided. “It’s very nominal for most of them, but we want them to have some sweat equity in the program,” Roth said. 

“We're called a transitional housing program, but I prefer the term transformational. There’s really a transformation that needs to take place,” said Debra Rapone, who’s been a case manager at St. Margaret for a year and a half. Her background is working in emergency shelters “where you don’t get the opportunity to really help somebody change their life.”

But at St. Margaret, “we’re meeting the clients where they’re at and developing a plan where you can walk alongside them,” she said. The program provides “coaching on making the best decisions for you and your family” and helps provide resources and support to get the career training and skills they need to build a sustainable future. 

“I would venture to say if you’re a successful ‘graduate’ of this program, you’re not headed back to the (emergency shelter) system. I am confident they have the tools they need to make it on their own,” Rapone said. 

Roth noted that many St. Margaret residents — from a wide range of backgrounds, religions and cultures — arrive “with nothing more than a few contractor bags of clothing” and their children in tow. The program is “a huge support for these families, but the moms do the hard work. We may be supporting the process, but the heavy load is on them — and so many of them rise to it.”

Maybury is currently working as a certified nursing assistant and planning to train as a clinical medical assistant when more pandemic-delayed classes become available. She said the St. Margaret program’s support “has been life changing, and a huge blessing. I truly believe you get as much as you put into it. When you’re working with team members that really truly just want you to succeed, you’re going to get a good result.”

For now, she’s focused on healing from past traumas and moving forward, and said she wants the many supporters of the program to know how much she appreciates “everyone who donates to this cause. Tell them thank you and God bless you. 

“The past is gone, and we look to the future,” she said. “The future is bright.” 

Find out more

Learn about the St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional and Maternity Housing program at bit.ly/StMargaretCCDA 

Christmas Collection Dec. 12-13

Catholic Charities’ annual Parish Christmas Collection Dec. 12-13 provides almost 10 percent of annual funding for programs serving vulnerable men, women and families, regardless of faith, across the Diocese of Arlington.

Since the pandemic began, requests for emergency assistance have increased dramatically. Catholic Charities programs assist with food, rental and utility assistance to avoid homelessness and utility shut offs. Programs also provide mental health therapy and medical care, pregnancy and adoption services, workforce development, a car donation ministry for working families, a prison ministry, and immigration and refugee services.

To donate online, go to ccda.net/donate/Christmas_Collection. For more information, call 703/841-3841.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020