Home gives young single mothers new start

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A "new beginning."

That's what Borromeo Housing, Inc.'s new home in south Arlington is for 23-year-old resident Davine Hamlin and her 1-year-old son.

"This is my first home," said Hamlin, standing Tuesday morning in the house's shaded yard, surrounded by members of the Arlington community and a white picket fence. Before Borromeo Housing's Elizabeth House, the single mom had lived in a shelter. Not any more.

The four-bedroom house, the first property owned by Borromeo Housing in more than a decade, will serve as a springboard for Hamlin and three other mothers and their children as they attend school, find jobs and prepare for their future. The residents will move in the first week of October.

"We are thrilled that this new home is officially opening," said Joy Myers, executive director of Borromeo Housing. "It provides a healthy, nurturing place where adolescent mothers and their children - who need a safe, stable and supervised environment - have the opportunity to succeed."

Elizabeth House isn't the name of the house, rather the program in which approximately 75 mothers and children participate each year. In addition to the four families who will live in the new house, Elizabeth House serves four other families in rental properties.

"We are not a shelter program, we are an education-focused program that provides shelter to homeless teenage mothers," Myers said. "It doesn't feel like a shelter, it feels like a home."

Elizabeth House's staff focuses on the long term: teaching residents how to care for their children, employ basic life skills and plan for the future.

Owning a house was Myers' goal when she joined the Borromeo Housing staff three years ago.

"We knew that we couldn't find sustainability in rental housing," Myers said. "We decided that we would make it a priority to own a property that could never be taken out from underneath us."

In March, Elizabeth House's home was purchased using funding from a private foundation and citizens, many from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Arlington, and a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant award from Arlington County. The next six months were spent making it safer and handicapped accessible.

Each mother and child will share a bedroom, and two living spaces and kitchen areas will serve as public space. Borromeo Housing will staff the home via an office in the basement. The house is equipped with high chairs and cribs, and Tonka trucks, bassinets, plastic toys and board books fill a corner of the downstairs living space. Photos of babies and their mothers hang on the walls. Each of the fence's white pickets is available to "sponsor" for $150, and there are plenty more left to go around, Myers said.

"This is the dream right here, this gorgeous house," said Deanna Cobb, founder and former executive director of Borromeo Housing who attended the ceremony.

One who will benefit from the "dream" is resident Madeline Glenn, 19, the mother of 16-month-old Marie Claire. A participant in Elizabeth House for nearly two years, Glenn will be able to reside in the home while attending Northern Virginia Community College. Her goal is a degree in marketing and, ultimately, self-sufficiency.

Elizabeth House has introduced her to a support system - "a group that I have to lean on about what it's like to be a single mother," Glenn said. "Having the love and the care and the friendship makes me feel like I will be able to succeed."

"Borromeo Housing in my mind goes right to the core of who we are as a community," said Barbara Favola, vice chairman of the Arlington County Board. "We are helping young moms who have no support system … but who have the next generation to raise."

Elizabeth House enables young mothers to nurture their children while fulfilling their own potential so they can "be the kinds of parents their children can be fully proud of," said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va. "We ought to be doing it all over the country."

"God's here," said Madelyn Callahan, president of Borromeo Housing's board of directors, standing in the front hallway of the brick house. "All of this was answered prayers. My hope and my prayer is that we can keep doing this - more homes and more opportunities."

For more information go to borromeohousing.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2008