By Susan LeDoux
Open Door Mission’s Executive Director, Anna-Valeria Iseman told The Good News the Mission has been searching for a way to serve homeless women and children for the last six years. She believes the Lord led them to 250 Coldwater Road in Gates, where the building is now ready for its first families. Starting on a small, manageable scale, the Mission hopes to expand to other sites in the future.
“To have a place that is unique and intimate, and that allows everyone to get the individualized attention they need, is really crucial to the effectiveness of the program.”
At the time of this interview, staff was busy preparing the facility to welcome its first six to eight families.
The Good News: Could you give us profile of your typical residents and children? Never married? Abandoned? Divorced?
Anna-Valeria Iseman: “All of the above. We really have an understanding of the diverse background of the people who are in poverty. Whether it’s poverty or homelessness, you have folks who have had maybe a lifetime of successful work and family, and then one event can be a trigger to a downward spiral. They lose the family; they lose the house to addiction. …Primarily what we see in the population we will be serving, is really generational poverty.”
Iseman shook her head. “If it’s not a broken relationship, it’s a system failure. At the end of the day, these families are just struggling, and the last thing they are able to do is focus on schoolwork, having fun as a family, or going to church together…These are the things that suffer, yet we know (they) give children the foundation of a healthy and successful life.”
Elementary school children in this situation miss so much school they do not read at their age level, and lack the underpinnings for successful learning. Residence staff hopes to provide them with that foundation, and thus break the chain of generational poverty.
In order to address the needs of the children and moms, the Mission has collaborated with Resolve, a local domestic violence support program. Resolve will implement its program, which includes identifying faith, clinical counseling, and implementing trauma informed recovery. Iseman is thrilled. “We’re not a clinical organization, (but) we can bring in those services because we understand the need.”
Other partner agencies include the primary school district, now Gates/Chili, and Monroe County’s Department of Health and Human Services. Yet donors, churches and volunteers remain the lifeblood of the Mission.
The Good News: What is beyond the scope of the residence?
Anna-Valeria Iseman: Because a woman is at most risk when she first flees a violent home situation, this residence is too public to provide the safety she would need. Instead, staff would refer the woman to a place that is not exposed. Neither can the residence provide the care needed for someone actively battling addiction. However, once the acute issues are resolved, the residence may be appropriate for times of transition.
The Good News: Since this is not a residence simply for food and shelter, what structure and what kinds of programs will be provided to help these families?
Iseman, who had been a case manager for years, spoke with enthusiasm about this “asset based” program because it quickly identifies a family’s strengths and potential.
Anna-Valeria Iseman: “When I started as a case manger, I remember thinking it’s exhausting spending so much time asking people what’s wrong with them and not what’s right with them.” After the Mission meets basic needs of food, shelter and clothing, it is time to look at the family’s potential. Moms in crisis have not had the opportunity or luxury to encourage their children who may be good in math or art. Now they can set goals for themselves and their children.
Goals will fall into categories of education, employment, finance, and social supports.
“We know that the support network is going to start with church (and) identifying who you are in Christ…Your identity is no longer in your abuser or ex-husband, your drugs, or your mental illness. That begins to shift how you perceive yourself and how you and your children perceive your worth,” Iseman said.
The Good News: What about dating or repairing the broken marital relationship?
Anna-Valeria Iseman: “Whether it’s re-establishing or reuniting a family, or building a new relationship — those things are all part of recovery, so it’s certainly not a blanket “no”…We will trust the staff and their clinical support to know if it is a healthy situation and where they are ready for that.”
The Good News: How long can a family stay?
Anna-Valeria Iseman: Depending on how long it takes a family to meet its goals, length of stay at the residence may vary from 6 to 12 months.
The Good News: Now that children will be attending school regularly, where will they enroll?
Anna-Valeria Iseman: The McKinney-Vento legislation, which supports homeless students, focuses on academic stability and consistency. If a family is homeless and already registered in a school, the child must be transported to that school from where ever they are, within a 60 mile radius. So, if a child is registered in a city school, and he likes that school, he may remain. However, by establishing residence in Gates, a child would be eligible to transfer to the Gates/Chili School District.
“We would support that if their goal was to stay for the entire school year, and then move into Gates. We don’t want them to have this wonderful experience, and they have to go back to the city,” Iseman said.
She smiled. “I think the thing that excites me about this program the most is it’s really the first of its kind…a program designed to really focus on addressing a critical need in our school system, but also to address it through strengthening families and building spiritual identities, and finding the Gospel in the midst of that struggle.”
If you would like to donate, time, talent or treasure, visit https://opendoormission.com/