Briana Montalvo completed her freshman
year at Spelman College.
OK, so she's not really our daughter, but sometimes it seems like that given what we've been through together.
Briana and her family came to IHN when she was a junior in high school. You can imagine how difficult that must have been. What 16-year-old wants their classmates to know that they're living at a shelter? Determined to learn from the experience, Briana was resilient and kept up her grades and attitude in spite of being homeless.
Fast forward two years later and Briana has successfully completed her freshman year at Spelman College in Atlanta. On her way back from the airport, instead of racing to get home, Briana insisted that her mom stop at our office in Montclair. After all, she wanted to update IHN Case Manager Brenda Myrick about her amazing first year of college.
Gushing with enthusiasm, Briana reported that she had joined the Spelman College Glee Club and toured the country, performing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and for National Public Radio. She also found time to give back to the community by volunteering at a local soup kitchen. In spite of her busy schedule, Briana was able to maintain a 3.0 GPA. What's next? She told us, "Currently, I am about to begin an internship and I am working on my application for the Mellon Scholars PhD Program that I was recommended for in the fall semester by one of my professors."
Case Manager Brenda just beamed, reminding herself that, yes, these are the moments that make it all worthwhile. As volunteers and supporters, we give you permission to beam, too. After all, it's our combined efforts that help families after they leave the shelter to persevere and achieve their dreams. Stay tuned for further news on this special IHN daughter. We predict a bright future!
Tamir doesn't ask for much for himself.
In fact every time his social worker at school probed him for a wish list, he gave the same answer: a house for my family, a job for my mom, and happiness for my family.
One day, she said, "Tamir, you never tell me what you want for just for yourself. What's your favorite thing in the whole world?" Immediately, his face lit up and he exclaimed, "Basketball!"
Well, that got his social worker thinking.
Her husband worked for Calvin Klein and she remembered that the company outfitted Amar'e Stoudemire, center/forward with the NY Knicks, with his suits. Just maybe her husband could arrange something special and unexpected for this boy who had spent over four months in IHN's Congregational Shelter.
That day came to be when Tamir was presented with an Amar'e Stoudemire jersey and an autographed framed picture of the player. Although the jersey may be a bit large for him, we know he'll wear it often.
And the picture? That will be hanging on his new bedroom wall.
Things were starting to unravel for Stephanie.
Bills were piling up. She was having difficulty paying her rent. And then it happened: she lost her job. Now paying rent went from hard to impossible and Stephanie found herself and children, Sasha and Stephen, evicted and homeless.
Taking temporary refuge at her sister’s in New York, Stephanie started making a dizzying number of calls — calls for shelter, calls for housing, calls for jobs. Thankfully, one of those calls panned out — the one from Brenda Myrick, director of social services at IHN, telling Stephanie that she had room in the Network for her family.
Having a place to stay like IHN was Stephanie’s key to making progress. She was able to find a new job that she loves: teaching math to developmentally disabled adults. IHN advocated the school district so Sasha and Stephen would be provided with transportation to IHN’s Family Day Center for childcare after school. And the volunteers at each congregation occupied her children with fun activities when Stephanie just needed a break to attend to all the things a mom has to do when the work day is done.
Even though Stephanie and her children had to spend the holidays in the shelter, she’s grateful for the time she needed to get her life in order. In particular, Stephanie credits a financial workshop for helping her get to the point where she could move into her own apartment. Offered by Investor’s Bank and Home Corp. through IHN’s Home for Good program, Stephanie learned how to slash her expenses for rent, cell phone service, even car insurance resulting in $450 in monthly savings.
Now that she and her children are happily settled in their new home, she reflects on her experience. Although her young children sailed through their episode of homelessness they now have a new urgency when they wake each morning. She’ll hear Stephen calling, “Sasha! Wake up. We need to get ready for school on time so Mommy isn’t late for work. We don’t want to be homeless again!” Perhaps it’s an awareness that most elementary children don’t have but for the Edwards family they have a new-found gratefulness for a home of their own.
“I think I went through all that for a reason,” reflects Tara, commenting about her experience with homelessness.
Explaining how “all that” happened isn’t easy because it wasn’t just one event but a string of unfortunate situations that ended with being locked out of her apartment by her landlord. That’s what can happen when you’re three months behind on rent, putting off one bill to satisfy another.
Desperate to find shelter for herself and two daughters while maintaining a full-time job wasn’t easy. After spending a short time in emergency shelter, Brenda Myrick, IHN director of Social Services, called Tara with the good news: she was accepted into the IHN Home for Good program and could soon move into her two-bedroom apartment in Orange. As part of the program she would be working with IHN Case Manager Janice Wilkerson, to help her meet her goals for self-sufficiency.
Now that Tara and her daughters have settled into their new dwelling, she’s seeing how things in her life are gradually falling into place. Take her commute for instance. Without a car, Tara had to rely on a very unpredictable bus service to get to work. Seemed like no matter how much time she allowed, she was always late. How timely then that she received a pay raise that was retroactive for two years, and just enough to allow her to buy a car. Tara points to other events that righted themselves just in time for the better.
She credits Janice, her case manager, with helping her make so many positive steps. Calling her a guardian angel, she’s grateful for how Janice is helping her to be more focused and organized, providing good advice along the way. Tara has started a budget and is careful to live within her means. She’s also putting money away with her credit union so she’s better prepared for the unexpected expenses that can come along.
And how are her daughters doing? Tara was worried about their transition to a new school. But if getting on the honor roll and being involved in numerous school activities are any indication, then the girls are doing just fine.
At IHN, we say the Home for Good program is solving homelessness one family at a time. We think Tara is living proof.
At IHN, we try our best to make life as normal as possible for families in the shelter. That means helping children maintain the same activities and opportunities that they had before they lost their homes.
Amanda is a 14-year-old we feel compelled to brag about. She gained the spotlight — literally — when she performed recently at NJPAC. As a member of the NJPAC Young Artist Institute, Amanda studied modern dance offered to talented young New Jersey performers (ages 11–18).
Described by NJPAC as an artistically rigorous yet nurturing environment, Amanda received intensive technique training, personal assistance, encouragement and helpful advice from professional artists — all this while being homeless. This program has given Amanda important training, confidence, and experience to continue her training in dance.