RIS­ING OUT OF HOME­LESS­NESS

Mother of two found gen­eros­ity in the com­mu­nity

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Fran Maye [email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @ dai­ly­lo­cal on Twit­ter

If she lived in an­other county, Nitzia Gutierrez would prob­a­bly still be home­less.

Gutierrez, 22, was born in Toluca, Mex­ico and came to the Ken­nett area when she was 11. She learned the English lan­guage while at Ken­nett Mid­dle School and Ken­nett High School, through its ex­cep­tional ESL (English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage) pro­gram.

But after she had a child at age 16, and an­other a few years later, her life hit rock bot­tom after the chil­dren’s fa­ther dis­ap­peared from her life. With no job and no place to stay, it seemed she had hit rock bot­tom.

But then she dis­cov­ered the gen­eros­ity of peo­ple in south­ern Ch­ester County, and the help she needed from Young Moms and Fam­ily Prom­ise of South­ern Ch­ester County.

Young pro­vides sup­port­ive

ser­vices to preg­nant and par­ent­ing young women ages 21 and younger who live in South­ern Ch­ester County. She got help and shel­ter from a men­tor there, and was later re­ferred to Fam­ily Prom­ise. She learned how to bud­get and save money and how to nav­i­gate ways to uti­lize ser­vices that could help her.

Ev­ery­where she went, she found com­pas­sion and aid from peo­ple in the Ken­nett area, es­pe­cially at churches.

“I think the most dif­fi­cult part is to think you lost ev­ery­thing, and feel hope­less,” Gutierrez said. “But Fam­ily Prom­ise gave me hope, gave me a chance.”

Fam­ily Prom­ise helps lo­cal home­less fam­i­lies by pro­vid­ing shel­ter with the help of more than a dozen lo­cal churches, and pro­vides food and other ne­ces­si­ties. The av­er­age stay at Fam­ily Prom­ise is just over 60 days. In the past two years, 30 fam­i­lies have gone through Fam­ily Prom­ise and have been able to live on their own.

“It’s suc­cess­ful be­cause of all the pro­grams along

the way that help fam­i­lies bud­get, to find sus­tain­able em­ploy­ment and stay in school,” said Shan­non Rivera, a Fam­ily Prom­ise board mem­ber. “These things bring a sense of sta­bil­ity.”

While at Fam­ily Prom­ise, Gutierrez landed a wait­ress job and took classes, later grad­u­at­ing from the Ch­ester County OIC CNA pro­gram, a 128-hour pro­gram she at­tended while be­ing housed and sup­ported by Fam­ily Prom­ise of South­ern Ch­ester County. The county picked up the cost of the pro­gram. She soon found em­ploy­ment as a cer­ti­fied nurses’ as­sis­tant at the Friends Home in Ken­nett Square. She hopes to be­come a fully reg­is­tered nurse.

“I like to help peo­ple,” Gutierrez said. “I hope to own my own house some­day.”

To save money, Gutierrez is splits the rent with a friend, but she doesn’t get to see her chil­dren too much be­cause her shift is 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. She pays a babysit­ter while she is at work. She gets around from a used car do­nated to her by an­other lo­cal char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Fam­ily Prom­ise helped me to bud­get,” she said. “I have to watch where my money gets spent. Now it’s kind of easy but it used to be very stress­ful. But I couldn’t do it with­out all of the peo­ple who helped me. I am very grate­ful.”

Gutierrez was one of 12 lo­cal home­less fam­i­lies to join a fo­cus group to help Se­same Work­shop de­velop videos and ed­u­ca­tional ma­te­ri­als that were launched last month. The videos are not part of the daily Se­same Street pro­gram­ming. The fam­i­lies were iden­ti­fied by Fam­ily Prom­ise of South­ern Ch­ester County to il­lus­trate the many dif­fi­cul­ties fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness face and the emo­tional toll felt by the chil­dren.

“We ap­plaud Se­same Work­shop for rec­og­niz­ing the emo­tional toll home­less­ness has on chil­dren by pro­vid­ing re­sources to care­givers, teach­ers and the com­mu­nity to be sup­port­ive dur­ing a dif­fi­cult time,” said Su­san Mi­nar­chi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

Home­less data is col­lected an­nu­ally by the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, the state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Ch­ester County Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment with the Decades to Door­ways pro­gram. Ac­cord­ing to the 2018 Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Re­port on home­less­ness, there has been a 2.7 per­cent re­duc­tion in fam­ily home­less that can be at­trib­uted to com­mu­ni­ties who align re­sources to ad­dress home­less­ness.

Mi­nar­chi said the Se­same Street pro­gram will be in­te­grated into the Fam­ily Prom­ise pro­gram. The Se­same Street pro­gram cen­ters on a cen­tral char­ac­ter, Lily, who is home­less, and she em­pha­sizes that homes are any­where love, hap­pi­ness and hugs live.

There are nearly 300 home­less stu­dents in the Ken­nett Con­sol­i­dated, Oc­torara, Ox­ford and Unionville-Chadds Ford school dis­tricts. The ed­u­ca­tional and sup­port­ive ma­te­rial pro­vided free by the Se­same Street in Com­mu­ni­ties pro­gram ben­e­fits home­less chil­dren, par­ents, and teach­ers work­ing with home­less fam­i­lies.

Mean­while, Gutierrez said she will con­tinue to work hard to sup­port her two chil­dren so they will never have to ex­pe­ri­ence home­less again.

“Liv­ing on my own feels good, but at the same time, some­times I get afraid be­cause I never ever want to go back to that life­style,” she said.

Food and cash do­na­tions are needed at Fam­ily Prom­ise and can be dropped off at its Re­source Cen­ter, 1156 Bal­ti­more Pike in Avon­dale, or made on­line at www.fam­i­lypromis­escc.org/do­nate.

FRAN MAYE - DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Nitzia Gutierrez, right, is pic­tured with Su­san Mi­nar­chi, cen­ter, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Fam­ily Prom­ise of South­ern Ch­ester County, and Shan­non Rivera, a board mem­ber. Gutierrez es­caped home­less­ness with the help of Fam­ily Prom­ise, Young Moms, and sev­eral peo­ple in the com­mu­nity.

FRAN MAYE - DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Fam­ily Prom­ise of South­ern Ch­ester County helped 14 fam­i­lies - 19 adults and 37 chil­dren - find stable em­ploy­ment and sus­tain­able hous­ing in 2017. Pic­tured is its re­source cen­ter in Avon­dale.

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