This year, she is part of the back to school rush. That’s something she never saw happening. Nervousness and excitement mix in her eyes as she sips her Saturday morning coffee and talks about starting her degree program at the community college. By the end of three years she will be a surgical technologist, able to assist doctors with equipment in all kinds of settings. There’s a little bit of that healthy fear as she prepares to go back to school. Amy’s in her late 40s. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade and just recently passed her GED exam.
That’s quite an accomplishment. She celebrates the victories but doesn’t really dwell on far she’s come. Looking back is something she no longer does. At least not very often. She’s learned to live in the present and move her life forward in the two years she’s lived at Carolyn’s House. That person she was in the past no longer dictates who she will allow herself to become.
“I came here out of drug and alcohol rehab and that’s not even an issue for me any more. ” Amy said. “When I first got here, I just needed to rest, you know? I needed to just rest and feel safe before I could even start to think about what I wanted to do.”
Carolyn’s House is a supportive housing program in Niagara Falls, N.Y. serving homeless women and their children. Residents must apply to the program and are accepted based on financial eligibility requirements, including the ability to pay monthly rent. They meet with case workers and participate in a variety of programs to help them reach a level of self-sufficiency and independent living.
For Amy, arriving at Carolyn’s House provided the support she needed. She took GED classes on site and began working for The Catering Crew, the social enterprise business which provides the food service at the Niagara Falls International Airport as well as private catering jobs. It was while working for The Catering Crew that she had a conversation about going to school and the idea for the to enter surgical technology program was born.
But all this action, the doing, the “what’s next” didn’t happen immediately. It needed time to cultivate. For Amy, any type of fresh start had to begin with just being — finding self acceptance, peace and security. That’s the basis of what Carolyn’s House provided for her.
“The biggest thing when I came here was security,” Amy said. “And not security with the locks on the doors and alarms but being able to feel secure. To have stability. It’s the first time in my life I felt safe.
“I put the guilt and shame in the past. That’s all behind me. I had to move past the guilt and shame and live in the present. That’s what I get here. I can talk to the staff and they just give me peace of mind. They give me peace.
“They staff, they want you to succeed. They want it for you but the want you to want it for yourself.”
Letting go of the past opens up vast opportunities for all of us. A supportive, positive environment can get us to that overlook, but we have to want it most of all for ourselves. It’s an opportunity that Amy is grateful for, every day, as she continues to create her life story.
On Sept. 21, I will be racing Ironman 70.3 Princeton to raise money for Carolyn’s House so they can continue to help women like Amy find security and peace while developing a plan to move forward with their lives. You can help by making a donation. All money raised goes directly to the programs at Carolyn’s House.