From Broken to Balanced
It looks like any other apartment community, families are off to work and school buses come and go. The only difference is that St. Lawrence is a community where homeless families find skills and shelter that foster independence and free them from the grip of poverty.
Founded in 1989, St. Lawrence Place aims to revive the stability needed for homeless families for them to regain their independence through income-based housing and the variety of services for every member of the family.
There are classes for every age family member at St. Lawrence Place. This includes children’s literacy based programming, to parenting classes on childcare or internet safety, to life-skill classes on resume writing or housekeeping.
“The parenting class in particular is important to St. Lawrence Place,” Lila Anna Sauls, 43, CEO of St. Lawrence Place, said.
Some classes are mandatory for residents of St. Lawrence Place.
“Our life-skill programming is mandatory,” Sauls said. “We call that the hard skills. While they’re here they’re taught how to do things they may not have known before like budgeting or appropriate work attire. We believe in living up to the class you want to be in, so that means knowing these skills.”
Mandatory classes are put into place to build participants confidence and competence.
“We don’t enable our families, we empower them,” Sauls said. “We give them the skills to succeed, but ultimately, it’s their choice.”
One of the ways St. Lawrence Place has been able to empower their residents is by offering an internship program similar to any other college program.
“The interns show up on time, are taught skills like Microsoft Word, proper attire and professional manners” Sauls said. “The internships have given us an additional real life way to help our families learn these skills so when they graduate they can get a better paying job than fast food.”
Taquetta Washington, 25, St. Lawrence Place resident and mother of two, was one of these interns.
“I’ve never felt like I’m not a part of the staff here as an intern,” Washington said. “I’ve learned so much just from things as simple as ‘water cooler’ conversations. I’ve gotten to know the staff on a personal basis, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am without those one on one conversations.”
Balance is what Washington feels she has gained through her experience at St. Lawrence Place, even though it hasn’t been easy to come by.
“I’m choosing to leave because each day I’m having to call in and say ‘I’m 30 minutes late’ because of my other job,” Washington said. “I’ve had a hard time balancing both jobs and I’d rather not be known for always being late to work so I had to make a change.”
Washington will not be known for tardiness. She’ll be known for her foresight.
“When she came in in tears telling us she had to leave us, I told her I think this is the most responsible decision you could make,” Sauls said. “She’s thinking long-term. People don’t come here thinking long term; they think survival, in the moment, how do I make it to tomorrow?”
Because of the stability Washington has at St. Lawrence Place, she was able to think ahead on what would be best for her family: to stay at the internship or to stay driving a school bus for Richland One with benefits.
“I can tell you that six months before I got here I thought about the program pretty negatively because of all the expectations they have,” Washington said. “Once I ended up there it was different because of all the things they offer me; I can’t tell you how many things I’ve learned in life skills and parenting classes. I never had a bad experience.”