(Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series on proactive efforts in the Diocese of Davenport to respond to the needs of individuals and families of modest means.)
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Seventeen-year-old Jenica Nosa arrived home Sunday evening from her job at Jersey Mike’s Subs and plopped into an easy chair in the living room where her mother, Jennifer Nosa, talked to a reporter.
Mother and daughter no longer have to “couch surf,” or look for a place to rest their heads each night. With the support of Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. (HMHI) and their dedication to bettering their lives, they live in their own apartment and savor the stability.
Jennifer works in telephone sales for a company she has been employed with for three years. Jenica, a senior at West High School in Davenport, just completed her ACT college entrance exam, maintains excellent grades at school while working part-time, and anticipates going to college next fall. “Humility of Mary helped me to become the young woman I am today, and for that I am so very grateful,” Jenica reflects on her HMHI blog.
She and her mom began their journey toward stability and self-sufficiency in 2014, after being accepted into HMHI’s transitional housing program. Finally, they had a furnished apartment to move into, a service coordinator to help trouble-shoot challenges, and resources to help them navigate life with modest means.
“Our service coordinators work with participants to increase their daily living skills, including budgeting, parenting, time management, meal planning and housekeeping,” said Sandy Dimmer, HMHI’s program director. “Through weekly home visits, Jennifer’s worker provided support, encouragement as well as financial resources, such as bus passes to help her to achieve her goals. Jennifer also attended adult support group meetings which provided education, encouragement, sharing of personal information and peer support. The family also had access to a large donation area at our administrative office. They were able to obtain clothing and household goods at no charge to supplement their limited resources.
“The biggest obstacles for Jennifer were maintaining her sobriety, getting and keeping a job and working on budgeting,” Dimmer continued. “She had a criminal history related to her previous substance abuse that limited her ability to find employment and housing. She was on probation and had numerous fines she had to pay off. She did not have a driver’s license or a car. Jenica’s biggest obstacles were that her relationship with her mother was damaged and strained. There were a lot of trust issues that needed to be worked on.”
In April, after successfully completing the transitional housing program, Jennifer and Jenica entered a new HMHI program called Rent It Forward. “Priority is given to participants who have successfully completed transitional housing and have a stable income, but are still finding it difficult to find housing in the community and wish to continue renting from HMHI,” Dimmer said. “This program still offers support, but is less structured and provides less intensive services than other program that have been offered through HMHI.” Rent It Forward is funded by participant rents and community support. Rent is a flat rate based on the lower level of fair market rent. By renting it forward, a family can give back to the program that helped during their time of need, Dimmer noted. Jennifer “was an ideal candidate for one of our first ‘Rent It Forward’ units.”
The choices that Jennifer made earlier in life because of her alcohol and drug addiction, along with two felony convictions, kept landlords from renting to her. But that’s the old Jennifer; the new Jennifer has dreams of self-sufficiency, beams over the success of her daughter and their relationship, and works to help other recovering addicts rise from the depths of despair. “I have been sober since January 2013 – on Jan. 3 it will be five years of sobriety,” Jennifer says proudly. “And I’ve been in a job for three years.”
Jennifer picks up a Bible from the coffee table titled “Free on the Inside,” which she received while spending time in solitary confinement at Scott County Jail in Davenport in 2012. When she opened the Bible in her jail cell, she discovered a guide to reading the Bible in a year. “I began to read it,” she said, and continued to read it daily.
A few months before going to jail, she spent 11 days in the hospital after suffering burns on her hands, arms, chest and face while manufacturing methamphetamine. Jenica was not home at the time and neither was Jennifer’s older son. She was grateful. “I prayed to God, ‘Please do not let me die like this.’”
Later, after spending six months in jail and sobriety, “I didn’t have any idea how to stay sober.” She couldn’t relate, then, to people in a 12-step recovery program. “I think addiction is so horrible. You can say you love your children more than life itself, but addiction takes over. It doesn’t care if you love your kids.”
A minor brush with the law in early 2013 convinced Jennifer that God was trying to save her from a life of self-destruction. She told God, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.”
As she worked at sobriety and getting a job, she learned from a friend about HMHI’s transitional housing program and applied. She is grateful for HMHI staffers’ compassion toward herself and her family. “They made sure we had Christmas.” And an HMHI donor paid for a graphing calculator that Jenica needed for class. “They helped me with anything I needed,” Jennifer said. “They really helped me make my house a home.”
“The biggest difference that I can see in both Jennifer and Jenica since I first met them is their confidence level,” Dimmer said. “When Jennifer first came into the program, she was still fairly new in her recovery. She was unsure of her ability to make it on her own and wanted more than anything to stay sober and be a good parent for Jenica. She was very hard on herself and did not give herself very much credit for the positive things she was doing in her life.
“I’ve also watched as the relationship between Jennifer and her daughter has strengthened. As Jennifer became more confident in herself and her sobriety, she regained her daughter’s trust in the process. This allowed Jenica to focus on being a teenager and not worry about adult issues. She was able to focus on school and extracurricular activities and just enjoy being a teenager.”
Jenica said she wasn’t aware as a child that her mother struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. She knew that her responsibility was “to go to school. I made friends at school. It was a different atmosphere,” she told The Catholic Messenger. School became her escape. “It’s always been my ‘go-to;’ I’ve always been good at it.” She never let on about her home situation because “you don’t want anyone to see your parent as broken.”
Getting into HMHI’s transitional housing program relieved the stress she felt about “who we were going to live with next. I had someplace where I was going to stay,” Jenica said. She’s proud of her mom’s progress and the changes she’s made in her life. She also credits God’s role in her life. “I went through obstacles, but he didn’t put me through anything I couldn’t handle,” she said. “I’m very dedicated to succeed … I don’t want to have to struggle like my mom did.”
Facts about Humility of Mary Housing, Inc.
Mission statement: “Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. is a transitional and permanent supportive housing program that provides single-parent families experiencing homelessness with opportunities for growth and development that could result in self-sufficient living.”
Families served: Approximately 80 families annually. HMHI services benefit approximately 150 children in the Quad Cities during any year. HMHI received the 2014 Better Business Bureau Integrity Award for outstanding ethical service.
How it works: HMHI provides a supportive, highly structured living program for families. Parents set goals to increase their education or job training. Through these efforts, they build on their ability to secure and maintain fair-market housing and support themselves and their children.
HMHI subsidizes each family in the program. Daily rent and programming expenses are approximately $35 per family. This subsidy is viewed as an investment in lives that enriches and improves the quality of life in the civic community.
Headquarters: Humility of Mary Housing, Inc., 3805 Mississippi Ave., Davenport.
Phone: (563) 326-1330; Fax: (563) 326-0756
Rent It Forward
Rent it Forward, a program of Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. (HMHI) is funded by participant rents and community support. Six families currently participate in the program. “We are currently making arrangements to get families into housing in time for Christmas,” said Sandy Dimmer, program director of HMHI.
That and other HMHI programs are in need of new or gently used children and adult clothing, furniture and household items. Vacuums are a big need right now — basically anything that a person may need to furnish their home. Most families in HMHI programs have little more than a few boxes of belongings when they move in. Bus tokens are also appreciated.
Volunteers are also welcome to help clean and paint apartments and to work in the office’s donation center.