Mary Bonner- Graduation 2012
"August 2008, a woman with two bags of clothes, five children and a van arrived in Houston, Texas at a women's shelter for abused and battered women where she would spend the next year and a half identified as what society calls homeless. Eighteen years earlier this same woman departed Houston, Texas on her way to Oral Roberts University with her mother, bags and a dream to earn a degree and make a difference in this world. January 2011, this woman's mother is no longer alive, the clothes from 18 years ago no longer fit, but the dream to earn a degree and make a difference in this world never died. In January 2011, after years of delay and prayer, this same woman entered once again into college and the dream that had been delayed now was becoming a reality once again.
The writer asked, "What happens to a dream deferred?" My response to this question is, as long as the dream is kept alive in your soul and refreshed it will not die or dry. I am Mary Elizabeth Bonner, a woman with a dream and today that dream is becoming a reality. January 2011, the impossible occurred. I had over $40,000 of debt in loans in default for tuition at Oral Roberts University and I could not receive financial aid. I was unable to receive my transcript to show the college credits I earned because it was on hold at Oral Roberts University until I paid a balance owed to the university. I was working babysitting 50 hours a week and working 40 hours overnight. The miracle was, with all the obstacles in my way, I was enrolled in college with my tuition paid in full with a scholarship. Thank you, Children At Heart Ministries and Gracewood. I can remember sitting in one of my first classes, thinking how good God was. All things work together for your good, the good the bad, and the stinky! I thought about how I dreamed of earning my degree and I was finally here, back in college. This was my defining moment, one of my most critical moments while at Springfield College of Human Services. Some dreams may be delayed, but never destroyed.
I remember walking in the doors of the Houston campus being greeted by Ms. Greenfield and Dr. Williams. I felt like I had finally made it "home" after being gone on trip. When I walked in the doors of Springfield College School of Human Services, I felt like I belonged there. The professors, staff and students would become like family to me. In my first class, my peers taught me a valuable lesson. Two students had a debate over the history of Gumbo. As I listened to my classmates articulate their views, I was amused as well as enlightened. However, the one thought that came to me that day was our class represented the theory of gumbo. As different as we all are, it was the flavor we each brought to the table that makes the Springfield experiences "a taste of its own".
It was at this moment I understood why I was at Springfield College School of Human Services. God has led me on this journey, provided for me and did for me what I wasn't able to do for myself. I believe I am stronger because of my experiences. My mother once told me you have to make lemonade when life gives you lemon. I think sometimes I have had enough lemonade for everyone to drink. However, faith was the sweetener in my life. This cup is for you, Mom. I know she would be proud of me and my sister Rachel. We finally did it...
As we prepare for a career in human service, I understand the human service profession is about assisting and serving others. It is about helping a person move from despair, desperation, and crisis to a place of hope and direction. It is about making a difference in the community around you. I know what it is to be the service worker and then become a client. Like a drowning man at sea needs a life jacket, we now have the tools to help restore, rebuild, and renew lives of those in our community.
In closing when someone asks me, "What is human service?" The best way for me to describe human service is human service is the intake worker at the women's shelter who welcomed me and my children, it is the child case worker who helped enroll my children in school without the needed documents, it was the job coach who assisted me when I was looking for a job, it was the art therapist who worked with my youngest daughter who was having some challenges coping with change, it was an executive director who saw something great in me even when I was at one of my lowest moments she believed in me enough to help me get the scholarship I needed so I could stand here today, it is Grace, Ms. Benita, and Kiera who serve us with excellence, Dr. Williams, the professors, the instructors at the Houston Campus who pushed us forward, supported us and maybe even frustrated us, but it all was for our good, it is me and you as we use this degree to help build a stronger community and help a drowning life. I am reminded when Jesus taught, "When I was hungry you fed, me and when I was naked you clothed me." Someone asked," When did we do this?" The answer, "What you do for the least of them you have done it unto me." The greatest is the one who knows how to serve!"
Mary is why we do what we do. Mary has changed the future of her family's life forever. Pray for her as she desires to grow in her career. This May, her oldest daughter graduates and will begin college this fall at Huston-Tillotson in Austin. Mary has set an example of excellence for her children and she is an encouragement for us all.
Thank you for all you do to support our work.
"My chance to live and I took it"
Hello, my name is Nicole, and I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I'd like to start by saying that my sobriety date is 08/28/08 and for that I am truly grateful. It is important for me to know that about myself today - that I'm an alcoholic and addict - because until I was able to see myself in the problem I couldn't see myself in the solution. This shift in perception was the first of many tools laid at my feet by the program. When I say, "laid at my feet" I mean just that - it was up to me to pick them up. It was always my choice. Before I got to the program, I was not armed with the facts of my disease, the disease of drug addiction, or even of this choice. Up until then, my only choice, my only answer to life, people and any given situation was to drink and use. That choice kept me in the problem for many years. Today I believe a person's bottom is when they quit digging, and by the time I quit digging, I had lost my children, my family, and myself. I lost my dignity, integrity, opportunities, and freedom. I am a 6 time convicted felon and felt that I would never become a valued member of society, be able to drive a car, rent an apt, get a job, be a mom or a friend. I was hopeless, and only existing. This disease took me to a demoralizing and, quite frankly, tragic way of life - for me there was no hope, no choices! All I had left was the desperation of the dying...so I thought.
I was arrested again on Aug.26th of 2008 and facing 25 years to life due to my priors. I must be totally honest here, I asked for help at that time partly because I felt I needed it, but mostly because those consequences were far too great for me. I was interviewed, determined an addict and sworn in as a STAR Drug Court client, sentenced to 4 years deferred probation and intense recovery program. I was released October 1st, 2008 to VOA. Upon arriving there, there were no doors slamming behind me, no bars keeping me in, no locks, just a choice and thankfully we got to work immediately. My handshake was weak. I stared at the ground because I didn't want you to see the liar, cheat, and thief that I was but for the first time in 13 years, I began to feel worthy of a "hello," or "how are you," or "are you ok?" Slowly I began to find esteem and became able to look the world in the eye. I began to understand in the community there how to become responsible and accountable. The foundation was being laid, it was my chance to live and I took it. I was given access to all the counselors, and came to know and appreciate each one. I was given specific tools and lessons from each of them and to this day have a working and supportive relationship with them all. Through my achievements along the way, they were all there in the audience giving me, and the others like me, their time and support. I successfully completed the 90 day inpatient program and by my choice decided to continue on to VOA outpatient program. I successfully completed 8 months of out patient treatment and 2 years of aftercare as a part of the housing program. During that process I was taught that as things exit your life, new things enter. I was directed to an anonymous program, which outlines spiritual principles as a program of action. As a result, today I am a valued member of society. I am into my 3rd year at the same job. My children were able to come back to live with me full time and we are into our third year together. I was able to buy a car and furnish my home, get bills and maintain them. I have become a participant in the Thrive Initiative and have saved $6000 toward the purchase of my first home. I have served a 1 year term on the board of directors for a transitional living facility for women. I graduated from STAR Drug Court December 2009 and I successfully discharged my 4 year probation 2 years early in December, 2010 and now continue to be a part of their alumni. I am engaged to be married and have a wonderful support group of women and men who are engaged in recovery and sober living. I presently sponsor 5 women in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, two of which are still in treatment; the other three are getting their one year chips and sponsoring women themselves. What a life! It is so important to my long term sobriety that I stay actively involved with the program by attending meetings, doing service work and staying apart of the "we" and not one of the few! I am a part of something bigger than me which allows for limitless expansion. Best of all, I get to do speaking engagements all over the city of Houston.
But more than all of that, thanks to God, to the people in the business of helping women like me and the program, I have a chance today. I have the chance and the tools today to live a happy, joyous and free life. My goal is to keep growing and continue to become a more effective and useful human being. I give my thanks and sincere gratitude to the Spiritual Program of Action and people like you, for without you, my desperation meant death, but because of you my desperation turned out to be a gift.
As we introduce new families and new friends to our campuses, we tell the story of our partnership and people never cease to be amazed at the generosity of the building community and what you have done for us in such an exceedingly abundant and beautiful way!
"People look at me and think that because I am young and homeless, I must be some hardheaded teen who just didn't want to mind her Mom. I swear if they only knew half of my life story, they will look at me a different way. In fact, they will wonder how it is that I'm still alive.
Growing up I was a fragile girl, who thought that I would never see life as an adult. September 15, 1991 is when God put me on earth and I used to wish that he hadn't. As a new baby I was taken from my mother and returned to her at the age of 3. At first, my mother was happy to get me back. Well I thought she was. Over the years of my childhood I was physically and mentally abuse by my mother. At times the abuse was so bad I was left bleeding or half conscious. I thought no one loved me, not even God. I thought the abuse was bad but when I was forced to leave school, I was convinced I would be nothing. At the age of 16 my mother was addicted to cocaine and her drug life was more important than her children, so I contacted a social worker. Because my mom found out what had been done, she kicked me out of the house and told me to never come back.
Walking down streets and highways, I would pray that God would take me. I would beg for money and food, and that's how I came up with money to get a Greyhound ticket. Coming to Houston is where I have always wanted to live, but I didn't think it would be difficult. I did one year doing nanny work for a place to stay, until the woman's husband put me out due to his racism. I thought of taking my life, but a voice in my head kept telling me it was going to be alright. Again, I was wrong. I went through two shelters and got into a bad relationship based on a lie, which led to a pregnancy and a bad run-in with the authorities. I spent 1 month and a half in county jail and came out clear minded and ready to make a change in my life as well as my daughter's. During my stay in jail I was informed about Santa Maria and decided to put my faith in God and in them.
Upon my arrival in Santa Maria, I was treated with hospitality and love. I came to the shelter with nothing but the clothes on my back and now I have enough clothes for myself and my baby to dress a whole football team twice! God made a way for me and I now see how good life can be. Yes, there are times when I just want to lay down for a week because my body is so tired, but I don't give up because this is not the end for me it's just the beginning.
Life can be tough, and it can be unfair, but as long as you keep the faith and be willing to work hard to the very end, you will succeed."
"It takes a very courageous person to open their hearts and give to people who have lived the way I have. The women in the Women's Home have lived many different lives. Some have been homeless, some were abused, and some have been through things too extreme to talk about. A lot of us are not used to others doing what you have done for us. Not only have you gone out of your way to build a beautiful and glamorous dining hall but you have also shown us how to be there for other humans. You have also shown us that no matter what we have been through if we keep doing what ever it takes to help ourselves we will be able to help others, just as generous and loving as you.
Here are some comments from women who wanted to show their appreciation too.
Once again, Thank You from our hearts. God Bless!"
"My name is Faith and I was born in Houston, Texas in 1976. I attended school in the Houston Public School System where I was an excellent student. I was always described as the shy, timid one. At the age of fourteen I was forced to leave my mothers security after my stepfather molested me.
As a child I pictured getting married, having children, and living happily ever after. Well that is not how the story goes- actually it happened completely opposite. At the age of 19, I had my first child, Paige in 1995 out of wedlock. I dropped out of school my senior year and got a job. I still had hopes for a future. The father of my child, Alex was seven years older than me and very controlling. I was very young and mistaken this for love. During my pregnancy he became very abusive- physically, mentally and emotionally. I felt empty emotionally, and drained mentally, and this took a toll on my health; daily I experienced headaches and stomachaches. People may ask why stay in such a horrible situation. I stayed because leaving would jeopardize my life and those around me. I kept this abuse secret for a long time- two years to be exact. People only found out when the bruises were too visible for me to hide. He began to threaten the lives of my family and friends; I was continually in fear if I left what would he do. After the birth of my second child, Jeremiah, in 1997 I left him for the sake of my children- he came and got us. I could not stay with family or friends because everyone was afraid of him.
After years of physical abuse I left him and prayed for God to protect my children and me. I left him only to find myself in another unhealthy relationship. My children and I moved in with relatives and that was emotionally and mentally taxing on my children and I. After three years of struggling to keep my sanity, I was asked to leave. I suddenly found myself with out a place to care for my children. I was working fulltime for Macy's department store and the job alone was overwhelming and left me without time to deal with a crisis as large as this one.
I was without any other family to lean on, forcing me to separate my children. I continued to go to work while trying to find a place for my family to live. Unfortunately, the money I made at Macy's was not enough to sustain a residence and provide for three children. My youngest child, Aisha and I stayed at the Star of Hope. This was one of the worst times of my life but I thank God that she was only two at the time and will not remember this humiliating experience. I tried to hide my situation from co-workers and friends. Eventually I was forced to talk to my manager and HR personnel about my situation. After communicating what was going on, I was given a list of shelters. I called several places without any luck- one of the flyers in the list was for Gracewood. After reading the flyer, I knew Gracewood was the place that my children and I needed to escape this dilemma. After several calls to Gracewood's Program Coordinator, I was told they did not have any space. I believed that God had written it in his plans for my family to plant our roots at Gracewood. I read the flyer every night.
"Gracewood was a transitional living facility for motivated women and children fleeing crisis situations." That was my family.
Never in my life had I heard God so clearly. He told not to give up on Gracewood, that he had a specific time for my family and I. So I mustered up the courage to call one more time. Finally, the Program Coordinator informed me that they had an available space. My children and I were separated for almost two months. We moved into Gracewood August 2008, just in time for school to start.
Since I arrived at Gracewood, I have received my GED and I am currently attending Houston Community College. I will be attending Houston Baptist University in the fall where I plan to obtain my Masters degree in Education. My children and I have grown emotionally and spiritually; God has used Gracewood to bless my family with grace and mercy. Most of all we have been given the gift of time and security. Gracewood provides us with a stable home to mend our hearts, minds and spirits.
Everyday I thank God for his declaration of a plan for a hope and a future."
Today has been the day we are working on accessories and pictures for Gracewood-Elmview. I cannot begin to tell you the overwhelming feeling of gratification I have for being a part of this project. I am so thankful for all the builders, vendors, subcontractors and volunteers who have worked so very hard to make this happen. Jerry and Laura (the new counselor, who is wonderful) kept having to give me time this morning as we went through and made notes about what we needed to finish. I got in the car and absolutely lost it from the emotions experienced. Just unbelievable and lets me know I am on the right track. So, thank you....
"SEARCH Homeless Services is most grateful for the high quality renovation work provided by HomeAid and GHBA to our childcare center for homeless children. SEARCH's House of Tiny Treasures' wood frame preschool and toddler houses received much needed leveling, new wood flooring, painting, and diaper changing area to ensure the children are safe and the facility is sound. The children who attend this early childhood development center see the House of Tiny Treasures as their place of stability, fun, learning, and friendship. This home-like environment supports them as they grow and get ready for kindergarten. HomeAid has made their school like new again. Everyone at SEARCH's House of Tiny Treasures is beaming!"
"When I first came to the Krause Center as an employee, I found the lobby appearance to be discouraging -- is was just so dismal. Now, it is so light, so beautiful! It has been uplifting for all the staff and the kids to enter the center through that space and see the incredible work you have done."
"My involvement working on HomeAid projects has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling. Often the task at hand at times appeared to be more than expected, but NEVER insurmountable. At the end of the day, the always deserving beneficiaries of our labors radiate with joy and appreciation for our efforts. When it comes to HomeAid, my slogan is "will work for smiles"; I'm never disappointed."
"At the Harbor, I usually did my homework and chores whenever I had to," Kris said. "I played soccer and basketball whenever I could, and sometimes even when I was supposed to be doing chores or homework. At an early age, the excitement of competition and success was my breakfast, lunch and dinner. Track meets, soccer, basketball, spelling bees, anything that gave me an honest shot at winning filled my appetite to do admirable things. And I did those things and forgot that I didn't have a traditional family at home like the other children in school."
"When I called Gracewood, it was the first time in a long time I'd picked up the phone where the person on the other end treated me with respect," said Melanie. "The first question wasn't 'are you a drug user?' It was 'where are you?,' 'what's going on?,' 'how can I help?' Gracewood offered my kids a home away from the chaos of the city. It was quiet and peaceful, almost normal."
"I've always had goals, but never felt they were attainable," said Claudia. "I never had the opportunity to sit back and choose. Now, thanks to Gracewood, I know anything is possible."
"Gracewood gave me hope, something to believe in," said Elida. "Being able to accept more women will give them the chance to get back on their feet. I'm very thankful for what it has done for me."
"An opportunity to provide leadership on Houston's 1st ANSI approved Green Remodel was simply too good to pass up! We jumped at the chance to work with HomeAid Houston and would do so again!"
"When the GHBA Remodeler's Council first joined forces with Home Aid Houston to do a joint project in 2008, this opened up a whole new world of possibilities for us. It has allowed us to do much more good for our community, by giving us a whole range of worthwhile projects to work on."