Growing Success… Together

“Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don’t have any problems, you don’t get any seeds.” – Norman Vincent Peale

“When I grow up, I want to be homeless!” said no little girl, ever.

The combination of devastating life events, circumstances beyond one’s control, and institutionalized systems of inequality could force any of us out on the street at any stage in life. But these brave women prove that landing on the street doesn’t mean you have to stay there forever – and the seeds of compassion grow a garden of success.

Shirley was 45 years old when she lost her job. She was already struggling when her health deteriorated. Soon, she discovered that she needed brain surgery, which affected short- and long- term memory. People treated her “like I was garbage they wanted to throw away.”

It took several weeks for her to gather the courage to walk in to Mary’s Place. By this point, she had already retreated so far inside herself that it was hard to even speak.

Shirley tells us the people at Mary’s Place were patient, kind, and knew exactly what she needed to get back on her feet. Step by step, she was able to find housing. Soon thereafter, Shirley was diagnosed with diabetes. Thanks to a nurse at Mary’s Place, she was able to learn how to manage her condition and get on with living. “Mary’s Place respects and honors me, and teaches every woman you can get bitter, or you can get better.” Shirley is doing well now, living on her own, but says, “Mary’s Place will always be my home, even though I have my own home now.”

We salute you, Shirley!

Seeing Sophie’s miling face, you would never guess the adversity she’s overcome. Sophie was married to her best friend, and they had a great life together for 42 years. But when he was laid off, it wiped them out financially. They lost their apartment. A short time later, he died of an aneurysm. Sophie thought her life was ruined. After spending some time in a shelter, she was able to get a very inexpensive apartment. But she was still struggling – isolated, and just not making it financially or emotionally.

A friend told Sophie about Mary’s Place, where she found help, support, friendship, and “a family.” Recently, she had an aneurysm that required massive surgery. Her sisters at Mary’s Place held her up through the excruciating process of surgery and recovery. Sophie says, “I would be dead – I would have committed suicide by now if Mary’s Place had not come into my life.”

Now, Sophie volunteers and runs the front desk at Mary’s Place. She uses Bon Mary’s points she earns through her volunteer work to buy things she needs. “Mary’s Place gives me peace of mind. It balances me,” she says. “I just love this place. If you’re having a bad day – or like me, missing my husband, who was my whole world — you just need to talk to the right person and your day is better. You are out of your funk.”

Sophie, you’re truly an inspiration!

A combination of circumstances led to Alyssa living in a tent, pregnant, and taking care of a 1-year-old child. With the help of Mary’s Place, she was able to get into a hotel, then a 90-day shelter program. After that, she moved into a transitional housing program. Now, she and her children are moving into permanent housing – thanks to Mary’s Place helping with the application and walking her through the process. But wait, there’s more!

Last week, Abby started a good job that she landed with the help of Mary’s Place’s employment coordinator. Mary’s Place was also able to help her get the children into daycare. Now, Abby is doing great. She loves her new job, and comes back to Mary’s Place to volunteer. “I love Mary’s Place,” she says. “I cold never repay Mary’s Place for what they have done for me. If it wasn’t for Mary’s Place, I wouldn’t have my boys.”

Congratulations, Abby!

Thank you, ladies, for generously sharing your stories and your time. We’re looking forward to a fruitful season of growing and sharing successes together!

By Guest Blogger Jennifer Harriman

What does Tom Douglas have in Common with Homeless Women and Children?

Image: Chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas, along with his Pastry Chef Stacy Fortner, visit Mary’s Place for a community breakfast with council member Jean Godden.

Stories — that’s what I always want to hear. And hear them I did on a recent Wednesday morning at Mary’s Place.

Mary’s Place is a day shelter for women and children. In fact, it is the only day center in King County that accepts homeless women with children. It holds a monthly breakfast and invites community members to attend.

On the overcast April morning when I showed up, there were about 70 women and children assembled at the Belltown shelter, breakfasting on coffee, fruit, and pastries. The sweets — buttery croissants and savvy muffins — were treats from the Dahlia Bakery, donated by superchef Tom Douglas. When I arrived, I was taken on a tour of the welcoming shelter. The facility has two bathrooms where homeless women can shower and do their laundry. There’s a room where young children can play and there are staff members and volunteers who help women find scarce transitional housing.

One of the first stories that I heard was told by our volunteer tour guide. She said her church had just adopted a new Palm Sunday tradition. “We usually carry palm fronds and place them on the floor by the altar. This Sunday,” she said, “we covered the floor with coats. Then we collected the coats for Mary’s Place. They’re over there, hanging on a rack by the door. Anyone needing a coat can take one.” Mary’s Place is like that, a loving community where you feel instantly at home.

I toured the kitchen and, there, of course, was Tom Douglas himself, a giant teddy bear of a man, making sure that there were enough baked goods for the multitudes — nearly 100 women and visitors. Shortly afterward, around 8:30 a.m., Executive Director Marty Hartman welcomed us to the monthly breakfast and invited the women there to tell stories about how they’d come to Mary’s Place to help regain control over their lives and move forward. The stories were touching — a woman who was conquering drug abuse, a second woman who had escaped domestic abuse, and a third who was recovering from misfortune and illness. All three said that at Mary’s Place they felt safe and comfortable and discovered resources to find housing and financial aid.

When my turn came to tell something of my story, I talked about how I’d written about Mary’s Place when I was a reporter. But I was also able to introduce Douglas, who has been such a great supporter. It had been my privilege to write about Tom ever since his days as a chef at Café Sport at Pike Place Market.

One of the greatest stories from this period, one I’ve never shared before, concerned a fundraiser at Seattle Central Community College. Douglas was getting an award, one citing his work with the culinary program. During the dinner, he wandered off and ended up in the kitchen. When he returned, he said, “These kids are cooking with a terrible mismatched set of pans.” With that, he passed a dented pot and those of us in attendance filled it with enough bills to buy the apprentice cooks a new set of cookware. It was a magnificent, unforgettable gesture; one that, you could say, gives new meaning to the term “panhandler.”

Like Tom, many of us feel as if we should take up panhandling on behalf of those in need. At Mary’s Place, there are many needs. And, although there are no dented pots to fill, we could contribute some of the following: bras and underwear (new or gently used), socks (black especially), pajamas and slippers, feminine hygiene needs, shampoo and manicure sets, coffee gift cards, and cans of hot cocoa mix. Donations of cash, too, of course, are welcome. We can all help write new endings to the stories that they tell at Mary’s Place.