Stories from the Shelter

Story 6 – From the Heart of an ECHO House Resident

The following are quotes, which I recently heard from various sources:

  1. “Life ain’t fair: Eat it, swallow it, accept it.”
  2. “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
  3. Give yourself credit, you don’t have to believe others’ opinions about you.”
  4. “People don’t care how much you know… until they know how much you care.”

Anybody in here (no show of hands, please!) ever have a WTF moment? (If you don’t know what the abbreviation means ask a friend who cusses and they should be able to enlighten you.) Well, I’ve had a few, especially lately. I mean, how did the high school honor roll student/college grad, the girl who was already working on Wall Street by the age of 18 wind up in a homeless shelter?

Everything I’d heard about shelters sounded terrifying. They were said to be rodent/pest infested, unsafe and filthy. And since there was no monitoring/security staff, women in particular entered them at their own risk. Needless to say, that ECHO House, with its outpouring of community involvement and support, has turned out to be an eye-opening experience for me.

I couldn’t understand in the beginning how such a large and diverse group of strangers could become ‘family,’ but I was about to find out.

From the very first day my family and I arrived (tearful, uncertain, suspicious, and anxious), Anna and Judy welcomed me into the fold with compassion and understanding. (Forgive me ladies, I know that my barrage of questions probably wore you down at times!) Since those first few weeks of adjusting, Anna has become the aunty that I always wanted-but-never-quite-had, as well as our little one’s newest grandma. She is more precious and dearer to me than some of my flesh and blood relatives.

Judy patiently (and tirelessly!) taught me the ropes – even as she endured the refreshing scent of bleach as I sanitized the second floor like the Health Department!

Jeff has become my ‘go-to’ guy when I need a great cup of Joe. I once told him that a good cup of coffee should just about put hair on your chest and you know what? Southern gentleman that he is, he aims to please every time!

Which brings me to Mark, who has been – seriously, folks! – a headache-free roomie for my hubby (even though it takes him WEEKS to watch one DVD). Keep smiling, Mark. Your smile is like a ray of sunshine and your positive outlook is like a breath of fresh air!

Doug, you scared the daylights out of me when I first saw you. I soon discovered that Doug, aka ‘Cupcake,’ is the undisputed biggest dude in the house, but he also has one of the biggest hearts, can pray like a preacher, and is so respectful that he still calls me “ma’am.”

Paul. Where do I even start? Once you get past the dry humor, biting sarcasm, and facial expressions: he’s priceless. To date, I haven’t met anyone who’s smarter and more knowledgeable when it comes to any trivia-related topic. The man should be on JEOPARDY!

Tom & Lil. Sorry, but I had to include you guys in here! The two of you are a Godsend, because when you showed up you brought our child a new BFF as well as a super store of terrific Halloween costumes! I can’t even begin to tell you how much you’ve blessed my family.

And last but certainly NOT least, there’s Lori, who chooses to wear so many hats it’s not even funny. She’s the boss, guidance counselor, house mother, disciplinarian, mentor… the list is endless. Most importantly, however, she’s one of the few people in most of our lives who still believes in us. In spite of our trials, shortcomings, and battles, she still cheers us on and inspires us to keep moving forward to a greater, better future. Lori actually cares enough about all of us to call us her “peeps.”

I truly believe that there is a time and a purpose for everything that happens, that there is no such thing as coincidence. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

This vapor, this fleeting, temporary gift we’ve all been given called ‘life’ is full of seasons, tears, disappointments, journeys, joys, and victories. To those we’ve bonded with, formed relationships with, laughed and cried with, shared meals (and chores!) with… thank you for redefining the word family to me forever. You’ve impacted my life, touched my heart, and I pray that in some way, somehow, even in the smallest measure, I have done the same for you. God bless you all!

 

 

Story 5 – Reflection

(Written by a young man during his stay at ECHO House)

Over the past month and a half, ECHO has been welcoming, exciting, inspiring, lonely, and conflicted at times. It has been an eye-opening experience but most importantly a true blessing that I’m so thankful for. This is a place filled with emotion, flooded with knowledge, and layered with understanding of situations caused by our own struggle with others empty in spirit.

Noticeably, most of my generation is blind to the fact that we [the homeless] exist in the world – they haven’t yet encountered this walk of life. For some of us, we have trouble escaping the prison overpowering our minds, which our past has subconsciously helped us create. Others have to deal with mental illness that they have no control over. Some of us have a hard time swallowing the fact that we are all in a spiritual war against ourselves, while also dealing with the evil that has disguised itself to destroy everything in our possession.

It’s quite difficult for any human to admit we are wrong but the thing we should ask ourselves is, “What did I do to dig this hole so deep?” For instance, we should be questioning our problems with addiction, our selfish and weak power of will, our temptations, and our constant battles for the truth inside things that aren’t very vivid to man’s eye.

Reflecting back, I’ve struggled to move in a positive direction when coming to a crossroad. I was enticed by the fast lifestyle. I followed the weak-minded, ghostlike crowd in search of attention when I should’ve been trying to figure out which was my lane and how to stay in it.

I’ve now realized how valuable our precious lives are and how easily they can be taken from us. So much time has been wasted in my existence and now reality has struck with a bang! At ECHO, I’ve learned about many of these hard life situations by witnessing others and their real-life challenges. Many of these are the situations my parents tried to keep me from having to go through.

Since arriving at ECHO, I’ve actually begun to feel life in the midst of grasping the means to become my own man. The knowledge and understanding I’ve received helped me put my priorities in order and set boundaries around my mental train of thought. I now know how to really focus on each step it takes to get to the next step.

I’ve taken a lot of moments in my life for granted by putting my hopes and trust in the wrong people, thinking they were reliable when it only left me angry at the world. It made my life seem corrupt – I was full of confusion and felt constantly suffocated because the outcome wasn’t in my favor.

I see now that nothing in life can be planned or successful when we put our fate into the hands of another, because not only does it give that other person the power to control our situation and determine our destiny, but we also get hurt emotionally. Then we start to blame that person instead of realizing we handed them the bat to smash us to pieces.

This has taught me that I will always be the source of my issues.

I can see why the world is so hateful now. Most people want handouts instead of a hand up. This environment has really helped me to get in touch with my soul and find myself. Though I’m still learning, this place has made me think about all the time I’ve spent angry, unhappy, and trapped inside of my own prison; waiting for someone to come get me out with the key that was in my pocket the entire time. The people of ECHO and the words of the Lord being spoken through them gave me the strength to reach into my pocket and grab that key I’d searched so long and hard for.

We all look for answers as to what life is but I can see now that it is about doing our best, making every moment unforgettable, accepting defeat when we’ve lost, and getting back up with a positive mindset and an ambition of fire to exceed the barriers that man puts on life.

Life is what we make it, so be humble!

 

 

Story 4 – A Poem written by a guest of ECHO House

“The ECHO House”

I was walking, and riding, and getting nowhere;

Beginning to wonder if anyone would care.

It was to The ECHO House my daughter Martina would have me go,

Her words brought me comfort, “Mom, I’m pretty sure they won’t tell you “No.”

I knocked on the door, my future uncertain as of yet;

She opened the door and with a warm greeting ‘twas met…

She asked what I needed, “Something to eat is my wish.”

To the kitchen she led me then said, “Clean your dish.”

She sat at my table and said, “My name is Lori.

“OK, my dear, what is your story?”

I told her my story as I continued to eat.

Next thing I knew she offered me a place to sleep.

There are so many more involved in this story,

But thought it most proper to start with Miss Lori.

Now take the front desk, most days is Miss Carol,

Every day different, wearing such lovely apparel.

Then there’s Sir Dave – quite stern yet laid-back,

If you follow the rules, he may cut you some slack.

Of course, now there’s Miss Judy, our most honorable dear Chaplain;

If you listen real close you will soon know in the world what is happening.

Last but not least there are those I was unable to mention;

They are just as important and deserve recognition.

So now it is time for me to go home.

No more these streets will I have to roam.

The ECHO House fed me well and treated me good;

And now it is time for me to return to My Hood.

 

Story 3 – Through this experience, I have finally found myself…

I had been living with my eldest daughter and her fiancé. I’d made a terrible mistake because now I realize that I was co-dependent – my eldest daughter and I were like oil and water and her fiancé and I did not get along. The situation was so stressful, I began to lose massive amounts of weight and was ready for a nervous breakdown.

Somehow, through all of this there was a Divine Intervention. I did not know where I was going or even where I was. I had no transportation. I felt lost, alone and that all hope was gone. I spent one night in a motel and while there I learned of a place called Project ECHO. I called and Miss Lori answered the phone and told me a bed would be open soon. I did not know what to expect and actually went to another house near Project ECHO. It was run-down but that is what I expected a shelter to look like. I was then told about the big white house at the back of the long driveway. When I walked through those doors I was amazed.

The home was beautiful. I was still afraid though, and did not know what to expect. I was sick, run down and frightened of the future. The loving kindness from Miss Lori gave me some inner strength that I thought I had lost.

I stayed for three months. I became healthy again and I learned to watch my signs and trust my instincts a little better. I have learned a lot about myself. The time there helped me to grow stronger and wiser. I thank the Lord for such kind, loving, honest people. I believe that there are angels that walk the earth helping lost souls. Project ECHO has been my rock and I will always remember Miss Lori, Mr. Henry and Mr. Dave as my Guardian Angels. I ask the Good Lord to bless them for their love, patience, compassion, and for truly caring. This has edified my faith in knowing there are good people in the world!

 

 

Story 2 – Choosing a different path

“I am 56 years old and for the first time in a very long time I am doing pretty good, which is great to me when I look back and see again how bad I screwed up my life, which you only get one of.

I arrived at Project ECHO after my released from prison. I didn’t want to return to where I grew up. I heard of this place when I was in the southern MD pre-release unit. I was released on a Friday, and I came to Ms. Lori’s doorstep and was told there were no beds open, and I would have to wait ‘till Monday.

I ended up back where I spent most of my time, it was raining and dark, and I didn’t know what to do. I stopped at a little bar I know and got some cigarettes, a pint of Jack Daniels and 2 beers. I went and sat in a tunnel, drunk the stuff, and tore up all my prison papers.

Then, walking toward my old stomping grounds, I see a street. On that street is a house I know, a place to go and be out of the rain and cold. But it is also a crack house, a shooting gallery, and lots of other things. If I go there, I know I’ll end up just like before, strung out on heroin, crack, and liquor. I’ll end up stealing again, not seeing my parole officer, a warrant would be issued for parole violation. I’d be living day by day, till I either died, got killed, or ended up back in prison.

I didn’t want that, so I kept walking past that street. I went to a bridge and slept. The next day, a friend picked me up and let me stay with them ‘till Monday and they brought me back to Project ECHO. Had I not gone back I don’t know where I’d be. I do know my life would not be as good as it is right now, and my future is actually looking pretty good.

I did my intake interview with Miss Lori, who seemed skeptical of me, but after talking and her laying out the do’s and do-nots, she allowed me in and gave me a bed. Again, I thank God and Lori. I thank the whole Project ECHO staff for just being there, I thank all the churches, civic groups, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and everyone else that donates their time, help, support, and love to Project ECHO. Since I’ve been there, I’ve been blessed with meeting a lot of really decent people.

Through this program, I was able to save money for when I left. I learned how to start a bank account, pay bills, budget, pay insurance on a vehicle, work a steady job, and basically live a normal life, which I had never done. I spent 27 years of my life in prison. I’d stay out for a while and end up back in prison for violating parole. I wouldn’t let go of drugs and alcohol, I wouldn’t change people, places, and things. Now I have, and I thank God every day for this new life and for Project ECHO.

For me, I will continue to always strive to do better for myself, which is Project ECHO’s goal. I will always be grateful for being allowed to enter the program, and I will always try to help another person in a bad way, as Project ECHO helped me.”

 

Story 1 – Excerpt from a letter written by a former resident

“In August 2007, my children and I moved into Project ECHO. We had 3 months that seemed to fly by so quickly.

To be perfectly honest, I was afraid to even go to Project ECHO because of the image that television portrays of homeless shelters. It’s a horrible image and I’m ashamed to admit it, but I believed it to be true. However, my perception has definitely changed. While at the shelter, I realized that the homeless are “NORMAL” people, who just like me, were down on their luck.

I’m glad I had a chance to broaden my way of thinking, however, that’s not the only thing I’m walking away from this experience with.

Project ECHO did more than just give my children and I a place to sleep and food to eat. It gave me time for self-reflection, to set goals and a chance to receive guidance along with priceless advice from the staff. The counseling I received from the staff alone means so much to me. It helped me through one of the toughest times in my life and I will be forever grateful for that support. Because of the staff (and some residents) I was able to pull myself together when all I wanted to do was give up.

My children and I have all come to think of you as extended family and will miss you all very much. You all will forever have a special place in our hearts.”

The letter came with this poem at the end:

“When we were at an absolute low,

With no one to turn to and nowhere to go,

We found people that helped us to keep moving forward and grow,

At a special little house they call Project ECHO”

Thank you for supporting us!”

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