On Sept. 25, Tearria Britt, a 23-year-old recent transplant from New York City, settled herself in the living room at Joseph’s House on Syracuse’s North side, a home for women who are facing unplanned pregnancies. She was feeling contractions, although her due date was weeks away.
Previously homeless, Britt had been transferred to the home from another women’s shelter earlier that day. Being accepted into Joseph’s House is a step that will positively affect her life.
“I feel blessed,” said Britt.
Kitty Spinelli, parishioner of St. Mary’s of the Lake in Skaneateles and co-founder of Joseph’s House, said they are working with other shelters in Syracuse to help accommodate those in need.
“We receive calls at least three times a week from as far away as Pennsylvania from women in need,” she said. “Since opening on March 19 of this year, we have helped seven women, two toddlers and three babies. At this time, we have three moms and three babies.”
When Spinelli received the call concerning Britt, she knew right away that the young woman would be a “perfect fit” for the home.
“She’s very motivated and wants to go back to school for her nursing degree,” explained Spinelli. “She also comes from a structured family and she’ll be a great role model for the girls.”
Britt moved to Syracuse three months ago hoping to find affordable housing for herself and her unborn child. She was staying with relatives, she said, until she was assaulted by a family member and ended up in the emergency room.
“I felt bad thinking that someone in my family would hurt me like that,” said Britt. “I felt overwhelmed.”
Reflecting on the horrific experience, Britt stated, “I’m glad it happened because you can tell that everyone here gets along like family and you can tell that everyone is ready to help and support you.”
Valerie Rotella, Joseph’s House’s House Manager, developed a well-rounded program that is designed to equip the women with the skills needed for their futures through the Life Skills classes. The residents learn how to prepare resumes, cook, parent, learn safety protocols and participate in spiritual programs.
Britt felt the Life Skills classes would be very helpful to her, especially the class dealing with money management.
“The Life Skills classes are relaxed and fun,” said Rotella. “We do such things as crafting and knitting and we learn how to make practical things like toys, party favors and children’s games.”
During a recent class concerning infant and child safety, the residents and staff developed the Forget-Me-Not-Project. Spurred by recent news stories about infants being left accidentally behind in their car seats, they created a kit of eye-catching cues to use while transporting babies and young children in a vehicle.
So far, two women have transitioned out of Joseph’s House after the birth of their children. They came to the house straight from the hospital with their newborns because they were homeless.
“It’s amazing how quickly we bond with these infants and come to understand the complications and difficulties that have brought these young moms to us,” commented Spinelli. “We do our very best to offer them compassion, love and support. We assist them, whatever their needs, be it housing, schooling or public assistance connections. We try to teach them that their actions and choices have consequences and they are responsible for those choices and the consequences. If they learn nothing else while they are here except that choices made in cooperation with God will always have positive consequences, we have succeeded. It is bittersweet to have them leave us after one or two months when their public housing is established. It always seems that if they were with us just a little longer we could give them so much more hope, so much more love and assist them further on their road to finding God’s plan in their lives.”
Rotella and the staff clearly enjoy their time at Joseph’s House. “For most of us employees,” said Rotella, “to be able to come in and share our faith — it’s wonderful — it shows in the people who work here — you feel the love when you come into this house.”
Since Joseph’s House’s opening, Spinelli said she and the staff have learned that “you can only help those who want to be helped.” She explained that many of the young women who have been accepted into the home find it difficult to live in its structured environment because they have never experienced such a setting. “There is a very steep learning curve for them as well as for us,” said Spinelli. “We are seeing that our favorite dance step is one step forward, two steps back. We are praying for the days when we get to try a new step, perhaps three steps forward and one step back! We face every day with a smile on our faces, lots of laughter and unmitigated faith that God has our backs and will protect us and all the moms and children we serve.”
Britt said she is excited about the opportunities that are now available to her. “I see this as a great stepping stone, especially with a newborn on the way,” she said. “When I heard I could come to Joseph’s House, it made me feel like a weight was lifted off me. It was a great feeling because I thought I might end up staying with the Salvation Army. I was grateful and appreciative that I could come here.”
Spinelli mentioned that it takes $500,000 a year to run the home and she relies on God’s providence and co-founder Maria Miller’s fundraising leadership for the on-going process.
For more information on Joseph’s House, or to purchase a Forget-Me-Not Kit, call (315) 288-0319 or visit www.josephshouseforwomen.org. The kits cost $11 each or $10 each for two or more kits.