Walking into the emergency shelter in Ephrata I am always struck with a sense of amazement. The realization that at any moment I am within arms distance of women who have not only overcome mountainous hurdles but conquered them, is a humbling notion. Stepping over the threshold from street to a safe haven is an experience I hope I never grow numb to.
Hannah‘s warm smile greets me as she shows me to the office in which I will be interviewing a few of Good Sam’s residents.
The office is small and cozy. The lights are warm and there is a chair about three feet from where I sit behind the little wooden desk. It only takes me a few minutes to set up shop when Amber walks in just as I’m getting settled. The moment I look up to see her I can’t help but smile. She looks a little nervous, but I can tell she feels at home here.
She’s a shorter woman who looks much younger than her 30 years. We make small talk for a few minutes and I tell her a little bit about my role here at Good Samaritan Services, assuring her that she doesn’t have to share anything she isn’t comfortable with. I ask her about her experience with Good Sam and what led her to us. To my surprise, she smiles. Not just a little lip curl, but a full-tilt ear-to-ear grin. She’s eager to tell, and I’m just as eager to listen. She claps her hands together, sets them in her lap, leans forward a little bit and begins to tell her incredible story.
She begins by telling me about how she and her son lived with her mother until she was 25. They were going to lose their home, and after some prompting from her uncle, she decided to make the move from Philadelphia to Lancaster, PA. The only things she brought: her son and two bags of clothes.
Amber tells me how she stayed in a hotel for the first two weeks and bounced around between emergency shelters and small apartments for a few years. Throughout that time she had jobs. Some of them part-time, some of them close to full time. When the money was good, it was easier to stay in her own place. When her hours were cut, she became homeless in weeks. She had no car and no driver’s license. Public transportation isn’t as convenient in Lancaster as it is in Philly. Some days she would get up at 4:00 AM in order to make sure her son was in before school care and she could make it to work on time.
In the midst of her story, a young, curious face pops in the door frame. It’s Sahmad, Amber’s son. He is 11 years old, but he’s so tall he looks like he could be at least 14. Amber is not annoyed at the interruption. She beckons him in with her mama’s voice and introduces us. He shakes my hand and smiles. It’s easy to tell where he got it the infectious smile from. They chat for a few minutes about school work. Amber gives him a few directives and he’s out in a flash.
Her eyes dart back to me and she apologizes for the interruption, but I was glad for it. Her son is a sweet boy, and seeing Amber interact with him was a precious experience.
Amber beams with pride as she tells me about how she got her driver’s license and a car within a month. Getting to work was too hard, and she didn’t want transportation to get in the way of providing for her family. She talked with her boss and took a month off work to get everything settled. Within that time, she was able to get her permit, take her license test, and purchase a car with her tax returns. It was a monumental achievement! The problem, however; was when she went back to her job, they didn’t have any work to give her. Her hours were cut drastically, which reflected in her paycheck resulting in losing her home, again.
Coming to Good Samaritan Services
With no place to go, Amber called our Emergency Shelter in Ephrata in December of 2018. Unfortunately during the time she called, we didn’t have any openings available. It was disappointing, but Amber was told that when we had space come available we would reach out to her. It was less than a week, and Amber got the phone call. Amber described how she met with Hannah for an intake interview and was approved a few days later. She and her son moved into the Emergency Shelter mid-December with everything she could fit in her car. They had a place to finally call home. It was hard, Amber tells me, but she decided in January that her son would go live with her mother while she got a better handle on things. For months she worked hard and made a plan.
Where is Amber Now?
This is easily the best part of the interview. Amber is now glowing as she sits across from me, smiling and speaking just a little faster with excitement. She tells me she wants to be a caseworker for Children and Youth Agency (CYS) or to help families who are homeless. She is currently going to school three days a week to accomplish that goal. Working as a caretaker wasn’t enough, so she applied for our House Manager position and got it. Sahmad is now living with Amber full time! It’s a lot of work, but Amber is willing to do it.
After the interview, I ask Amber if there is anything she’s shared that she would like me to leave out of my writing. Her response?
“I’m an open book. If my story can help other people get to where they need to be, I want to share it. I want to help people with it.”
I am inspired by her. She has gone through so much and her desire to help others has not been doused, but only kindled larger! It’s people like Amber who change lives. Her story has certainly impacted my life and hopefully yours as well.
Author: Shadoe Settle
Development & Communications Coordinator