Ernestine received a commendation from the AARP Foundation Experience Corps for her volunteer work as a kindergarten tutor. She says “It’s really an honor to help those children. When they first come in, they don’t know how to read. But they’re willing to learn. And, at the end of the school year, they’re reading something to me. When I was a little girl, I used to say that when I grew up I’m going to be a teacher. I’m so grateful for this opportunity today, and I know God is working in my life.”
Ernestine wasn’t always grateful. She came from a large family (11 children!) with both parents in her life and employed. “I had a good childhood. We weren’t well off, but my parents were able to make ends meet.” Yet, she started hanging out with girls who felt they deserved more.
At 21, she started using drugs when she went out clubbing with friends. She got hooked on heroin. But she was able to get clean before.
Then, she had to have surgery for an ulcer on her leg. She was given pain meds and got addicted to them. Which lead right back to heroin. “It was terrible to actually want to stop, but can’t.”
Ernestine received chemical dependency services at another institution. She met Lynette Daniels, the Co-Director of Samaritan Inns’ Affordable Housing Communities program, who suggested she apply to Samaritan Inns for the long-term recovery program. She was supposed to vacate the program where she was staying, but they gave her a one-month extension. They said ‘If you’re going to Samaritan Inns, we know you’ll get help there.’ So they extended my stay until I can get in to Lazarus House (one of Samaritan Inns Affordable Housing Communities).”
She said Samaritan Inns forces her to have accountability through suite meetings, and keeping close contact with staff. The program provided her with structure. “I’m used to doing what I want to do, the way I want to do it. That doesn’t work here. Today, I’m in a safe place, doing things I need to do to make me better.”
Classes on budgeting and financial management is a key feature of the program. Ernestine is saving money through the Environmental Stability Program (ESP) of the DC Department of Behavioral Health. “I got one of those big Deer Park bottles, and all my change goes in there!” Of all the organizations participating in this program, Samaritan Inns has been awarded the highest allocation of funds, which helps residents with their rent as long as they save at least half of their income. This past year, the participants in the ESP program saved a record $190,000!
In addition to tutoring a new group of kindergartners, Ernestine is looking forward to her first plane ride in February: a trip to Los Angeles to attend the 55th International Women’s Conference, for female members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I’m really looking forward to it. I thank God for giving me this chance. God is good.”