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.”
When Lee Pearson’s wife threw him out of their house, he only took one thing with him: His Certificate of Honorable Discharge from the US Army. “It’s because it’s the only thing I thought I did well,” he said.
After being discharged from military service, Lee worked for the National Archives as a security officer. But one of his co-workers introduced him to crack cocaine. “Once you go over, there’s no return. And I went over. I partied every night. Even though I had to go to work the next day, I still partied. And, it started to take me down. Late paying bills. Stealing. Whatever it took for me to get it, I was doing. It all goes with the territory.
“And my life started to completely deteriorate. Real fast. To the point where I lost everything: my family, our townhouse, my job with the government.” In the end, Lee lived in a school bus on 5th Street NW. “I was homeless for 4 years.”
One day, high and staying in a crack house, Lee heard that bill collectors were looking for him. And the only way out that he saw was through a window. “I jumped out the window, and broke my wrist. Then I ran. I ran to the White House. That night, I slept on a bench near the White House.” The next day, he was in so much pain. “I told myself, you know what? I’m tired of living like this. Something’s got to change.”
So he walked several miles to a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. “I think it was God’s grace that I even thought about the VA,” he said.
Lee participated in a 90-day treatment program at the VA Hospital. His counselor told him that 90 days is not enough for a person to reestablish back into society. The counselor recommended Samaritan Inns because of the Treatment and Recovery Continuum of Care.
This is a key feature of Samaritan Inns. Each successive step helps to meet the individual’s needs, while fostering greater independence and responsibility. Lee stayed at the Mozart Inn.
After that, he was introduced to Jesse Washington, our Co-Director of Affordable Housing Communities/SRO, who told him, “Why don’t you go to the next step, and give our SRO a shot?”
The Single Room Occupancy program is the last phase in the Continuum.
So Lee moved to Tabitha House. Gradually, his recovery started to reap long-term benefits. He reestablished a relationship with his daughters and ex-wife. He found a job as a shipping supervisor for a government agency.
Upon reflecting on Lee’s time in the program, Jesse shared, “Samaritan Inns gave Lee the opportunity to clean up the wreckage of his past. In doing this, he was able to become a productive member of society again, and be there to see his daughters grow up.”
In addition to his government job, Lee works at Samaritan Inns as an evening property manager at Elisha House.
“I can’t say enough about how Samaritan Inns saved my life. I love working with the residents. I let them see that they, too, can do this.”
In addition to his Army service, Lee has discovered that this is something else he does well.
“I’m almost 60 years old now. But I still have plenty of years to go. I truly am grateful. God has blessed me. In turn, I try to bless somebody else. It’s that simple. You know, I can’t keep what I got, less I give it away. So I give it away every day. I come to work motivated to give back.”
“My name is Perry. I’m from Washington, DC, born and raised …”
I used heroin for about 42 years. All I knew was using. I started using crack in conjunction with the heroin use, and that brought me all the way to my knees. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle heroin. I was glad when I got busted. I got [sentenced to] five years. I was like, “Thank you, God, now I can stop.” And since that time, I hadn’t had an interest in using.
Then I came home, went to a transition house, the Coalition for the Homeless. I stayed there 17 months. My counselor said it’s time to go a little further and put me with Thaddeus [a counselor at Samaritan Inns]–we grew up in the same neighborhood. We lived three blocks from each other! I interviewed with Thaddeus and I’ve been at Lazarus House coming up on six years.
Samaritan Inns is clean. Secure. A place that’s going to allow me to save some money. It’s a clean environment where everyone’s not using. I wouldn’t have excellent credit with money at my disposal, without Samaritan Inns. I would have had to leave that transition house and move into market rent.
And then last year I was set back with cancer. I knew that God always had something for us to go through…and it’s something that has brought me back to earth. Even though I’ve been diagnosed with it, it’s terminal, I’m alright with that too. Something’s going to happen to everybody and I’m not excluded.
I’m just satisfied with everything. For me to be alive still…I shouldn’t be. I’ve made a connection with God. I made a connection with my family. I’m happy with me. Totally happy with me. And I’m still here. Long as I don’t suffer, I’m ready.
Deloitte has always been a good friend to Samaritan Inns, especially due to the work of Paul Gallagher III, who is not only a principal of Strategy and Operations at Deloitte Consulting but also a member of the Samaritan Inns Board of Directors. This Friday Deloitte brought out a great team for one of their Impact Days to help make the Tabitha House shine again!
The team arrived at the Tabitha House, one of the buildings in our Longer-Term Housing Program, and heard from our President, Larry Huff, about the Samaritan Inn mission, impact, and how much this day meant. Steve, one of our residents, also came down and gave a testimony to the group, making the vital role that the Tabitha House has in our residents’ lives very tangible. The Tabitha House is the rock our residents need to rebuild their lives, and they were here to keep that rock solid.
They then split up to tackle two projects, painting a stairwell from top to bottom and making the landscaping brand-new again. The painting crew first primed then painted the four-story stairwell, and the landscaping crew weeded and mulched the grounds along with planting several trees. Both groups did a wonderful job, working tirelessly and finishing ahead of schedule!