All that was left in the bare apartment was a pet rabbit. The pantry that Charlotte Smith had restocked with groceries two days earlier was bare, and her family’s furniture, toys, and clothes were nowhere to be found. Everything was gone.
“I was in shock,” said Charlotte. “My kids and I had returned from a doctor’s visit that afternoon. We were living at a friend’s apartment because I had just lost my dead-end job and couldn’t afford housing, and she just left with all our stuff. I had no money, and we had nowhere to turn.”
This picture contrasts sharply to Charlotte and her family’s situation today. In their Lithonia condo, 15-year-old Damien and 17-year-old Sequion clean up the kitchen after cooking breakfast while the younger children follow her dutifully around the house, smartly dressed and helping to pick up before the day really gets started.
Charlotte takes the two youngest with her daily on the bus ride to her full-time job at an area childcare learning center, where she teaches early childhood development. Her oldest son, Sequion, takes care of the other three children at home after they return from school. Everyone takes turns cooking and keeping the house clean.
“Everyone has a role to play,” she said. “During the week, I tell them that I have to work to provide for the family. But the weekends are theirs – we play and have fun.”
The family has come a long way. Charlotte has come a long way. They spent two years in the United Methodist Children’s Home Family Housing Program, where Charlotte got back on her feet and prepared for success on her own. Her children were active on the campus of The Children’s Home, regularly seen talking to staff in the hallway and participating in almost every campus activity.
The Children’s Home, unlike many housing programs that only provide shelter for homeless families and limited support, became the Smith’s family, their support network, and their mentors.
Charlotte’s children found role models in the staff that got to know them best, like Marcus Cade, who coordinates campus activities.
“I ask God to help me make a difference in the lives of all our Children’s Home residents, to give them what they need from me,” said Marcus. “I really connected with Damien to let him know that he is a role model for his siblings – he can impact them for the better. Beyond that, he was very talented at sports and showed leadership skills. By controlling his temper and learning to interact with others in a more positive way, he was able to thrive at school, sports, and in life.”
While at The Children’s Home, Charlotte obtained her GED, early childhood development certificate, and driver’s license. She also learned how to budget so when she moved out in the spring, she was able to pay six months rent in advance for her condo. She found and has maintained stable full-time employment and she is continuing to further her education.
Perhaps most importantly, as a domestic abuse survivor, Charlotte learned to surround herself with people who treated her with respect and love.
“This family is going to be just fine,” said Terence Johnson, vice president for programming at The Children’s Home. “They are exactly how we picture success for our Family Housing Program. They took advantage of all the resources we had to offer, and they have responded with nothing but gratitude.
In fact, when Charlotte and her children moved out, they cooked a meal for the entire Children’s Home staff to say thank you.
“I told my kids, we will not be on the street ever again,” she said. “I know how to take care of the family and to budget, and we work hard together for success. I am so grateful to everyone at The Children’s Home for helping us get this place in our lives.”
The Smiths still stop by the Children’s Home campus, participating in the summer softball league or visiting with staff. They will always be welcome, and part of our family.