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A home for the holidays

Organizations across the country offer tangible help and real hope to the homeless

SAFE HARBOR: Mary's House of Hope. Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette

A home for the holidays
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Single mom Kristen Johnson, now 23, became homeless in Virginia two days after Christmas 2012. Her father had supported her and her two children under 3, but finally could not afford the rent on his house. The children’s father, an ex-boyfriend stationed with the Army in Colorado, had never paid child support.

This Christmas season we’re telling Johnson’s story in WORLD not because her story is unique but because it’s all too typical—and because she was able to get hope at Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA), a Christian, nonprofit homeless relief organization that isn’t unique either. Hundreds of small organizations like GSA exist throughout the United States, and Johnson and her children were able to move into the group’s 20-bed emergency center in Leesburg, Va., then into a transitional house for single mothers with young children.

That house has a great Christmas name: Mary’s House of Hope. Johnson and other moms cooked in a kitchen stocked with two refrigerators, shared a washer and a dryer, and watched television in the Purcellville, Va., farmhouse. All of them also entered a Six Steps to Self-Sufficiency program. Vickie Koth, GSA’s executive director, implemented the program when she arrived in 2008. Before, GSA had simply provided a bed and a meal, but Koth noticed the same people returning for aid. She believed the homeless needed to learn job and financial skills: “If people don’t understand that, nothing changes,” she said.

The symbol of Koth’s work, a diagram of a triangle divided into six rows, hangs all over the GSA office above Hope’s Treasures thrift shop in Ashburn, Va. Koth explained the chart to me as we sat in a conference room overlooking the parking lot, which was half-filled with large toys, bikes, and furniture. Surrounded by the supports of “assets,” “neighbors,” and being “strong in faith,” the homeless person transitions from emergency services to education to, at the pinnacle of the triangle, securing a house and independence.

Johnson landed a job at an Ashburn day care center and began moving up on the triangle. In addition to her full-time job at the day care center—she takes her kids there as well—Johnson meets with her caseworker every two weeks to deposit savings into an escrow account, get financial counseling, and set new goals. She has paid down a large chunk of debt and even saved enough to afford a new Kia when her old car sprung a leak in the gas tank. As a full-time student, she is earning her early and elementary education certifications so she can get a more permanent job after she leaves Mary’s House.

Johnson did not attend church much before she came to Mary’s House, but she has begun attending her caseworker’s church in Leesburg, Va., where church members regularly pray for her. “There are a lot of people in my corner,” she said.

Worthy web reads

The internet is home to both fascinating stuff and time-wasters. On Thursdays, wng.com points readers to the best of the Web. In the past several weeks, Web Reads has included links to websites featuring historical map animations, the sounds of Roaring Twenties New York City, eight free lectures on The Hobbit and an interview with novelist Marilynne Robinson. —Susan Olasky

Reliving the games

The website Statlas (statlas.co) charted every play of the 2013 World Series, so baseball fans can relive in their minds favorite moments of the fall classic. Nifty charts give an at-a-glance view of entire games, making clear visually where turning points occurred, and showing each game’s progress batter by batter. Those who really like to dig around in baseball statistics will enjoy charts showing what the pitcher threw and what the batter did with the pitch. —Susan Olasky

Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette Rikki is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD contributor.


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