Today, Kelsey lives with her two young children in Texas. She’s a working mother, doing the best she can to get acclimated to her new environment after spending years in Lebanon County.
It’s a big change. But the significance of the move is bigger.
In the fall of 2020, LCCM published a story about Kelsey and her son AJ, who was three years old at the time. It was her third stay in the shelter, and it was during the pandemic.
In that story, she said her hope for the future was that she could build a life that would allow AJ to flourish in school and to lead a happy, healthy life.
She didn’t know at the time how hard that road would be. She struggled to hold onto that hope and make it a reality.
Despite having enough savings, thanks to her time at FRESH Start, she opted to pay for a hotel room when she moved out because apartments were difficult to find in Lebanon County during the pandemic.
Her savings dwindled as she paid for a hotel room, and eventually she had to leave. She also felt it was best to house her son with his grandmother. This is when things began to take a turn for the worst.
She was still working, but she and her son’s father were living on the streets, sleeping in parks under trees and bridges. It wasn’t long before she began doing drugs again.
“I felt nothing,” she said. “You go into survival mode and do whatever you can to stay alive.”
One night she had bags of clothing sitting outside as she waited for a ride. She went into a store to get something to drink and when she came out her clothing was gone.
She eventually made her way back to Lebanon County Christian Ministries and would pick up clothing and food items in the lobby. She was approached by shelter staff members who cared for her and were concerned.
“They wanted me to come back in for the very last time,’ she said.
The next couple of weeks that followed were critical with two goals in mind: keep Kelsey safe and away from drugs and get Kelsey and AJ on a plane to Texas to be reunited with her mother and her other child, Olivia.
A LCCM staff member worked tirelessly around the clock for those two weeks. During that time, Kelsey began reading a bible in her hotel room. Staff then got Kelsey her own bible, and she began letting the words sink in as she highlighted verses and passages that gave her hope.
But she was struggling because she was still detoxing from drugs. Then one day, a staff member told Kelsey to immediately pack her bags - she was going to Texas.
“I cried for like 20 minutes,” Kelsey said. “I wasn’t expecting to go right then. I thought, ‘wow, this is really happening.’”
When she arrived in Texas, she was reunited with her daughter, who she hadn’t seen in over two years.
AJ, now 5, starts school in the fall, and is learning how to be a big brother.
“It just feels right,” she said. “I think ‘wow, so this is what it’s supposed to be like. This is the way it should have been.”
Kelsey is sober, working, saving money, and trying to get a home for her family. She knows she still has a long road ahead, but she is hopeful.
“A lot of people tend to beat themselves up about what they are doing. But the more you put yourself down, the worse it’s going to get,” she said. “You have to find people that are going to help you look forward and pick you up and keep going. If no one else is going to lift you up, you got to do it for you, and trust all the rest will fall into place.”
For one week before Anthony arrived at FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center, he was homeless and sleeping under a bridge.
“To be honest, I was used to it,” he said during an interview in June.
For nearly a decade, Anthony lived doubled up with relatives, couch surfed at friend’s homes, or found himself living on the street.
For periods of his life, Anthony lacked a sense of belonging and community. Spending years in the foster care system, bouncing around from home to home didn’t leave much time to make friends or forge deep relationships.
“It felt horrible,” he said. “That’s the best way for me to put it. Because it’s like, ok well, my mom and dad didn’t want me, so why don’t these people want me?”
Anthony did eventually get adopted and experienced stability in his new family.
“After I got adopted, it sort of settled down because my mom is the most wonderful person in the world,” he said. “She has always been my rock and someone I could always go to, even now.”
But the nagging sense of loneliness and abandonment in his early years took a toll.
When he was 20 years old, he moved out and started out on his own.
For the next decade, Anthony found himself in a cycle of employment, unemployment, transient living, homelessness, alcoholism and drug use.
“Pretty much the streets are all I know,” he said.
When he was 23, he entered the long-term men’s program at Lebanon Rescue Mission, which helped him maintain sobriety from hard drugs, then entered HOPES (the former shelter name of FRESH Start) at LCCM.
At HOPES, staff helped him find employment and provided the stability he needed so he could reset his finances and start over.
He found a room and was soon discharged. He was making money, but soon he fell back into old habits and his money was going toward alcohol.
“It was not a fun road,” he said.
The cycle continued for the next six years, which brought him to FRESH Start in May.
“The staff are really keeping me encouraged to keep going and to work every day. They are helping me with budgeting,” he said. “I always have good laughs with all of them, but they are really there for me when I feel upset or when I feel anger…it just feels nice to express how I actually feel about things …they give me good advice, too.”
Though he has fears about the future, he is hopeful and is trying to change his circumstances with the guidance and support of LCCM staff.
Because he doesn’t have to worry about where he will sleep or when he will eat next, now he can focus on other things, such as working toward obtaining his driver’s license, working full-time and looking for a room to rent. Eventually he wants to own his own home and start his own business.
“This is a great place for anybody that’s really wanting the help and is actually willing to work themselves, for themselves, to really want to change. It’s definitely helped me change a lot – mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said. “What more could a person want who’s really wanting to change?”
It’s 8:30 and the front doors of Lebanon County Christian ministries open for a day of service. There is a group of about 15 guests who are ready to enter the lobby for a myriad of needs. Some come regularly, some are looking for immediate relief of hunger by finding food made available through the food rescue work of LCCM, and others are requesting assistance with their natural gas bill. Wait, their what? Yes, that is correct – their natural gas bill.
LCCM has been a long-time partner of UGI, the local provider of natural gas. Our community uses natural gas for heating, hot water, and cooking. The natural gas provider, UGI, is not just a company that gives gas and takes money to pay your utility bill. UGI is a giver! Through a program managed by the Customer Outreach Team at UGI, programs exist to aid those who are struggling to pay their natural gas utility bill. The Responsible Utility Customer Protection Act, also known as Act 201, provides protections to utility customers who pay their bill, follow through with payment arrangements, make a required deposit, and allow the utility company to access its equipment.
When a UGI customer faces a hardship, they can reach out to the team at LCCM for assistance. “We are blessed to be a partner with UGI and assist with the applications and follow-up of our community members who are utilizing the assistance programs of UGI,” states Bryan Smith LCCM’s Executive Director.
LCCM has made a commitment to the UGI program by hiring a dedicated team member to process the UGI program applications and a second staff member who assists. “UGI provides funding to LCCM for each application and follow-up we conduct,” Smith continued. “The funding helps offset the cost of our front desk staff and provides us the ability to better serve our guests every day.”
Brian Meilinger, Senior Manager of Customer Programs at UGI shared “UGI is pleased to partner with local Community Based Organizations like LCCM to provide assistance to our customers and neighbors. The UGI team is here to help – either through LCCM, by calling (800) UGI-WARM or visiting https://www.ugi.com/here-to-help.”
UGI’s commitment goes beyond the programs of UGI Operation Share and UGI Customer Assistance Program. UGI also holds annual employee giving campaigns to support the United Way in their footprint, and staff can contribute to the UGI Operation Share program.
“We wanted to highlight the partnership with UGI so our community knows we are always looking for ways to support the needs of our community,” states Smith. Beyond the UGI program, LCCM also aids with water and sewer bills and heating oil. Each program has its own eligibility criteria and anyone who is in need must call the LCCM office for more information, details, and direction for enrollment.
Smith refers to a small statement from the book When Helping Hurts, when expressing why this type of an arrangement works. The statement reads, “North American Christians need to be giving more, not less, money to help the poor. But how that money is given and to whom it is given is crucial. We need to look for ways to give money that builds up local organizations and that truly empowers the poor.” LCCM is a local organization with a vision statement that reads, “Investing in people. Improving lives.”
Lebanon County Christian Ministries