A Church-Based Approach to Ending Family Homelessness

Michele and Derek’s story

From A Journey of Hope

A Group of People in My Life

Michele Beamer has a full life.  She and her husband, Austin, are busy raising four boys.  The family lives in a twin home with a big maple tree in the front yard and is active in their church.

But years ago life was very different for Michele.  She was staying in a transitional housing shelter for young single mothers.  She yearned to be on her own and make a stable home for herself and her toddler.

“At the time I was so confused and didn’t know what to do with my life,” says Michele now.  “We needed a temporary home and a friend told me about the shelter.  We moved in when Derek was six months old.”

While there Michele earned a degree in medical office procedures.  Later she got a job at a hospital. 

As her time at the shelter came to an end, Michele was ready to move on with her life.  But she says she was afraid.  The weather was getting colder and she didn’t have a car.  She was walking a couple miles—with Derek—to the babysitter and then to work. 

“I didn’t know how I was going to get around to look for an apartment,” Michele says.  “What if I messed up and made the wrong decision about where to live?”

A Good Mother

“During my counseling session at the shelter, I saw a flier about Bridge of Hope,” says Michele.  “I decided to give them a call.”

Michele met with Edith Yoder and members of the intake committee.  She says she remembers wanting to be accepted—not judged for being a single mother. 

“When I talked to them I cried like crazy because I was in the midst of hard times.  I wanted to be a good mother but I was emotionally needy,” says Michele.  “I also needed help making financial decisions. 

“Edith was so kind and gentle and accepting.  She explained the program to me and I liked everything I heard,” says Michele.  “It felt so secure knowing that if I had a problem I would know exactly who to go to—the mentoring group.  I felt so at ease when I heard that.  I just needed someone to walk with me and share different things with me.” 

Michele applied and was accepted into Bridge of Hope.  She began meeting weekly with Edith to talk about budgeting and parenting issues and set short- and long-term goals.  And she was introduced to twelve strangers from Hinkletown Mennonite Church (PA).

“I first met some of my mentors at Friendly’s and they were so nice to Derek and me,” remembers Michele.  “I told them I was worried about moving.  How would I get to work and pick up my son?  But they had it all figured out.  They found someone to donate a car to me and offered to take me to work for the next two weeks until it was ready!  I felt such relief when I heard that.  I sat and cried in front of those people.”

Michele’s only possessions were clothing, a crib, a bed and a dresser.  So her mentors collected furniture and household goods and found a washer and dryer for her at an auction.  On moving day they cleaned the apartment, helped carry things in and provided babysitting for Derek. 

“They had it all lined up,” says Michele.  “It reminds me how God knows exactly all our worries and concerns and provides for them.”

Overwhelming

Michele settled into her new home, but as life became more stable she became more guarded with her mentors.  They act like they love me, but they really don’t, she thought.  She even started avoiding their phone calls.

“My mentors would invite me places and I’d say no,” says Michele.  “I can’t believe I did that then, because we have such good relationships now.”

She says she was grateful for her mentors, but it all felt overwhelming.  She had a hard time believing people who had families and lives would take their time for her. 

“I thought they were going to love me and leave me like my biological father did,” says Michele. “But they didn’t give up on me!  They told me, ‘We care about you and we’re not going anywhere.’”

Michele’s mentors demonstrated their love for her and Derek in many different ways.  They included them in holiday parties and vacations.  And they let her know that they had problems, too—financial issues and children who were naughty sometimes. 

“They showed me that their lives were no different from mine,” says Michele.  “I thought, OK, this is real.  It felt good to know that if I had a problem I knew exactly who to go to—my mentoring group.  I felt so cared for.”

The Missing Piece

Michele says Edith and her mentors did not “push church.” 

“I think I would have been turned off if Christianity had been pushed on me,” she says.  “Edith talked with me a lot about my Christian walk.  And my mentors invited me to church; but they weren’t pushy at all.  I went to the Wednesday night services and some fellowship meals.

“At first I felt a little uncomfortable as a single mother going into a Mennonite church.  I wondered what they would think of me.  But I was welcomed with open arms.”

Michele’s job at the hospital required that she work some Sundays.  On those days her son Derrick stayed with the family that babysat him through the week. 

“I came home from work one Sunday and realized someone else was taking my son to church.  When my supervisor wouldn’t change my schedule so I could be off on Sundays, I took another position at the hospital,” says Michele.  “It was a pay cut, but going to church became important to me.”

Michele began going to church regularly.  One day she remembers a strong conviction that she wanted to be baptized and become part of the church.  In 1994 she joined Hinkletown Mennonite Church.   

“Looking back I see that I always felt a connection with God,” she says.  “I went to church with my grandmother and was part of a youth group.  God was working in my life but I needed to open up that door. 

“During my time in Bridge of Hope I grew a lot spiritually.  I learned without a shadow of a doubt that the piece missing in my life was Jesus Christ.”

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Homelessness

Michele describes herself as a success story.  After graduating from Bridge of Hope, she went on to buy a house.      

“When I was in Bridge of Hope one of my five-year goals was getting a house.  I achieved that in four years!” says Michele.  “I had some problems with the bank not wanting to give me a loan because I was a single mother.  But a couple of my mentors helped me out.  The Lord did it all through the people in my life.”

After the sale was final a group of women from the church came to clean and get the house ready for Michele and Derek to move into.

“I came home from work and here were all these ladies,” says Michele.  “I didn’t even know some of them!”

In 1998 Michele married Austin Beamer.  Now Derek has three  brothers. 

“I always wanted to be a good mother,” says Michele.  “By God’s grace I feel I am.

Today Michele is in regular contact with most of her mentors.   

“Our relationships are so strong,” she says.  “I consider them to be some of my very best friends.  When I doubted them they didn’t give up on me.  And by their friendship and unconditional love they show me they’re still not giving up on me!”

Michele says she hopes some day to be a mentor to someone else.  The counseling and help with budgeting that she got from staff were helpful, but she says it was the mentors who kept her going.

“Bridge of Hope was the avenue that God wanted me to take—I needed what they had to offer.  Without Bridge of Hope I’m not sure I would have made the right choices.  I don’t think I would be where I am in life today.”

Michele went on to mentor with her local Bridge of Hope and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Bridge of Hope National

Derek is a college student who will be married in Sept. 2014.  Watch his engagement video here!