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Hopelessness to Hope

Admirable accomplishments. Those of us at Pathways see them over and over with the success of our clients. We witness the plight of our guests, the defeating, life-changing trauma of losing a home, running out of personal resources, and lack of support from family and friends. This can lead to desperate calls to shelters for a bed.

Many times in our society, when we hear about the courage and determination of ordinary people, it becomes the talk of the "water cooler" crowd. We hear about it on the news, it becomes a featured in-depth story on shows like 20/20.

There are many stories of great accomplishments at Pathways, but are few are made public and given much fanfare.

For example, 64-year-old Lydia tells us of her overwhelming fear of her family and friends discovering that “she is a failure by living in a shelter”. Lydia worked hard to keep her secret. She would make excuses to leave a social event with friends to get back to the shelter in time for curfew. She had to sell most of her belongings to stay afloat prior to entering shelter. Lydia had been a nurse in another state and came to Birmingham to help her aging and ill mother. This situation did not work out. There were family problems coming from all directions, and Lydia left that situation. She then had a stroke, and other medical problems began to pile on. She believed the important things in her life were lost forever.

Lydia was encouraged by and somewhat challenged to redirect her well-honed skill of determination to conceal her homeless plight from friends and family. She was challenged to look forward so she could move forward. She landed a part-time job in the home health field that matched her skill set. She received budgeting assistance, saved money, worked on the relationship with her family, and recruited a few friends to help her collect furniture items in a storage she obtained. Lydia was now planning ahead, preparing for her exit from the program. I began to have fewer visits from her in my office. She had gained her own sense of hope.

Lydia used her time wisely and worked hard to pull her “new life” together. She told me before she left that she feared being happy, because for so long she believed she was not allowed to feel. Coming to the shelter offered her a fresh start, but she also was afraid that she could not do it alone and would once again fail.

Just like many of our clients who work hard against feeling hopeless, I had to remind Lydia that the trick is not to fight against hopelessness but to fight for hope. It is up to her to choose which door to open.

There are many courageous women who overcome “the bad” in their life. Women who are determined to move forward, to have faith in a spiritual sense as well as in themselves. Women with stories of hope, where confidence grows within them, where problems become redefined as challenges, and failure becomes a victory.

These are huge events like an amputee climbing Mount Everest or a woman who went from getting food stamps to becoming one of the most successful authors of our time by writing the Harry Potter Series.

These are truly great examples of how we can do it with a great deal of patience and determination.

Carolyn Johnson is a social worker at Pathways.