Breaking the Cycle

Written by Abra Ruthenbeck, Director of Children’s Programs, Saint John’s Program for Real Change


“Break the cycle of poverty and dependence one family at a time”. As the Director of Children’s Programs, I whole-heartedly agree with the Saint John’s Program for Real Change vison statement and I see it working every single day. At Saint John’s we are always asking ourselves, how can we measure outcomes? How do we know that our program is working? The answer is that there are many ways to measure success, especially with women, but how do we measure success with our youngest clients? What does success look like for a four-year-old experiencing homelessness? What can our program provide and how can it make a difference in a child’s future? I decided to focus on one child from our program and look at what a typical experience might entail and what can be learned in a 6-month period at Saint John’s. I pulled all the photographic documentation from her time at Saint John’s and these are the images that stood out.


pic2sm2I’d like to introduce you to Eileen; she came to us as a 4-year-old with her mother and 2 brothers. She lived with her family at Saint John’s and attended preschool during the day. We provide a safe home for children with warm beds, healthy meals and an environment free of violence. We now know more about the devastating, long-term effects of chronic stress on the developing brain and we see children flourish with this new found stability. Once Eileen settled in she learned important social-emotional skills like how to identify feelings and was given the language skills necessary to express them. She attended our Pre-kindergarten program and was given hearing and vision screenings.

Eileen celebrated Halloween with her friends at a costume party. She arrived all dressed up in a beautiful Elsa costume donated to Saint John’s. Elsa was her favorite character and the costume was a dream come true. I often wonder if donors know how important each donation can be and realize the impact the little things can have on the life of a child at Saint John’s.

pic4sm2Eileen learned how to make friends, solve problems and cooperate with her peers. She formed secure attachments to her teachers and learned how to ask for help. She practiced singing songs, counting and writing her name.  She fell in love with books and memorized her favorites. She went on nature walks, learned to ride a tricycle and how use scissors. As her skills grew, so did her confidence level.  She went off to kindergarten prepared to succeed.


Finally, Eileen celebrated her 5th birthday at Saint John’s in the spring. Her mother had been in the program long enough to find employment and was able to provide cupcakes and a birthday party at her school. Eileen wore a special dress and was glowing with pride as her friends and family sang to her in class.pic5sm

This is how I define success at Saint John’s. I know that we have made real change in Eileen’s life and the lives of hundreds of children just like her.  We have kept her safe, prepared her for lifelong education and provided her with all the special moments that make up a happy childhood. This success is what will truly break the cycle of poverty and dependence.



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