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CCTRP in the Days of COVID

Like every other part of our lives in the days of Pandemic 2020, life at Saint John’s Custody to Community Transitional Reentry Program (CCTRP) has found a new status quo.  Everything has been affected from the way clients arrive, the daily chores, classes, employment, shopping, schooling, and even when they leave. Arrival. Today, as I write this blog, we are welcoming five new clients arriving from two different institutions. Typically,…

Remembering Frankie Cook

On Sunday, August 16, 2020, a very dear friend of mine, and the Saint John’s family, Frankie Cook, was called home to heaven. I think for most of us who knew and loved her, it still does not feel entirely real. I met Frankie in 2008 when I came to work for St. John’s Shelter, now known as Saint John’s Program for Real Change. I was recruited to start a…

Déjà Vu

Christina C. has been walking through the doors of Saint John’s for almost 10 years. She came to Saint John’s as a victim of domestic violence as well as her own substance abuse. “With most drug addiction you are also addicted to relationships,” she explains.  Today, as a substance use disorder counselor and case manager at Saint John’s, she counsels and supports women like her former self though all the milestones…

It Was Time

  It was time… this time, for sure. Heather B. tells me that a lifetime of bad choices, abusive relationships and drug abuse had brought her to Saint John’s Program for Real Change. Finding herself sleeping, once again, on friends’ couches at age 44, she said it was finally time to end the “roller coaster” that she’d been on for most of her life. In March of 2019, Heather entered,…

A Fresh Start

Three months may not seem like a long time, but for Morgan G., the past three months have been the difference between a life of drugs and homelessness and a life of safety, community and responsibility. Morgan came from an alcoholic and abusive family, and she began abusing drugs, primarily methamphetamines, at 17. Suicidal at one point, she moved from place to place, “enabled by those who didn’t really want…

Rollercoaster

Round and round and round we go. So many of our clients at Saint John’s, women who are trapped in a vicious cycle of addiction, abuse and poverty, women who were raised in families wrought with domestic violence, crime, substance abuse, mental illness and dysfunction, are desperate for a way out. Breaking this cycle is no small feat, one that may be insurmountable for many, but at Saint John’s, women…

The Sound of Optimism

It is odd to “interview” someone via phone, though, during this shelter-in-place time, it seems to be the way we have to do things. In talking with Virginia C., the optimism and hope were palpable in her voice! She was so proud of herself and hopeful for the future, and I could sense her happiness immediately.  Diagnosed with Hepatitis C, Virginia was seriously ill and unable to work effectively at…

A Safe Place

We are in the midst of an historic time, a time of a pandemic that has required extraordinary sacrifice from every American. COVID-19 has strained our health system and our economy, and has forced us indoors to “shelter in place.” For Alyse R., this shelter in place is a better alternative than living on the streets with her eight-year-old son, JT. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, JT is…

A Double Rainbow in the Storm

Looking for some good news during this Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown? Look no further than to Saint John’s Program for Real Change and two young former residents of the program… Athena and Dwayne – both now high school seniors – both heading on to great things after living at Saint John’s with their moms, former clients in our program. Athena is a senior at Grant High School, and after being…

Tenacity and Triumph

Kelli is the type of person everyone is happy to see. She has a grace and ease about her and she works hard to have a positive outlook on life. Just a few short years ago, this was not the case, as she arrived at Saint John’s having endured 30 years of addiction and abuse. In the fall of 2018, Kelli graduated from Saint John’s Employment Training Program after an…

Ariel’s Awakening

We are so proud and honored to have been contacted by our state’s First Partner Jennifer Newsom, who invited Saint John’s client Ariel B. to serve as her personal guest to attend the Governor’s State of the State Address at our state capitol on February 19. Ms. Newsom remembered Ariel by name after having toured Saint John’s in the fall, and was incredibly moved by her story, her determination and…

Sabrina’s Voice

It’s not often that one meets a classically-trained opera singer, much less one who is a resident at Saint John’s Program for Real Change. Meet Sabrina — here since November after years of living in an abusive relationship and spiraling into depression and alcohol abuse. Sabrina earned a BA and MA in Classical Voice and sang and toured the world with the San Francisco State Chamber Choir for years. How,…

Kinetic KIZZIE

Some people just radiate energy and optimism; that’s the case with Kizzie. She made me smile––and even laugh with her––from the moment I met her. Whether she realizes it or not, that personality is a key part of her whole story. Energy may not always be a good thing; it needs to be directed positively, and for much of Kizzie’s life, it surely wasn’t. An angry young person prone to…

No Looking Back

“If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes” —Shellee H.’s mantra Shellee H. started using drugs at 18 when her brother died. She’s been to prison three times and to the county jail 25 times. She’s spent time on the streets and lost custody of her son. But make no mistake — she feels blessed today because of Saint John’s Program for Real Change. Dates and details are very important to Shellee:   – 5/17/2019…

Behind a Pretty Face

Heart wrenching to see, and maybe even harder to understand are the depths to which one can fall with addiction. But witnessing one rise out of that chasm and go on to live a full life is an inspiration and a blessing. Katrina is a case study for us all. Raised in a loving family, Katrina was a hard-working young girl who does not fit the profile we might imagine…

Standing On Her Own

Trapped in a marriage with an overbearing, controlling husband, Sarah ultimately turned to alcohol and opioids to cope. While the abuse never became physical, Sarah’s husband would not allow her to work, nor have friendships with anyone “on the outside,” and led her to believe that she could not survive without him and his financial support. After 10 years together and three years of marriage, she gathered up the courage…

Sweet Dreams Come True

At the age of 27, Whitnee M. was a single mother of two living in an abusive relationship. With her children safely staying with their father, Whitnee unfortunately followed her then boyfriend down a dark path of drug addiction and homelessness. It wasn’t until two years later as she sat staring at her children’s school pictures that she realized that something needed to change. “They had grown so much without…

From Ghost to Glory

“I had no voice as a child, and I thought the world was just a dark place.” Imagine feeling like that as a little one … no one really caring, no one paying any attention, feeling “invisible.” No father in the home, a mother battling depression, no teacher acknowledgement, and seemingly no reason to work for anything because no one would care anyway. You are a ghost in the world….

Soaring to New Heights

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life . . . The process is its own reward.” -Amelia Earhart  “Yes! Like Amelia Earhart,” she said, as she introduced herself with a smile.  Amelia S. is an intelligent woman with a kind smile…

Before and After

Saint John’s, a “Before and After” View: Michelle MacLellan Ever wonder how Saint John’s went from 20 homeless women on the steps of St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1985 to a full residential program for over 250 women and children? For some of the answers, we asked Michelle MacLellan, executive assistant to our Interim CEO, Marc Cawdrey. Michelle started a career at St. John’s in 2001 as a “temp” worker…

Taking Control

Originally from St. Croix on the U.S. Virgin Islands, Deja has good memories of living with her mom and five siblings. “Growing up on the islands was nice – playing all day long, running through the grass.” But, by the time she reached her sixth birthday, her carefree life had changed with a move to Miami, Florida. Her two oldest siblings stayed with family on the island and she quickly…

Teens Model Saint John’s Program for Real Change Values

Empowering women….clearly a most important goal for Saint John’s Program for Real Change. It’s interesting, then, that a group of teenage girls has already embodied that goal and is helping the women at Saint John’s by forming their own volunteer circle of help. Started this year by sophomore St. Francis students Amelia Barkett and Anna Kate Cwynar, the group that calls themselves the Teen Circle has decided to work on…

Helping Children Thrive

Casually swinging his enormous battle axe at nearby intruders, the almost human form dressed in black helmet and knight’s plate armor made his way through rundown wood houses and abandoned football stadiums, looting every weapon in sight. If this video game character happens to be “eliminated” by his counterparts, he simply disappears with no pain or consequence. . . a stark contrast to Travis, the 11-year-old Fortnite enthusiast’s reality where…

Sister Act

There is so much behind-the-scenes work that makes a place like Saint John’s Program for Real Change work. The public can see and read about the mission and the results, but what it takes to actually make it all run is almost overwhelming to consider. So, when folks want to become a part of the program by volunteering, there are so many ways to volunteer. Enter Carol Hood and her…

Finding Courage

  “They had faith in me, they uplifted me and provided me with the tools and the structure I needed.”   Fist fights, petty theft, vandalism, loitering, three DUIs, sleeping in the park and abandoned crack houses, smoking dope, up for days at a time and addicted to meth. Add to that an abusive girlfriend who beat her repeatedly, giving her two black eyes and a broken leg. Irais was…

Second Chances

 “I am blessed to have found Saint John’s. This program has changed my life.”   “I’ve learned that if you want something different, you have to DO something different; you have to change everything,” observes Alexandria J., a Saint John’s client and next week’s class representative who will speak on behalf of the 15 graduates walking the stage next Thursday, September 5 at Saint John’s Graduation Ceremony and Guest Chef…

Change for the Children

“My children were my motivation. When I wake up, they’re the first things on my mind” Mother to twins Janeya and Jovanni (now 3), Carmen became a prostitute at age 14 to support her cocaine habit. She got sober while pregnant with the twins, but relapsed after they were born, eventually ending up homeless due to her debilitating addiction. She learned about Saint John’s from her friend Antoinette, an alumna…

Hope and Healing

“You give it your all and it works; it changes your life.” Let’s face it… we may have certain images in mind when we think of “the homeless.” Stereotypes are part of life, but, so often they simply categorize without helping us to look deeper. Such is the case when you meet Mandy, a single mom with two teenage boys, Robby (15) and Caleb (13). Wearing a pretty dress and…

Seeing from a Different Perspective

Life can be hard sometimes…and for some, much harder than for others. Some things we can control, while some things we cannot. Imagine, then, being born with a severe visual impairment so that you could never see things unless they were extremely close to your eyes? Imagine your eyes always moving, but never seeing clearly. You use braille but can also read, as long as the print is extra large,…

Rebuilding my Family

“Saint John’s taught me how to be a mother again, and they provided me with the skills I needed to have a career.” After the death of her mother, Natisha was overwhelmed with stress. She began experimenting with drugs and settled on meth to mask the pain. Over the course of her 10-year addiction, she lost her job and her apartment and was living in a tent by the river…

Piece by Piece

One of the challenges of memorializing the life of a Saint John’s graduate is how to capture the real story. These women have come from places and pasts so drastically different from our own, and yet, they are more full of hope and happiness than most anyone you have ever met. That’s what makes their stories so powerful. After graduating from Saint John’s, Shayla moved away to start a new life….

Beyond My Wildest Dreams

“The staff at Saint John’s loved me until I could love myself.” Suffering verbal, mental and physical abuse by her boyfriend, Carmen became severely depressed and turned to meth to self-medicate. Her life had spiraled out of control, as she alternately lived on the streets and couch-surfed, resulting in CPS removing five-year-old daughter Olivia (now 10) from her custody and placing her in foster care. Olivia was later adopted by…

Beginning to Know Myself

I met Jennifer after she had finished a shift managing some of the other ladies working in the residential campus kitchen…..hot and tired, she had an air of calm confidence that impressed me immediately. Here was a smart lady who, at 42, finally knew what she had to do to move forward in her life. Pregnant at 15 with son Adrien, married at 16 and divorced at 17, Jennifer actually…

Committed to a Better Life

“While I was at Saint John’s, I didn’t have to worry about rent – I could focus on my goal and my plan.” In and out of jail all her life and addicted to drugs from age 16, Karen spent three years in prison for aggravated identity theft, yet still rebounded to her dysfunctional lifestyle upon her release at age 30. When her son Kyren (now 6) started kindergarten, she…

A Story of Strength and Determination

It was rainy outside when I met Mynica, but her smile immediately brightened the day. Her story, a complex web of ins and outs, ups and downs, struggles and hopes left me wondering just where to start in trying to describe this beautiful lady and her journey. Mynica was one of three children being “raised” by an alcoholic, drug-addicted mother. “Neenie” was the middle child in every sense of the…

Mighty Melissa

Upon reflection, she knows she made some very ill-judged choices in her early life. But in a misdirected search for acceptance, she repeatedly took injudicious steps and reached a cycle of despair, only to find a way to escape and a path to self-awareness and well-being. Melissa is 33 years old, the mother of 9-year old Jayden. She is a newlywed and employed with a steady income and benefits. It…

Finally Felicia

When Felicia underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2006, little did she know that this procedure would produce the opposite result for which it was intended: instead of leading to improved health, it resulted in an addiction to opioids. When she could no longer get her hands on pain meds, she turned to meth, and from there, it was a twisted, agonizing downward spiral. “When you take opioids, your body starts…

She is Risen

Resurrection, rebirth, renewal are all words we will hear a lot this week, but these are words that we live by, every day, at Saint John’s. When women and children arrive at our doors, the joy and exuberance that is life is missing from their eyes, from their faces, from their souls. They are broken, they are exhausted, they are desperate. Rock bottom seems like a step up. We embrace…

Stephanie

Stephanie’s Serendipity

As a single mother of three, living paycheck-to-paycheck was a way of life. Stephanie became the sole parent of her family in 2014, when her husband was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for beating her. For years, the beatings had gone unreported, as he repeatedly threatened to kill her and their son if she reported the abuse, even going so far as to destroy her cell phone…

Sandy’s Salvation

What kind of mother uses while she’s pregnant? What kind of mother would continue to use, knowing she had four babies already removed from her care by “the system?” Looking back at a life I can no longer fathom, I am forever grateful for the Real Change I have finally been able to achieve. At 32 years old, I was homeless, pregnant and strung out on meth… while pregnant with…

Silver Belle

Silver had it all – marriage, family, a career, a home. An avid learner with a passion to explore, school and classes have always been a part of her life. After earning her high school diploma, she went right to work, but always fit a class or two into her life. “I like to keep things fresh,” observes Silver. “There’s always more to learn.” Over the course of her career,…

Dawn Rising

“People ain’t perfect. We all have these flaws and we all have these hiccups.” Dawn originally entered Saint John’s ten years ago. She went through the program simply to get done with it. She admits, “I was doing what I was told to do. I wasn’t receiving what I was supposed to be receiving, I was just going through the motions. I was there because CPS had requested I do…

Unstoppable Maria

Maria walks into Saint John’s in scrubs fresh off a break from her job at UC Davis Medical Center. She has a bright, infectious smile and truly seems to be the happiest person in the world which is simply amazing as she was homeless before finding Saint John’s Program for Real Change. “I love my job,” she says smiling. ”I actually got this job, thanks to Saint John’s. I didn’t…

Alumnae Almighty

There is perhaps nothing more comforting than baring your soul to someone that has truly been where you have been, seen what you have seen, lived what you have lived, endured what you have endured. This is precisely why the Saint John’s Alumnae Association is so important to our program. Now led by President Lucy G., a 2017 graduate of Saint John’s Program, the Association’s board is made up of…

1 Picture/1000 Words

“When I paint, I listen to worship music, and I let God lead,” says Mandy. Just six weeks into the program, Mandy W. has taken quickly to the Friday afternoon Art Therapy class offered at Saint John’s, despite nary having lifted a paint brush. While it was a requirement for her first 30 days, Mandy found the class to be so therapeutic, she has stayed, and flourished. Her painting, “My…

Kelli’s Story

Waiting to meet Kelli at Saint John’s, I knew that she had already worked a full day and had a 12-year-old daughter waiting for her at her new apartment, another 20 minutes away. But Kelli showed no signs of being tired or impatient. Instead she was cheerful, hugging the staff, and appeared visibly thrilled to be here. I soon learned that a rare gift had been offered to her today:…

Helping Children Succeed

Our average client is 34 years old and has two children, 47% of whom arrive at our doors suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of their homelessness. Many of these children have been raised in an environment rife with drugs, alcohol and domestic violence, and have endured uninhabitable living conditions, with no awareness that this is not normal, nor acceptable. At Saint John’s, we know that treating our…

Erika

Erika’s Story

“It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work,” the mother of three says, calling Saint John’s Program for Real Change a real blessing. Despite her seemingly tranquil nature, Erika, at age 30, has been haunted by fear for most of her life. Fear of going to school in aging, often unwashed clothing; fear of her mother’s frequent absences in search of the big win at the gaming…

All Dolled Up!

A mother of five daughters, 85-year-old Nancy Thompson was inspired to make her first doll more than 30 years ago. After making one for each daughter, their friends wanted them too. When daughter Chris was in nursing school, she came home one day with a tale of a patient whose parents were both farm workers and therefore gone all day. “I made her a doll so that she would have…

Chastity in Charge!

Chastity grew up in foster care in New Jersey from the age of seven, and was pregnant with her son by the time she turned 21. With a work history including serving as a safety manager and facilities administrator at Aeroforms, a contractor for Exxon Mobile, an Uber/Lyft driver and various positions managing fast food restaurants, she never experienced legal problems, drug or alcohol addiction like many of our clients…

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2443 Fair Oaks Blvd, #369
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