She remembered it like it was yesterday – the events of that night forever seared into her memory. Maria, a former addict, thought she was finally getting her life together. After living crammed in a van with family members for four months, including her sister and the father of her child, she had finally scraped up enough money to get an apartment.
Unfortunately, the sense of relief she felt was temporary, as was finally having a roof over her head. One night, she awoke to a smoke-filled room that echoed with screams. Trapped with her five month-old-son, she wrapped her baby tightly in a blanket hoping that it would protect him from the flames that were fast engulfing the room. She looked down at her baby looking innocently back at her, completely unaware of the chaos surrounding them. Maria gripped her son in her arms, desperately hoping this was not the day they were going to die. She frantically searched for a way to get out.
Then, by some miracle, she saw her chance to escape – just for a moment, the flames that had once covered the door suddenly parted. She seized the moment; it was her only way out from this horrible situation. Thankfully, she was able to run through the door to safety. Deep down she knew she was ultimately responsible for having put her baby in harms way, and while she did not know it that day, there was another door waiting for her to open and walk through—the bright red door of Saint John’s.
Maria was able to get her son to safety that night only to eventually lose custody. After the fire, she had taken her son to the hospital to be checked for smoke inhalation problems, as any good mother would do. Thankfully, her son was fine, perfectly healthy. She never imagined, however, that Child Protective Services would be waiting for her. Two officers escorted her to a small room where she was questioned extensively by CPS. In the end, they took her son, citing her “failure to provide a safe shelter.” Reeling from shock, she couldn’t eat for days, so distraught, knowing her small son was living with strangers. It was one of the most gut-wrenching experiences Maria had ever endured.
This was it – her wake-up call. She knew it was time for a change, real change. Maria made her first call to Saint John’s shortly thereafter. It took two months of calling every day to ensure that her name was on the waiting list, and finally on April 20th, 2017, she walked through the red door of Saint John’s and took her first step to transforming her life.
Maria was determined to get her son back. She took parenting classes, went to counseling, and appeared at every court hearing. She did everything CPS asked of her. Finally, seven months later, mother and son were reunited. Maria is so grateful that Saint John’s was there every step of the way. When talking about this Maria emphatically shares, “I would bend over backwards for my child. It was such a huge accomplishment to finally have my CPS case closed and to know that I had been taking the steps to making the changes I needed in order to be with my son again.”
That’s the power of Saint John’s – it opens the door to new possibilities, a chance for a new life, a new beginning.
Now, Maria is taking full advantage of her new beginning. Saint John’s Employment Training Program is preparing her to enter the workforce with practice interviews, as well as assistance with preparing her resume and completing job applications. She is also in the process of getting independent housing, but her first priority, however, is to obtain her high school diploma. She is attending classes offered on-site at Saint John’s through Highlands Community Charter School two days a week and hopes to go back to school full-time in the near future.
And the career choice Maria is considering? Working for Child Protective Services. Maria says she wants to have the opportunity to help others the way she has been helped. “I’m not angry at CPS for taking my son; it was a blessing,” says Maria. “If they hadn’t taken my son, I never would have found Saint John’s. I didn’t have anyone to lean on. Now, I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Blog by Guest Writer Gade Hamilton
Saint John’s Program for Real Change Volunteer