“Kotval’s Korner,” a new e-communication, hopes to open a dialogue to address our county’s challenges and to celebrate the milestones we achieve together as we work to provide permanent solutions to end homelessness.
“Everything Happens For A Reason…”
A Former Client's Reflection On His Experience
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When I was growing up I was an honor roll student, a star football player and a track runner (sprinter). In my teenage years, I got wrapped up in the drug scene. I saw my older brother and cousin selling drugs and I wanted the fancy cars, money, jewelry and status they had. I was making $5,000 a day and I thought this was the good life but the money quickly went to my head and I became arrogant and cocky. Over the years I continued to sell drugs and eventually, I was incarcerated.
I was offered early release from prison because of my good behavior; the only condition was I had to agree to go to a half-way house. I agreed without hesitation.
What I was told would be a halfway house ended up being LUW’s Open Arms Men’s Shelter. I felt I was too good to be in a shelter . . . this was beneath me. I told a fellow resident that I would rather go back to prison and finish my time than stay at Open Arms.
Charlie, who was running the shelter back then, overheard my conversation and he pulled me into his office. He asked me why I wanted to go back to prison rather than stay at Open Arms. To keep it simple I told him that before I had stepped into this building, I had associated homeless shelters with bums, derelicts and drug addicts… and that I was none of those things!
Charlie looked at me and said,
“your best day in prison could never be better
than your worse day with your freedom.”
That statement changed my world!
I stayed for 3 more months at Open Arms and while there, I saw a flyer posted on the wall about culinary school at Westchester Community College. I had always watched my grandmother cooking when I was a little kid and thought I would like being a cook for a living.
The counselors at Open Arms helped me enroll into the 6-month class. The first month of the class, the same counselors helped me get into a single room.
As excited as I was to move in to a place of my own, it was hard. At Open Arms, it was like a family setting- there were always lots of people around. When I moved into the room I was by myself and I was very lonely. So I came back to visit Open Arms just about every day. It was almost like I never left.
I graduated from the culinary class and immediately started working as a dish washer at a local restaurant. I worked hard and eventually became the head chef there.
Even after beginning work, I still felt lonely and kept coming back to Open Arms to visit – they came to expect to see me every day – the staff even started making food requests!
I felt so alone when I moved into my own room. I didn’t know anything about budgeting so I was soon behind in my rent and had to change some of my ways to make sure that the rent was paid first. My life would have been so much easier if someone had been preparing me for independent living, checking in with me and helping me figure out some of this stuff.
Open Arms did a lot for me. They helped me enroll in culinary training and that got me jobs in a field I really love. They helped me find a place to live. They helped me to believe in myself.
When I was released from prison I was very arrogant. After being at Open Arms I was humbled and ready to become a better person. The prison didn’t make a mistake when they sent me to Open Arms instead of sending me to a half-way house… it made me realize, “everything happens for a reason!”
P.S. Lifting Up Westchester now has a program called Pathways to Self-Sufficiency which helps clients with housing, employment and life skills. I wish this program was around when I was a client because once we leave Open Arms in whatever capacity we still need help and need to feel like that family is still there with us.
2019 is the year of YOU!
Here's Why . . .
Your support has inspired us to take a deep look at the services we have historically provided our neighbors in need and challenged us to ask: "How can we better serve the hungry and homeless?"
You have helped shape our vision for 2019 . . . a vision that will help our clients become more self-sufficient and lead happier, healthier lives.
What is this vision?
To transform our existing weekday Soup Kitchen into a Social Services Hub.
Your support is helping us to expand outreach services to the 60 - 80 individuals who come to Grace's Kitchen each day. In addition to the case management we added in 2018 provided by the Charlie Bevier Outreach Team, our guests will benefit from a new Health & Wellness Program in 2019. This program will provide health screenings, educational classes and other programming designed to reduce preventable disease and decrease the number of visits to local emergency rooms.
To provide vocational training and employment opportunities.
Your generosity has allowed us to continue to offer Home Health Aide Training classes to low-income men and women and develop a more robust vocational training program (e.g., hospitality, maintenance). We will assist clients with job search, resume writing and interview skills to ensure their exit from our shelters is more successful.
To create permanent solutions to end homelessness.
Your unwavering support has allowed us to create the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program, a new initiative designed to address the multiple barriers that have impeded our shelter and emergency drop-in clients' success at independent living. Because of you, we will be able to provide ongoing case management to identify and rectify problems early to ensure housing and employment is retained for our neighbors in need.
To expand our Youth Programs to ensure brighter futures for all.
With your help, we will hire two new tutors to meet the growing demand for our services. The additional support will help us to better prepare our homeless and at-risk students for the industries and jobs of the future. Our children deserve to be the first in their families to go to college, and the last to live in poverty.
Because of YOU, 2019 will combine the best part of our past with our ambitious vision for the future to better address the needs of those who are hungry and homeless.
Cheers to YOU and 2019!
Anahaita N. Kotval
Chief Executive Officer
A Very Special Camper
You would love 10-year old Sofia if you met her. She is smart, funny and endlessly kind… in spite of a life that’s been filled with hardships.
Click here to read more about Sofia's journey to our Summer Camp.
As a fellow Westchester County resident, you know first-hand the incredible resources and opportunities our county has to offer. But did you realize that amidst so much wealth there is also widespread hunger and homelessness in our own backyard.
In Westchester County:
200,000 residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Over 1,800 men, women and children are experiencing homelessness on any given day.
1 in 10 residents are living below the federal poverty line.
You can help change these statistics by joining Lifting Up Westchester in a journey to restore hope to our neighbors in need.
“Kotval’s Korner,” a new monthly e-newsletter, hopes to open a dialogue to address our county’s challenges and to celebrate the milestones we achieve together as we work to provide permanent solutions to end homelessness.
Read below to hear from Tara, a lifelong resident of Westchester County, who never imagined that one day she would become homeless.
Anahaita N. Kotval
She never imagined that one day she would be homeless...
Tara has been a resident of Westchester County her entire life . . . She never imaged that one day she would become homeless.
Born and raised in White Plains, Tara was a junior in college when an unexpected family emergency forced her to take a leave of absence. Just as things seemed to be turning around, Tara was diagnosed with cancer. Her illness led to bills and rent continuing to pile up until one day, she found herself homeless.
Click here to read more about Tara’s journey through homelessness.