**The following is based on my visit to Florence House in which I met with three of its residents who told me their stories. They explained what led them to homelessness, and what led them finally to Florence House. Please note that many of the residents in Florence House have reason to have their identity protected, and as such they will not be photographed, their full names will not be given, and no physical descriptions will be used.**
Every December Avesta’s board of directors holds a holiday buffet breakfast at a local restaurant for their final meeting of the year. However in 2011, Neal Allen, who chairs the board, had a very good idea. “I simply suggested to Lori (Doustou, Avesta’s director of administration) that we hold the breakfast for the residents in one of the properties that we developed,” he recalls. “After that Lori took care of everything.” The board and staff decided to serve the breakfast at Florence house, a property that was finished in April 2010 and is run by Preble Street Shelter. “Without any hesitation, board and staff of Avesta embraced the opportunity,” said Lori. Early one morning, they arrived and worked with the kitchen staff to prepare a meal and meet the people they work to provide housing for, many of whom they had never met before. Neal Allen and his board were about to discover how much his simple suggestion would mean to everyone involved.
“There was eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, juice, hash browns, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and even eggnog” Donna A. remembers. “Normally we have a cold breakfast with cereal and yogurt, which is nice, but this made us feel really special.”
“I went home for Thanksgiving and I’m not ever going back there again,” explains Jo-Ann. “My family was high and fighting about drugs the whole time, and I don’t do drugs unless they’re prescribed to me.” By the end of her stay with her family, Jo-Ann had been verbally abused, embarrassed and humiliated when a family member threw the Thanksgiving turkey at her head. She decided to stay at Florence House for Christmas. “That morning, the women were so respectful of the (volunteers serving breakfast). There were about 60 women who ate, and we all had Christmas table-cloths, place mats, and flowers at the center of every table. It made me feel like I was eating with a real family, and that it was my real family.” Jo-Ann smiles, but buries her face into her hands as she begins to cry. Her friends pass her a box of tissues.
Donna G., finishes Jo-Ann’s thought. “We were treated like queens. No one was looking down on us, we were equals.”
“I made a card. No one asked me to, I just wanted to show them how much this meant to us. I walked around to each girl and had them sign it. I gave it to (Lori and Dana Totman). They had a shocked look on their face,” remembers Donna A.
“It was (that moment) we knew we had made a difference,” says Lori who acknowledges that the women’s gracious thanks was equally rewarding and emotional for both parties.
“Hopefully we can continue to do more events like this in the future,” reflects Neal Allen. “This is a good example of Avesta at its very best, connecting with the people we serve.”