*Anna’s Home is a supportive housing program for women and their children, run by Restorative Partners. If funds raised for the Hear Our Vote: Voice of Resistance Rally exceed expenses, Women’s March SLO will make a donation to Anna’s Home.
Tucked away in the hills of Paso Robles sits Anna’s Home. Situated in a quiet neighborhood with manicured lawns, this 4,000 sq. foot house was donated to Restorative Partners with a specific goal in mind – helping women and their children. And that is exactly what Anna’s Home offers today, a safe environment for mothers and their children whose lives have been upended by addiction. During their six-month stay, mothers receive assistance with securing employment, managing job and parenting, developing financial literacy and life skills, and acquiring permanent housing so they can become self sufficient.
When we walk in on a Saturday afternoon in December, we are welcomed by an excited 6-year-old girl in a queen-of-hearts princess dress. “I told her to put on something nice for visitors,” her mom tells us with a chuckle.
While each woman’s story is different, many have a similar narrative – a generational trauma caused by turbulent childhood, a path to addiction, often combined with domestic violence, followed by run-ins with the law, and in the end, their children removed and placed into foster care.
Sierra Fleming, 24, started drinking and abusing drugs at a young age. She was first arrested as a 15-year-old, later running away from group homes and violating her probation. She was with her partner for only a short period of time when she got pregnant. Although the relationship was volatile, she found it difficult to separate from the father of her child. Eventually, her daughter was taken away from her. Sierra lost everything she had – her house, her car, and her child, and still struggled to get clean. It was in one of the programs run by Restorative Partners where she met her mentor. “My biggest fear,” she told her mentor, “is that I won’t be able to repair the relationship with my daughter.” In a twist of fate, her mentor (who wishes to remain anonymous) was the same person who later donated the house Anna’s Home occupies to Restorative Partners. Sierra got her 5-year-old daughter Kailee back in August, after two years of separation. Utilizing the tools she is being given at Anna’s Home, she is working hard on rebuilding the bond between them. She has a job and attends regular meetings that help her stay focused on her goals for the future.
Another resident, a 26 years old mother of two who did not want her name used, is about to complete her stay at Anna’s Home and move into her own housing. “This is the first time in my children’s lives that they see me sober. I’ve been clean for 1 year and 4 months. I’ve learned to ask for help. When my children were taken away, I was told I would never see them again. I completed every program I was required to, and learned to advocate for myself. I got my children back 6 months later. I want to become a lawyer, so that I can help other women who find themselves in a similar situation.”
Anna’s Home opened in spring of 2017. Julia Collins, the housing coordinator, says the idea came after Sister Theresa Harpin met with Sandy Wortley who runs Bryan’s House, a recovery center for substance-addicted pregnant and parenting women. “What was needed was an extension of that program, a safe place for women and their children where they could bond again with their children and learn responsibility and accountability,” said Collins. Clients participate in morning meditation, mentoring, case management, nightly family style dinners and 12 step meetings. Childcare is available to them so they can go to work and attain independence. Collins considers the women to be her family members. “I want to see them succeed.”
The house has five bedrooms. Each of the rooms was donated and decorated by a family who lost a child, with a meaningful touch – the child’s favorite color, a toy, a drawing or a poem.
Restorative Partners are currently planning to add another room to the house and build a playground in the backyard. Three little girls run out as the sun sets, showing us where the playground will be one day. “Can we have it now?” the little girl in a queen-of-hearts dress asks, jumping up and down with the typical enthusiasm and impatience of a six-year-old. She has been through a lot in her short life, and Anna’s Home offers a hope for her, her sister and their mother – by providing not just a safe place to be, but by helping them build the frame of their future, one stepping stone at a time.
***Written by Andrea Chmelik