Stories from Solid Ground

I’m Finding Me

By Amber Marie

Incarnation’s mission partner, Solid Ground, is an award winning nonprofit whose holistic approach to helping families build strong foundations is finding success with lifting them out of homelessness and poverty. Nothing gives us a better vision of how transforming this organization has been than stories, like Amber’s story, of those who experienced this life-giving opportunity through the work of Solid Ground. As you read about Amber,  know how much your prayers and support are appreciated and of lasting benefit. Amber originally shared her story as a speech to a congregation earlier in the year.

Hello, my name is Amber Marie. I am a strong, beautiful woman with a lot of aspirations for life. I uplift myself through my faith. I know that what I once was is not what I am today. I once was lost and broken, but now I am free. I am not afraid to be me. I am so humbled to be here to share my story. If it can touch and inspire you, all of my hard work is worth it.

I want to start by saying that I’m so grateful for my parents and my aunt that practically raised me. Even though my childhood was difficult, I want you to know that I love them with all my heart.

My parents were caught up in the street life, chasing drugs and attention. I was lost as a child, I would move to different houses every month living with different family members or friends. As a young child I lived on and off with my aunt, where my cousin and I were inseparable. We felt that all we had was each other. I remember when we were about 10 years old we started a club and charged all the kids in the neighborhood to participate. We would play with the kids and whoever won would get candy for a prize.The profit is what my cousin and I used to buy our own food. We always made the best of what we had.

Growing up as a teenager I would chase love in all the wrong places, yearning for that love that had abandoned me. My aunt lived a mile away from my mom. I would go to my mother’s house every once in a while to check on her, only to see a house full of users and abusers. When I was there, I would make everyone leave, clearing the house with such anger and animosity. But in the corner of my eye I’d always see this guy. He was always there with big shiny things, all flashy and charming.  He was my enemy in disguise supplying everything underneath my eyes. He was mister smooth, coming to where I lived with his shiny things. We started being friends, and he made promises and gave me false dreams. He was six years older than me, so never did I think that we would be more than just friends. For my 18th birthday, he promised me a car and seduced me with a fairy tale dream of love, hope and prosperity. I thought he was my prince that was going to sweep me off my feet. Instead he was a nightmare that became reality.

The first time that he hit me I was hurt and angry. I left him, of course. After that he lured me back in with his manipulating ways, showing me what I thought was love. As time went on that hit turned into hitting, the disagreeing turned into arguing, the yelling turned into name calling. It progressively got worse. The bruise turned into black eyes, the marks turned into scars. All of it combined turned into fear. All along, my family was hurt and upset, they were there to defend and help me. At that stage I was so vulnerable and naive that I would believe that he could change – I would go back to him.

He started secluding me from my family and eventually friends so that I would only have him. My mentality started to change to thinking I could not survive without him. I thought I would be left alone on the streets with no home.  At that time I felt like there were no other choices. I am a person who always tries to see the good in people. I loved him and thought that he loved me. I thought that I could change him and that there was a purpose for us to be together. I would take the abuse and beatings thinking that was his way of loving me.

As time went on, he would leave to cheat on me and there was the one summer where I knew I was absolutely done.  I moved in with my sister. She helped me open my eyes to realize I could be more. She helped me get into beauty school, it was then I found my passion. I graduated with big dreams and opportunities.

But then, his manipulating ways took hold of me again, selling me a story of a family. We got back together and I got pregnant. It was also the beginning of the end for me. Things got worse as time went by and after having my daughter, I was scared out of my mind, raising a child when I could barely even survive. I stayed in the relationship with him, trying to make it work, thinking my daughter needed a daddy. After having her, baby #2 came along. The atmosphere was toxic and not good for my girls. My daughters strengthened me, giving me a new determination. I secretly started seeing some of my family again. I would sneak away to see my sister. She encouraged me and helped me build my faith to leave. We made a plan, stuck to it, and it set me free.

After a while of living with my sister, I decided to go to a battered women’s shelter. I was there for two months. I cried so many nights but they were tears of joy, I was just so happy to be free. I had a sense of “this is my life, I can do it”. I knew it was a stepping stone that God was giving me. I knew that with God’s strength I could do it. It was tough, but it was a lot easier than it had been.

When coming to my first appointment with Solid Ground, I started crying. I was so thankful. I was amazed to even be taking these steps. I had never had my own place and didn’t know all it entailed to make it happen. Rachel was so helpful throughout the whole process. After actually moving in, I was afraid to live alone, but coming home and having two doors that had to be unlocked really made me feel safer.

After moving in I found a full time job and started going to church. I had so much on my plate. I was used to having more time with my girls. I did not want to add anything else to our crazy schedule, I missed them way too much. It was then, when feeling overwhelmed, that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) classes started. I would go to DBT and say “how many more classes do we have” while crying from missing my girls so much. It was when I saw genuine affection for my life from Ms. Jazi I knew that she was onto something good. I became wiser and more mindful, being able to understand and know that all things are possible. She taught me how to make my house a home. Now this is my home and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Without this place and everything that Solid Ground does, I wouldn’t be who I am emotionally, financially, mentally and as stable as I am today. DBT was a true blessing in disguise. I now have the tools and resources to succeed. I think about the future and different types of possibilities that I never thought could be. I am so thankful.

Meeting with my advocate Mary Ann helps me clear my mind, stay focused and stay on track with things. I have learned that in order to achieve my two and five year goals that I have to achieve and stomp out my day to day goals. The budgeting class that I took here with FamilyMeans changed my life. It was a true breakthrough for me, it helped me to manage my money and to live prosperously.

In this short amount of time I have humbled myself in so many ways. I want to be a humanitarian and cosmetologist. I know that I can change the world one style at a time by making people feel beautiful and bringing that spark into their eyes. I’m building friendships and creating an empire so that one day my girls can call it their own. My next journey in building a better life for my family is studying for more business knowledge and networking with nonprofits that help with feeding children and bringing awareness of domestic violence.

When people first see me, they see a single mother with two beautiful little girls. But what they don’t see is a survivor, a warrior of strength and integrity. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend. I am a person with a voice. This voice that I have now is a voice that I once never had. As people, the number one way to survive and persevere in the world is through our voice. It is with our voice that we can proclaim our love for one another. It’s in our voice that we can discuss topics in the world, where we can make a difference. Within finding my voice, I found my freedom and my future. Thank you for being here today.

Incarnation Hosts Solid Ground Graduation

by Cindy Spellman

On February 26, 2015, Incarnation was privileged to host the graduation ceremony and dinner for Solid Ground residents who completed the dialectical behavior therapy program during the past year.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a skills-based training program that helps parents overcome trauma, improve relationships, and advocate for themselves and their families in effective ways.  All adults at Solid Ground must participate in the DBT program. The 10-12 participants meet frequently during the year in a small group setting to work through the curriculum. This program has been instrumental in helping families become successful in school and work, at home, and in the community.

The graduation ceremony is an important milestone for the graduates and their families, and the evening provides an opportunity to celebrate. Children, sisters and brothers, and other relatives, along with Solid Ground staff and board members, gather in a festive setting to cheer the graduates’ completion of the program. It was an evening of smiles and tears, hugs, and a sense of pride and accomplishment. Jazi Foreman, who runs the DBT program at SG, had individual words of accomplishment and encouragement for each graduate, making them feel special.

Incarnation volunteers worked hard to ensure a festive evening for the graduates. The tables in Grace Hall were decorated with white and blue covers and napkins, vases of flowers, and candles in hurricane lamps. Each table also held a small candle holder with a picture of a graduate for them to take home as a remembrance. We set up the stage, and the graduates walked up individually in cap and gown to receive the diploma and words of encouragement from Jazi.

As soon as the ceremony ended, we served each table bowls of chicken alfredo penne, green beans, and salad, along with rolls and butter. Dessert was slices of the cake that Solid Ground provided, accompanied by milk and coffee.

Guests remarked at how welcome they felt and able to relax and enjoy the evening. Children were polite and well-behaved, and it was fun to watch the families interacting with each other. They left in a festive mood to get ready for the next day’s work and school.

Many thanks to all the Incarnation volunteers who made the evening possible, especially our excellent cook. We look forward to hosting this event again next year as part of our ongoing relationship with Solid Ground.