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Power Up: A Celebration

On an autumn afternoon at Busboys & Poets downtown, a dozen formerly homeless parents in Friendship Place’s Power Up program gathered for a luncheon to mark the progress they have made on the path toward stability and independence. With games, speeches, hugs and rounds of applause, the get-together was a chance for them all to share their stories and celebrate how far they and their families have come.

Power Up is project of Friendship Place’s Neighbors First Families program, which helps families rebuild their lives after leaving homelessness for housing. With the security of a roof over their heads, the parents can turn their attention to next steps, including pursuing education or vocational training. Power Up participants define their own goals and make clear plans for achieving them, whether that might be completing a degree or a GED program, getting a commercial driver’s license or a certification to work in the food industry or health care.

Power Up helps families overcome hurdles standing between them and their dreams. Those hurdles can be as specific as a laptop for going back to school; as practical as a Metro card to get to and from campus; as personal as a caring case manager standing by with encouragement, advice and praise for hard work.

And the next steps these participants have taken are impressive.

[Photo: Mary]

“Friendship Place helped me move from a domestic violence shelter into a better place to live,” said Mary, mother of three. “Power Up helped me and my children go further. Today my son is going to Howard University and my daughter is at Georgia State. And I’m back in school studying home health care. Power Up helped with school supplies, registration fees, transportation. They helped with everything.”

[Photo: Ericka]

Ericka is aiming for a job in health care. “One of the major things I needed was a laptop so I could take classes online, complete my assignments and turn them in on time,” she said. “I’m a single mom with three kids. There’s no way I could afford that on my own. Now I’m studying nursing administration so I can work in a doctor’s front office.”

[Photo: Sebrena] 

Sebrena had two milestones to celebrate: Her daughter, Tallya, graduated this spring as valedictorian at DC’s H.D. Woodson High School and is now on full scholarship at Concord University in West Virginia. And Sebrena herself is back in school, working toward a bachelor’s degree in gerontology at UMUC. “Miss Charlene [Friendship Place case manager] is my rock. She helped me find a place, paid our security deposit, helped us move out of the shelter, brought us cleaning products. She helped us all get our lives back. It’s a wonderful organization. I tell everybody about Friendship Place.”

[Photo: Tineisha] 

“I just got my high school diploma in July and now I’m in an apprentice program through the city to become an electrician,” said Tineisha, mother of two. “They gave us an aptitude test and out of 60 people I got the highest score! My Friendship Place case manager helped with school supplies, helped me get my birth certificate, and connected me with a lot of resources I didn’t know about. And she stayed on me, asking ‘What have I done this week? What do I need to do next week?’ After a while I’m just checking things off and thinking, oh my God—I got that done.”

After each participant shared her story and was honored with a certificate of achievement, Friendship Place Project Coordinator Charlene Chigbue stood at the front of the room to read a poem:

“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, When the road you’re trudging seems uphill, When your funds are low and the debt is high, You want to smile, but you have to sigh. When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.”

The room burst into laughter and applause, with congratulations all around.

Power Up is made possible by a grant from the Fund for Children, Youth, and Families of the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

Story written by Belle Elving, Friendship Place Volunteer

Pro bono photography by Brooke Saias

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