Moving to Akron was a big adjustment for Kizzy Woodson. The city doesn’t have nearly the amount of concerts, restaurants or museums that Atlanta offers to its residents. But it does offer something that Kizzy couldn’t find in Atlanta — a home.
Woodson, homeless off and on for five years due to job situations, said this changed when she discovered H.M. Life Opportunities Services six months ago.
“I was in a cab, and the driver and I got to talking,” Woodson said. “He mentioned his girlfriend was from Akron so I looked into it and discovered H.M. Life.”
H.M. Life Opportunities Services is under Humility of Mary Housing, Inc., started in 1987 by the Sisters of Humility. The Sisters created three housing organizations, but it now includes 10 organizations covering a five-county region. H.M. Life focuses mostly in the Akron area. The organization was recently awarded a $20,000 grant from Akron Community Foundation to provide services to children transitioning from homelessness.
According to the group’s website, H.M. Life Opportunity Services serves families trapped in the cycle of homelessness in the Akron area. By providing transitional housing programs, families are able to set goals to gain independence, stability and reconnect with the community.
Most of these families are single parent families and most include single moms; although there are fathers who have entered the program. Participants receive their housing for two years. During this time, they work closely with a case manager to create goals and determine a plan of action. These goals can include ideas such as cutting down debt, entering college and/or obtaining steady employment.
And 100 percent of the women completing this program have left with permanent housing and employment.
“Being in our program is by no means a cakewalk,” said Kandice Lacy, case manager and Transitional Assistance and Guidance (TAG) Coordinator, at H.M. Life. “Clients need to be really serious about getting their life back in order.”
Woodson was serious. Packing up her three children, leaving her extended family and moving to Akron, Woodson wanted a change. They stayed at the ACCESS shelter while working with a case manager to get her life in order in her new city.
“The shelter had a washing machine and dryer. They don’t do things like that in Atlanta,” Woodson said.
Woodson was given a fully furnished apartment, which is the norm at H.M. Life, and lessons on budgeting and bringing down debt. The agency also offers classes that discuss parenting skills, nutrition, time management and other various topics.
Women who “graduated” from the transitional program as well as women who were re-housed from shelters can continue with their case management and programs, so they won’t slip back into homelessness.
“We want to help our clients succeed. By the time they get to us, they have been told no at every turn, and we try to be the exception to the word,” Lacy said.
But H.M. Life doesn’t just work with the mothers. Helping the youth is extremely important to the agency and there are youth coordinators to aid the children’s development. More than 60 children are in the youth program ranging from newborn to age 18.
Woodson’s oldest and only daughter Kaché, 12, is doing much better in school and receiving a significantly better education than back in her Atlanta.
“My daughter had an F in math back in math back in Atlanta,” Woodson said. “Tell her what grade you have now in math.” “An A,” Kaché said matter-of-factly.
Kaché is involved with softball and hopes to become a singer and actress one day. She helps around the H.M. Life office and is adjusting to living in Akron. She said she misses her grandmother, but recognizes that agency is helping their family.
“I have my own bed, now. My mom has made friends. And Christmas was amazing,” said Kaché, her eyes lighting up. “They brought in Santa and we got so many gifts. I’ve never had so many gifts. People are so nice here”
Woodson is on track to enroll in school for education and has full-time employment. Her family also plans on continuing to give back to H.M. Life when they are finished with the program. Lacy said most families come back to volunteer, but individuals from the community are encouraged to help out.
Currently their needs include volunteers to help with children at group nights. But opportunities range from donating and collecting items to driving families to special events.
“H.M. Life gives you hope to dream bigger, and they stand behind you,” Woodson said.
For more information about H.M. Life Opportuntiies Services and Humility of Mary Housing, Inc., visit hmhousing.org.