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“I’m back in the league!”—a profile in patience and perseverance
Toward the end of summer, Way Finders caught up with Shlaunia Howard, who works as a homemaker with Guardian Angels Senior Services. And, as any parent can relate to, this mother of four was making the most of her time—and nimbly and patiently fielded our questions while cruising the aisles of Walmart, back-to-school shopping for her children.
A native of western Massachusetts, Shlaunia has navigated recent housing challenges with the same patience and point of focus: the wellbeing of her children. “Taking care of my kids is my first priority in life, and I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure they’re good.”
Shlaunia’s family moved into a Way Finders Residential Resource Center in August 2020, after a living situation with a relative didn’t work out. “We had moved in with my aunt. She’s elderly and couldn’t handle the kids being there and stuff. We were in one room. So, from there, I called DTA to see if I could get into shelter, and they worked with us.”
DTA, or the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, helped Shlaunia connect with Way Finders. While living in a Residential Resource Center, they shared living space with another family, which Shlaunia admits was hard. And her daughters—ages 2, 6, and 8—had a lot to say. (Her 14-year-old son lives with his father.)
“When we went into the shelter, and then stayed for a little while, they were like, ‘Mommy, we need our own place!’” Shlaunia recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, mommy is trying. You got to give mommy some time.’”
It was time well spent. She began working closely with Way Finders Case Manager Alison Rodriguez, who shared resources on housing options and lent expertise on budgeting and saving money.
“Which was great, because I needed that!” says Shlaunia. “Each month we would meet and add up all my finances—gas, car insurance, groceries, personal hygiene—and come up with a solution for how to save the money.”
Her income increased, too, when in December 2020 she began her job with Guardian Angels, which she found with help from Job Developer Carmela Albano with Way Finders Employment Support Services.
“Carmela is really, really good. She’s a motivator! She texts me, ‘How’s work?’ She talks with me almost every week about other job opportunities, in case I ever want to look for another one,” says Shlaunia. “And when I got my job, she supported me. She got me scrub outfits, a pair of shoes, and a gas card.”
Carmela also helped Shlaunia secure vouchers for reliable day care—the linchpin to her ability to work and get back on her feet. While her youngest is in daycare, her two older daughters have been attending a Tae Kwon Do childcare program for more than a year, which included a summer camp program.
“It is a blessing,” says Shlaunia. “Because I need to go to work and do what I need to do.”
Such resolve has led to good things. In July 2021, Shlaunia’s family moved into their own unit in Springfield. She is using HomeBASE funds—awarded by the state to help families successfully move on from emergency shelter assistance—toward rent every month, which is allowing her to save money for the future.
As Shlaunia reflects on her time living in a Residential Resource Center, she does so with pride. “I did very well there. I was able to get my children in there and get them out successfully, you know? That was my goal. But it did take some time, I had to have patience to move on to the next step.”
With that next step comes confidence.
“I think about it like, ‘I’m back in the league!” I have my own place again, after about four years, which feels great,” says Shlaunia, who aspires to obtain her home health-aid license and definitely plans to stay in healthcare.
And what did her girls have to say about the move? “They were just very happy, to have their own personal privacy. They love being home and having their own room. Being at home, that is the most exciting thing to me, too. We all look forward to coming home.”
Growth, pride, confidence, happiness. These are intangible—yet transformational—takeaways from Shlaunia’s experience with Way Finders.
“Way Finders is a great program, especially for low-income women like me,” Shlaunia says. “They really help, as long as you help yourself. You’ve got to put the work in.”