The day that Jackie found out she was pregnant, her world came into focus. She was 21, homeless, and seeing a man who was being tormented by his own demons. Jackie had seen her own recreational drug use begin to spiral out of control, shifting from casual to frequent, finally leading to intravenous use — anything to escape reality. As she described, “I was using anything I could get my hands on.” As drugs and the party scene took a front seat in her life, everything else — including a once strong and unshakeable relationship with her mother and sister — moved further into the rearview.
Before finding out she was pregnant she was, “Defeated. I had nothing to live for.” But her pregnancy was like a light switch in her brain. Jackie realized that she didn’t want a life of drug use and uncertainty for her baby, and that she wanted a relationship with her family. Growing up in a home where her father was an addict who was in and out of incarceration,
she knew that she had to cut all ties to her previous life, her network of friends, and get help. The former math-loving, fun-loving Jackie, who wanted to grow up and work with animals, had lost her way, but now had a newfound purpose. A spark of determination ignited, pushing her to find her way back.
In the midst of these dark times, her mother reached out to her and told her about Lydia Place. Jackie was referred to the Opportunity Council where she was put on a waiting list for housing and supportive services. She waited eight months for an opening in a housing program, but she didn’t wait to start her path to sobriety. Almost immediately she quit using drugs, cut ties with most of the people who were using with her, and began attending Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. Her main objective was to do anything she could for her baby, whose presence was a growing reminder each day of love and possibility. As she began the uphill climb to recovery, Jackie’s baby was born, and, at nearly the same time, she received a call offering her a space at Lydia Place. In May of 2012, Jackie and baby Skylar moved into the Lydia Place Transitional Housing Program.
Lydia Place offered Jackie the space and safety to raise her child in a supportive atmosphere alongside other mothers, many of whom were struggling with the same issues as Jackie. The eight families often cooked together, building support and community. Jackie said, “It was good meeting new people, and having people that were not using around me who I could relate to. I was so glad to have group housing before I moved out on my own.” In the Life Skills classes offered weekly at Lydia Place, Jackie learned about things such as gardening, housing opportunities, and financial literacy. “I even learned about how to fix a bicycle!” She also attended weekly parenting classes and was committed to being as good a parent as possible to her child. A poster that hangs in the bedroom of her own home today is a reminder of how hard she has worked, and what she has learned and accomplished as a parent. It includes affirmations such as, “You are a very natural nurturing mother to your son,” and, “It is so great watching you with Skylar. You are a great mom.” They are affirmations her Lydia Place housemates wrote about her when she moved out, a long-standing Lydia Place tradition.
It only took Jackie three months to be approved for a housing voucher with Bellingham Housing Authority. Her case manager, Maryann, recalled watching Jackie come into her own in the program, both in obtaining her housing and in her recovery; she met any barriers head-on. Every week she achieved the goals she set out for herself and she was always impressed at how hard Jackie worked in the program. “She was so organized and determined to get to the next step. She really inspired the other mothers and created a sense of community within the group.” Jackie remembers that time as well. “It was really exciting. I actually found out I got in the day before my birthday. It was a great opportunity. I had offers from two locations, and with one I could move in right away.”
Jackie moved into her own apartment at Meadow Wood with Skylar in October of 2012. She arrived with a suitcase of clothes, Skylar’s toys and books, and a few personal items she had received from Lydia Place supporters and its thrift store, Wise Buys. She also arrived with a personal piece of artwork from her case manager, to inspire her and bring warmth and beauty in her new home. As she tells it, these past two years in the Lydia Place Supportive Services Program have been dedicated to focusing on Skylar. “I really just got to be there for him. It was so nice to have this time with him.” Because of how hard she has worked and how far she has come, Jackie’s mother now allows her to visit her younger sister, and she has reconnected with her father. She continued to meet monthly with her Lydia Place case manager, a time where she can talk about her life and explore her options for the future. She connected with educational opportunities that re-kindled her love of math and science and enrolled at Bellingham Technical College’s Geomatic Engineering Technology Program.
In early 2015, Jackie graduated from the Supportive Services Program and moved into an apartment that she found herself, reviewing and signing the lease all on her own. She got a job at a local restaurant, is in the last year of her surveying courses, and is excited to begin her job search next spring. She is undaunted by the prospect of a male-dominated field and is inspired by the challenging nature of the work.
When we talk about her hopes and dreams for herself and her son, Jackie was quick to say, “I want to buy a home. Skylar really wants a dog and in the apartment we can’t have one. I really want to give that to him. He loves animals.” She also said, “I hope he goes to college one day. I tell him that I go to school and he says, ‘I want to go to college with Mommy.’ I want him to say, ‘Mommy went to college, so I can go too.’” Her relationship with her mother is now built on trust. She is a role model for her younger sister. Jackie said, “I’m so happy I can be a part of my family’s lives again.”
Jackie is a model client and community member. Even after graduating from both Lydia Place housing programs and moving out on her own, Jackie contacted her case manager to inquire about parenting support as Skylar moves into preschool age. She is passionate about providing Skylar with the tools and skills to begin kindergarten ready to learn. She now works with Lydia Place’s Family Intervention Specialist, Katie Goger, in the Parents as Teachers Program. Every week Katie meets Jackie in her home and brings new methods of play, new books to read, and proven strategies for compassionate discipline. Jackie said, “I’m so grateful for Katie; she really has shown me and Skylar how to communicate in a way we both can relate to and I like the one-on-one personal help. My goal is to try to be the best parent I can be for Skylar and all the tools are helping me with that.”
The future looks bright for Jackie and Skylar, and for the hundreds of families currently and formerly enrolled in Lydia Place housing and housing case management programs. For more information, check out their website at lydiaplace.org.