Meet Lakeyshia…and Help Us Close The Gap

Dear Friend,

I’ve had a lot of special moments this year, but April 19th stands out.

Yes I had a refreshing vacation with my extended family in Virginia. An inspiring urban ministry conference in Minneapolis. Sprinkles of insights and observations from my boys throughout the year. I’ve watched the rehab of the Diener House move toward completion.

Yet April 19th still stands out.

That is the day I met Lakeyshia.

BHA had been invited to share our Bagwashi Circle mentoring program with a group of employees at Nationwide Insurance. Cyndi Tolsma, a member of our Board of Directors who recruits and trains our mentors, recently retired as Vice-President of Nationwide. So she arranged an info session with her former co-workers.

The presentation went well, and six people signed up to join our Bagwashi Circles initiative! And yet, the day got even better.

As others left the room, one woman remained. She made her way to the front and introduced herself to me: “Hi, my name is Lakeyshia. I went through your program 10 or 12 years ago. It really helped me at a critical time in my life. I wanted to say thanks.”

I was almost speechless; I was so grateful that she introduced herself. And thankful to God that our paths crossed.

This chance meeting has led to a deepening relationship between BHA and Lakeyshia and her church. In fact, Lakeyshia agreed to be a featured speaker at our Annual Celebration event on October 4th.

At the event, Lakeyshia shared her story:

I grew up in a home with a single mother. My mom was raising me and my sister and our brothers all by herself. She was working 2 or 3 jobs at a time so she wasn’t home very often. Eventually I ended up hanging out and doing some things I probably shouldn’t have been doing, which resulted in me being pregnant at age 16. I had my first son when I was in eleventh grade. When my son was three months old, my mom and I were fighting, and I had to leave home. I ended up staying in a house with no water and electricity, living with my son’s father, but things didn’t work out. He literally told me he wasn’t ready to be a father. So I was alone with my son and ready to give up on life itself. We were homeless.

I was attending Harrisburg High School, and I ended up going to a meeting through their teen parenting program. At that meeting someone from Delta Housing shared about the program they ran with BHA at that time. They helped me get my own apartment on Hummel Street. With the help of my mentor and case worker, I was able to graduate from high school and was accepted to three colleges. I ended up going to Shippensburg University in 2001.

I met my now husband prior to leaving for college, and he helped to support my son and I, even though it wasn’t his child. He helped me get through some tough times. I got a job offer from Nationwide prior to graduation so I had a job waiting for me. I’ve been working there ever since.

At Nationwide I’m an underwriter, evaluating policies and working on profitability issues. I also attend Living Water Community Church in Harrisburg. At the beginning of this year I was asked to head up our housing ministry where we help families like BHA serves with housing. We help them get back on their feet. This is why I went to BHA’s presentation at Nationwide, to see if we could partner together.

You can see why meeting Lakeyshia has been such an encouragement to everyone at BHA. Not only has she improved her quality of life for herself and her family, but she’s now reaching out to others with similar stories.

And here the story gets even better.

A few weeks later Crystal Baxter, BHA’s Program Director, and I met with Lakeyshia and her senior pastor at Living Water, Mike Leonzo. I asked Mike to share a little about the history of the church and their vision for community outreach. My excitement grew as he shared, because their priorities were so similar to ours at BHA.

At one point Pastor Mike talked about revamping several outreach ministries after reading a book by Bob Lupton. Mike had no idea Bob was our 2011 banquet speaker and our staff was currently reading the same book (Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry To The Poor by Bob Lupton, Regal Books, 2007). And the conversation continued to a discussion of specific collaborations we might consider between their congregation and our programs. It felt like a God-ordained moment.

All because of Lakeyshia.

Because of her perseverance as a young mother.

Because of the loving guidance shared by the BHA and Delta family twelve years ago.

Because Lakeyshia stepped forward within a growing church in suburban Harrisburg to help reach out to other hurting families with the love of Jesus.

Episcopal Bishop Nathan Baxter (right) inspired us at our Annual Celebration, reminding us that we are called to be God’s ambassadors of hope to a hurting world.

Since 1989, that has been our passion on Hummel Street.

Supporters from around the region have joined in making the homes on Hummel Street a hub of hope in a hurting neighborhood.

That hope is contagious. It was shared with Lakeyshia a dozen years ago and has since inspired her family, her church, her workplace, and—having come full circle—is re-inspiring our staff and participants on Hummel Street.

We need that reminder and inspiration, because our work is not yet done.

In recent years, our Board has been called to expand our hope building efforts through the 20/20 Vision Campaign:

  • We’ve grown our Transitions Program and launched the Fast Track and Next Steps housing programs.
  • We’re launching the Side-By-Side housing program for disabled homeless individuals and families this fall.
  • We’ve strengthened our investment on Hummel Street with a laundry facility, a maintenance barn, improved classroom/meeting room space, and new outdoor security system and lighting.
  • We’ll soon finish the rehabilitation of the Diener House, for two more families in our Transitions program.
  • We’ve expanded our Bagwashi Circle adult mentoring program, and launched our Lighthouse Youth Program.
  • We’ll soon be launching new financial literacy classes and a job training program in partnership with several local churches, including Lakeyshia’s!

The past two and a half years have been fruitful as we fulfill this vision to serve more families, complete the restoration of our city block, and invest in the next generation. And by April 19th of next year, I have faith that we’ll have more hope-inspiring encounters.

Now we are entering the home stretch of the 20/20 Vision, and your support is vital.

Individuals, churches, businesses and other funders have rallied around the 20/20 Vision. With less than a year to go, we have raised $1.8 million of our $2.25 million goal.

We are 80% of the way toward our goal with just $450,000 left to raise!

And we need your help to:

  • Finish the Diener House and locate additional housing for program growth;
  • Launch the new job training and financial literacy classes;
  • Continue all the new and expanded programs to impact more homeless women and children than ever before!

Can you be an ambassador of hope on Hummel Street?

With $450,000 yet to raise to reach our campaign goal, a gift of $4,500 would bring us 1% nearer to closing the gap. Obviously, your ability may vary, and gifts of $45, $450, $45,000 or other amounts are welcome. Each and every gift will be vital for us to close the gap and bring hope to many more women like Lakeyshia.

Thank you for your on-going prayers, encouragements, and financial support. We are so blessed to have an extended family of supporters like you cheering on the families at Hummel Street.

Grace and peace,
Steve Schwartz
Executive Director

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