Emma's Place: Hope and Home for Families
One Family's Story
Ms. Hawa Kamara, originally from Liberia, was breathless with relief and joy. She had just received a phone call from a judicial official informing her that she is entitled to stay in the United States with her three young children, who are US citizens.
The Kamaras live in one of 13 townhouse-style homes of Emma's Place in Maplewood, Minnesota, for homeless, single parents with three or more children. Victories like this one for the Kamara family make the homes in Emma's Place vibrate with hope.
Emma's Place is one of 103 National Mission Institutions supported in part by the Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. It is an offshoot of Emma Norton Services in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"Oh my God, I feel so happy, so grateful, so thankful!" Ms. Kamara said, hugging and thanking the staff of Emma's Place. Laughing and wiping away tears, she added, "It's because of the wonderful people here." Ms. Kamara and her family have lived at Emma's Place since May 2007.
Sixty-one children and thirteen adults live in the homes, usually for more than a year. They receive affordable housing and support services, such as after-school care and legal advocacy.
"It's a home that I never had," Ms. Kamara said. "It's beautiful." She proudly opens her front door to visitors, showing off the silk flowers on the kitchen table, family photos on the counter, and the brightly-furnished children's rooms.
Having safe and secure housing has allowed Ms. Kamara and her three children to turn their attention toward their education. The elementary school bus stops in front of Emma's Place each morning. Ms. Kamara has recently obtained her GED (General Equivalency Diploma) while living at Emma's Place.
"For the first time, I'm thinking that I'll go to college." She is not alone--in January 2009, seven women from Emma's Place will be enrolled in local colleges.
A Covenant of Sharing
The children of Emma's Place do not just receive help but also give to the community. Last fall seven children helped make 1,080 meals--enough to feed three kids for an entire year--in partnership with Feed My Hungry Children.
Ms. Gwen Ellis, youth program coordinator, organized the preparation of the meals. "[Emma's Place kids] learn they are not the poorest of the poor," she said. "We need people, and they need us."
The event was one product of a covenant created by the staff and residents that affirms reciprocity in the Emma's Place community. It shifts the focus away from a strict rules-based paradigm to one of mutual respect and sharing.
"We're building the relationships between staff and residents," said Sharri Adams, program director. "I am my brother's and my sister's keeper. I am responsible. In the spirit of love and respect for everyone involved, the residents are hungry for the blending of relationships."
The families come with various situations, backgrounds, and parenting styles. Although coexistence can sometimes be difficult, "we're all in it together," Ms. Adams said. "It's all about love, respect, pride in the community."