Linda Douglas expressed gratitude for numerous gifts during New Phoenix Assistance Center’s Thanksgiving dinner at the CYC-Rebecca K. Crown Center Friday night.
“I’m thankful for my sons, my health and for God for waking us every morning with a roof over our heads,” said Douglas, whose husband of more than 22 years died in a car accident in 1999.
Douglas and her twin sons were homeless for more than two years and living in a shelter before connecting with New Phoenix and finding stable housing.
“That was real hard for my boys,” said Douglas, who attended the event with her son Brandon Smith, 16, a sophomore at South Shore High School. She added that the housing has provided positive structure for her sons.
Close to 80 people, including many children, joined Douglas and Smith at the early holiday celebration.
It was a bountiful meal, with aluminum trays filled with turkey, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, jerk chicken, rice and beans and more. A separate table housed the desserts, which included traditional Thanksgiving fare like pumpkin pie.
Charles Offord, 32, made two large pans of macaroni and cheese. “It’s wonderful because we all have to participate and cook,” said Offord, 32, a member of the transient living program who attended the event with his wife Shirley.
Inita Powell, director of case management for New Phoenix, said the meal pot luck’s nature enhanced its communal feeling, adding that the clients’ recipes will eventually be compiled in a book, Powell said. She explained that the dinner, one of a monthly set of “respite” events, was one component of the agency’s approach to working with its more than 100 clients.
“We provide holistic case management,” said Powell, who has worked at New Phoenix for more than eight years. “We replicate a family style.” The organization’s handbook is an example of the agency’s philosophy, Powell said. Twenty seven pages long, it contains the agency’s mission statement, an explanation of the agency’s rules and a listing of service providers. New Phoenix clients are required to attend bi-monthly support meetings, according to Powell.
Since its inception in 1990, New Phoenix has expanded from its initial focus on housing and support services for women and children with the HIV virus to six different programs. These programs include outreach to homeless or precariously housed children, according to Gwendolyn Mastin, president and chief executive officer.
Nikko Linklater, 23, is a former New Phoenix client who now works as peer counselor for the agency’s Reform Education Advocacy and Linkage, or REAL, program.
“I’m not blessed to have financial support from my family,” said Linklater, a social work student at St. Augustine College who attended a different school nearly every year of her childhood. Grateful to be in her own apartment, she explained that this housing stability “comes with a lot of responsibilities.” Having spent several years “couch-surfing,” Linklater understands what area youth ages 12 years old to 18 years old in similar situations are experiencing.
Her efforts are sorely needed, according to Sherman Smith, outreach coordinator for the REAL program. He estimated that 65 percent, or close to two out of every three, teenagers in South Shore face housing difficulties.
“Even though they look on the surface like they are fine, they’re in homeless or precariously housed situations,” said Smith, a 3-year New Phoenix employee. He added that during this time of the year he and the other outreach workers circulate in the neighborhood from about 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.-around the time school gets out for the day.
New Phoenix also provides services for people infected with the HIV virus, and one former client and current employee at the dinner said the virus has been a positive force in her life.
“Having the virus helps me stay straight,” said Sheila, 40, who did not want to give her last name. “It’s like a blessing.”
A former drug addict, she first learned of her condition in April 1998. Although the news made her want to leave the drug treatment facility in which she was staying, she remained so that she could get better and take care of her son.
“That was my job: to be a parent,” said Sheila, a peer counselor at New Phoenix who has been involved with the organization for close to seven years. A basketball player and wrestler while at William J. Bogan Computer Technical High School, her son is a sophomore at Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee.
Sheila explained that the changes in her life go beyond her physical health.
“Not that I feel so good or healthy,” Sheila said. “It’s spiritual.” She added that holiday events like the dinner are helpful, “especially for people who don’t have family [nearby].”
The next holiday celebration will be held at the Crown Center on Friday, Dec. 17, Mastin said, and will include an awards ceremony for the clients and a fashion show.
Interested people can find information about New Phoenix Assistance Center by calling the agency during business hours at 773-978-6322 or 773 734-7380.