‘Isolated and depressed’: One woman’s life-changing story of Sojourner House
by: Caurie Putnam
So much has changed in LaRhonda Harris’ life in a year.
“I was isolated and depressed,” said Harris, 27, recalling life at this time last year. “My daughter and I were not in a good situation. Where we were living at wasn’t good at all.”
On Aug. 22, 2016, Harris had enough of living in an unhealthy environment.
With a suitcase and her two-year old daughter she showed up at Sojourner House at PathStone seeking safe shelter. She received that and more.
“They brought the light back out in me,” said Harris, about the staff at Sojourner House – a Rochester nonprofit that provides women and children who are homeless or in crisis with housing and educational programs.
“I went to weekly groups – domestic violence groups and women’s groups. They taught me how to never look back and how to be a stronger person,” she added.
Harris is now looking for a job and has her own apartment at Wilson Commencement Park (which became a PathStone Corporation agency in 2016).
“I feel happier than I ever did in my life,” she said. “My home is so beautiful; I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
Harris’ story is one of countless success stories in the 35-year history of Sojourner House and one of the reasons the nonprofit is celebrating that milestone on June 16 at their Gala for Strength.
“We have hundreds of success stories of women leaving Sojourner House with their life back on track and that is because of the committed staff and incredible support that the Rochester community has shown us,” said Seanelle (Tracy) Hawkins, EdD., executive director of Sojourner House at PathStone and Wilson Commencement Park. “The gala is our opportunity to thank our supporters and celebrate our successes.”
The gala is also a way to close a gap that remains in Sojourner House’s budget after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a $227,000 cut to Sojourner House and $142,000 cut to Wilson Commencement Park in the spring of 2016.
“It looked like doom and gloom for Sojourner House,” said Hawkins, about when the cuts first happened. “We were devastated.”
Hawkins and the board of directors created a program redesign taskforce that streamlined services among PathStone agencies and acquired significant donations by the community and the Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation. All that remains, now, is a $35,000 gap Hawkins hopes the gala will close.
“We wrote letters to the community and checks poured in,” Hawkins said. “It was powerful for us to learn just how much we mean to the community.”
Hawkins compared the community support over the past year to the support the organization received in the late 1980s when (on Aug. 25, 1987) the interior of Sojourner House’s original location on East Main Street was destroyed by a resident’s former abusive partner in an arson attack.
In 1989, Sojourner House officially reopened its doors in the former convent of St. Monica’s Church on Millbank St. (where it remains today).
“The community rallied around us then and three decades later the community has come back again to help celebrate Sojourner House,” Hawkins said. “Thirty years later the community recognizes the value Sojourner House brings to the community. We’re such a beacon of hope for women and children in need.”