Late one night over a decade ago, I was slumping on my friend’s couch in Tucson, Arizona, worrying about how to make ends meet. I was staying with her because my dad was in jail, and my mom – well, she was everywhere.
My eyes were red and swollen from crying. A few inches away from me, I could see the ominous double pink lines on my pregnancy test. “I’ll be fine,” I thought to myself. I had faced adversity for as long as I can remember; My childhood was turbulent, and after 12 consecutive high schools in multiple states, I had long since given up on my hopes of completing my education. Even though it had been difficult with a record, I had been able to find a job that helped me cover my needs, and thanks to the help of friends, I had been able to put a roof over my head every night.
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But how was I, at 18, supposed to bring an innocent baby into this lifestyle? I knew I had to be tough and understand the situation for my son or daughter. But was it “tough” enough without family, resources, or support?
Fortunately, a friend told me about
an organization that helps single mothers like me get back on their feet.
Maggie’s Place not only provides women with housing throughout their pregnancy and years after, but also prepares them for the real world with parenting classes, job training, financial assistance and literacy training. He offers one-on-one therapy and counseling to mothers, working with families to help break cycles of trauma and abuse. There was even a thrift store, where mothers could buy inexpensive clothes for themselves and their babies.
It sounded too good to be true, but I was willing to give it a shot. So, in 2010, I showed up 10 weeks pregnant outside the door of The Magdalene House, a house in Maggie’s Place in Phoenix. I was empty-handed except for a small suitcase with my life’s belongings stowed inside.
The reception was magnificent and so far from what I imagined that I wondered if I was not at the wrong address. Rather than the seedy, dormitory-like care center I expected, the house was neat, comfortable, and welcoming.
The next few years of my involvement with Maggie’s Place would continue to defy my expectations. While living at The Magdalene House, I was assigned a resident AmeriCorps member to be my support contact, and we were able to develop a close relationship and partnership to ensure my needs were met. We worked with our resource person each week to set goals, discuss possibilities of programs I could attend, and talk about whatever I wanted. I developed close friendships with several of these women, who accompanied me throughout my pregnancy and well after the birth of my first son, Donoven.
Maggie’s Place really felt like home thanks to Monday night communal dinners and Saturday parties where mothers could share advice, laughter and treats after a long week.
The best part of the community was how each mother cared for each other’s children – like one big happy family. Even the little things, like a communal fridge with food to share, helped us feel supported and cared for.
Even after leaving The Magdalene House, Maggie’s Place was vital to my survival over the following years, which proved to be the most difficult of my life. When my third child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, I found comfort in the loving, community and therapeutic services provided by Maggie’s Place.
When I was suffering from domestic violence and social services took my 3 year old son, Donoven, and my 2 month old daughter, Aaliyah, Maggie’s Place stepped in again. It helped me get out of an abusive relationship and get counseling, get my kids back, and set boundaries for future relationships so it never happens again. My son Donoven suffered from the trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder of this separation, but through the resilience and skills I had learned at Maggie’s Place, I became a strong supporter of his upbringing and I thank God every day to see the radical change he has undergone. He is now 11 years old and last year he won an award for being the best-behaved student in his class.
The skills and professional training I received at Maggie’s Place also prepared me for a successful career. I landed a job at a recruitment company where I was promoted to warehouse manager. I was recently named company MVP and received an award for constant warehouse improvement. Not only that, but the CEO of my company came to personally thank me in recognition of my hard work. Most importantly, my hard work has paid off for my family, and this is the first year I’ve been able to take a paid vacation with my kids. I am also saving to buy my own house.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned that being “tough” is important in overcoming adversity, but that community and support are key. Women facing difficult situations like mine need strong communities to provide them with the love, resources and support to help them pick up the thread of their lives and move on. I could never have achieved the success in my career, or the stability in my family, that I now have without Maggie’s Place.
Thanks to Maggie’s Place, I am now a proud and successful mother of four beautiful children, one of whom is already in heaven. Every Tuesday, I return to Maggie’s Place to lead the same peer support groups I participated in as a resident of the home, and currently manage a caseload of over 10 mothers. I try to show them by my example that with a little resilience and a lot of love, they will succeed.
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Bridget Ibarra lives in the Phoenix area.