Strength From Each Other

Strength From Each Other

The large brick building reads “7030” and we know we have arrived at Rochelle and Dionte’s new apartment. A nearby grassy lot dotted with bright yellow dandelions makes the corner feel open and friendly. Trees, lush with leaves, stand tall along the street and black iron fences surround each sturdy brick home and apartment building. Brittany and Amanda, the family’s CCO case managers, are especially excited to visit everyone and see their new home.

With an enthusiastic smile Dionte meets us outside and leads us up the stairs to his family’s second-floor apartment. Rochelle meets us at the door with baby Leia in her arms. Two-year-old Dionte Junior toddles over, curious to find out who has come to visit.

Rochelle and Dionte’s apartment is bright, spacious and clean. We immediately feel the warmth of a real home and the energy and liveliness that small children bring to a space. After hugs and a quick tour, we settle down in the living room to talk.

Rochelle, an attentive and affectionate mother, cradles baby Leia in her arms and talks about her work and her dreams. As she speaks she patiently puts the pacifier back in the baby’s mouth and gently plays with Leia’s tiny curls. “I appreciate Cornerstone but we needed our own place. Being homeless was filled with ups and downs. Sometimes we felt ready to give up but then we looked at our kids and knew we couldn’t give up.”

Rochelle has just completed training to be a full-time driver for a company that transports people with physical challenges. The work helps others and also gives Rochelle the opportunity to work full-time and over-time. “It will keep us housed and on our feet.”

Her true employment ambition is to study to become an ultrasound technician. “That is the next step,” she says with a smile. She recalls each of her children’s ultrasounds with pleasure and wants to be a part of bringing that joy and excitement to other expectant families. “Sharing those moments with other families would bring me joy and I would have a skilled, well-paying job that I love.”

With a friendly and tenacious personality, Dionte is pursuing a brighter future with his family’s security at the heart of his plans. Dionte, a self-described family man, has committed to his role because as a child, he lost his own father to gun violence. “My dad died when he was nineteen. He didn’t get to see me grown up. I want to see my kids grow up.”

Dionte explains how he has had the employment door slammed in his face repeatedly due to a felony in his past. “But I kept trying. I got a job at Target because I was honest about my past offense and they hired me because they could see I was a hardworking person who didn’t lie. I work the night shift and Rochelle works the day shift; that way one of us is always with the kids.” Dionte is on a waiting list for a construction work apprenticeship and he is enrolled in acting classes at Chicago’s famous Second City Acting Program. Energized and unwilling to pin all of his hopes on one occupation, he is remaining flexible and open to new opportunities.

When asked what motivated them to make it through homelessness they both speak about their children, each other, and their family as a whole. “Homelessness can be a really depressing time but we got our strength from each other. We knew we couldn’t give up,” Rochelle explains.

It was a joy to visit one of CCO’s successful, ambitious young families. They have made it through homelessness with an even deeper commitment to creating a stable future for themselves and their family.

Rochelle had this to say about her experience with homelessness, “As dark as that tunnel may seem there is always going to be light at the end.” Dionte adds, “I want to always do better for my kids. I want to provide for them and make sure they have what they need. This is not the end. I feel we have a long way to go and I think we’re going to get there.”

They certainly will. Together.

(Names have been changed)

– By Beth Nicholls

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