Program Participant

Making progress against the odds

Shannon has loved horses since she was little, even working on horse farms as an adult. “I want to work with animals again,” she says. “They’re usually a lot more understanding than people.”

After living in other states, Shannon returned to the area to escape domestic violence. “The father of my son was mentally abusive and always put me down,” she recalls. “He hit me when I had Shawn in my belly, so I came back to this area and stayed with a friend. I was doing the best I could, but eventually things didn’t go well.”

Facing homelessness, Shannon was invited to stay at Jessie’s House in Amherst.

“Jessie’s House is the cornerstone of CHD homeless services,” says its director Theresa Nicholson. “When it opened in 1983, it was one of the first family shelters in Massachusetts.”

Today, it provides a safe place to stay while parents develop the skills needed for self-sufficiency. When families move to permanent housing, CHD continues to provide outreach services to help them stay on the path to success.

“We’ve been here for a year, which is longer than I thought,” Shannon admits. “Fortunately, Shawn loves his school and he’s made a few friends. Parents go to the bus stop in the morning and sometimes the mothers talk. I met a lady who’s been very nice to us. She’s given us rides home and even gave Shawn presents at Christmas.”

While Shannon works to secure housing and employment, caseworkers help with dental appointments, mental health therapy, and more. “My therapist is someone I can talk to and trust. It helps me cope with my anxiety,” says Shannon.

One major accomplishment for Shannon was graduating from Holyoke Community College. She’s now applying to UMass Amherst where she hopes to be accepted into the horse management program. “I took biology and veterinary medical terminology at HCC and I think I’d like to get into equine massage or physical therapy.”

Though it’s been challenging, homelessness has helped Shannon grow. “It makes you glad for what you have,” she says. “I’ve learned that everybody’s background is different and people come from different areas and have their own life experiences. You shouldn’t judge.”

Making the most of every resource offered, Shannon has big plans for her little family. “Hopefully by fall, Shawn will be back at school, I’ll be taking classes at UMass for my bachelor’s, I’ll be working with horses, and we’ll be living in an apartment. I still have a lot to do, but that’s the plan.”

Shannon - Program Participant