As the permanent director of Lucy’s Hearth, a homeless shelter for mothers and children located in Middletown, Rhode Island, Jennifer Barrera sees the successes of her program first hand every day. But there is one case of which she’s especially proud. One day, a woman walked in with her children and nowhere else to go. She was the victim of domestic abuse, had been evicted her from her home and lost her job. She had also lost all hope…until she discovered Lucy’s Hearth. Four months later, the shelter’s programs helped her get permanent housing, a new full time job, and buy a used car. Her kids were also thriving back at school. Eventually, this former resident returned to Lucy’s Hearth as a full time counselor, to help other women who found themselves in similar straits and to show them what was possible.
Now, in its thirty-first year of operation, Lucy’s Hearth is located in a former convent and serves upwards of 200 cases a year. Its four programs—emergency shelter, transition apartment, permanent apartment and aftercare—have been designed to help moms increase their self-sufficiency.
In the nine years since Jennifer joined Lucy’s Hearth, the length of stay for families in the program has decreased from 2 years to 3-6 months, while the number of mothers exiting the program and moving into permanent housing has risen to 80%. At a time when non-profits are seeing their funds slashed, it’s more important than ever to have innovative programs that achieve stellar results that give private donors confidence their money isn’t being wasted.
With 24 kids and 10 moms on site every day, there’s seldom a dull moment at the shelter and Jennifer wouldn’t have it any other way. Her background as an early childhood teacher, accomplished in psychology and sociology, makes her a perfect fit for the job. But, for Jennifer, it goes beyond that. “Growing up in Middletown, I feel a higher responsibility than just being employed. I have a responsibility to the entire community to help my neighbors in need,” she says. “This is my home, and my knowledge of the community and the people who live here goes toward helping Lucy’s Hearth become successful. I’m not just an employee but a proud member of this community.”