Written by: Kate Snyder, Executive Assistant
About a week ago, I had the opportunity to attend a very special EECM event, the 12th annual Bridge/PennFree Alumni Celebration. Appropriately titled The Journey Continues, this annual reunion is a chance for alumni of two of our transitional housing programs to get together, share their stories, reconnect with friends they made in the programs, and eat good food.
Bridge is a one-year residential housing program for men moving from shelter living to independent housing and PennFree offers rent assistance to both men and women (including single parents). Most of the participants in both programs have histories of substance abuse and an important component to both is engagement in recovery programs.
All of EECM’s staff were invited to attend the reunion to show our support for the amazing men and women who have worked so hard to turn their lives around. I was honored to do so.
The reunion is a popular event and I think there must have been a hundred people there. Each new arrival was greeted with shouts of welcome, many hugs, and exclamations about how good everyone looked and how big their children had grown. Stories were shared and successes rejoiced over – one PennFree alumni recently moved into a better apartment in a nicer neighborhoo. Another now runs her own business.
At one point, I found myself munching on potato chips and chatting amiably with a middle-aged man named Nathaniel. He was telling me about a former acquaintance of his named Nate. Nate was bad news – they’d lived together for a number of years but ultimately parted company because Nate was trouble and did drugs. And after I few minutes, I realized that “Nate” was Nathaniel’s way of talking about his own struggles with addiction. Nate was Nathaniel’s past, the person he used to be, the self he had managed to finally leave behind, due in large part to his participation in EECM’s housing programs.
Similar themes surfaced again and again as the alumni told their tales. There were jubilant stories of celebrating another year of sobriety; stories of discovering faith in the midst of adversity and of finding light within the darkness. Each alum who spoke expressed gratitude to the EECM staff for their unwavering support, and our PennFree and Bridge staff glowed with the joy of seeing their clients and friends standing before them sober, confident, and happy.
Throughout the evening, I also felt undercurrents of sadness in the references to alumni not present. Not everyone’s story ends happily and there were painful stories, too. The friend who had fallen back into addiction. The mother unable to regain custody of her children. The young man who was back in jail after violating his parole.
But despite these moments of sorrow, the tone for the evening was one of celebration. The men and women present that evening had come a long way on their personal journeys and although there are certain to be further obstacles ahead, they feel ready to face them, one day at a time.