MINNEAPOLIS — It’s a place for fun, a place for focus, and now, the YMCA is a place for financial freedom.
“The stability I have now, honestly, it’s something that you can’t write on paper. It’s eternal, my stability is home,” Sonya Mills said.
And Mills, a devoted mother of eight, lost her home just a few months ago. She was battling stage one ovarian cancer.
“I had exhausted every time off, every leave, medical leave. And it came to a point where they really needed a supervisor in that department, so I was let go. And from there it just trickled down,” Mills said. “When you are African American and you have a lot of children and you are on the system, you are not looked at as shall I say normal, you are looked at as you’re struggling, you are on welfare, you are a nobody. You have no voice.”
But she was able to find hers. A social worker named Kendra Kuhlman at her son’s school had an idea.
“We are able to be able to provide assistance for families that are in need, provide support whether they need housing support, job support, and then also tie in that academic support for their kids and their students,” Kuhlman said.
It’s a partnership with Osseo Area Schools and the YMCA thanks to a creative grant.
“‘Homework starts with Home Northwest’ is the name of the program. That means if they are staying in their home, their kids are going to school. They don’t have to be uprooted and moved elsewhere or experience homelessness at a young, vulnerable age like that,” program director Bri Warren said.
So the program connected Mills with support specialist Sandra Walton — a bond that shall not be broken.
“She gave me a voice. She said, ‘It’s alright. You pick yourself back up, this is what we’re here for.’ And just her energy and her spirit gave me hope because I had been given revolving doors,” Mills said. “When I had spoke to Kendra and then referred to Sandra, it was just finally the door had stopped revolving. This is real help, real hope and I won’t be judged … There is help, there is real help, not only physically, emotionally and financially. There is real help. The YMCA, they are not robots, they are real people, they are not burnt out, they really listen and for the first time in my life I wasn’t shamed.”
In a matter of months, Mills has a new home and a new lease on life.
“I was so broken when I met Sandra and for her to just care about my day and my kids and my welfare, I never had that in my life,” Mills said.
“I just wanted to help her as much as I could, not knowing how much we could do, but whatever we could do, we were going to do,” Walton said. “Seeing her now and seeing the growth and how we worked together, the both of us worked together to put her in the position to where she’s at now she is now feels really good … I see somebody that has grown, that is stronger, that knows her worth and knows she’s powerful.”
Thanks to a program that exercises the true art of listening.
“Oh girl, I’m a new woman. I’m brand new,” Mills said.
The “Homework Starts with Home” program has only been in existence for less than a year and already they’ve found 20 families in the northwest metro permanent homes.