Helaina N. Hovitz
When Jackie was arrested in 2007, her six-year-old daughter Lynette cried every day, refused to eat and thought she would never see her mother again. Her aunt began bringing her for visits to Riker’s Island once a week, and to celebrate Mother’s Day every year —until now.
Thanks to the NYC Rescue Mission, located at 90 Lafayette Street, Jackie and 600 other mothers and children from shelters citywide were able celebrate the day with a hearty meal, live jazz, and prizes. For nine consecutive years, the mission has provided transportation for women and children in need, hoping to make the Saturday before Mother’s Day memorable.
Jackie currently lives at Kandeke House in East Harlem, and is still grieving the loss of her brother, who was murdered in April. On Saturday, she had something to smile about.
“All nine of my children told me how proud they are of me for finally finding a job,” Jackie said as she wiped her eyes. “And for the first time, many have told me that they love me.”
Jackie expects that she will need to stay in a shelter, with her children, once she graduates from the Greenhope Parole Program at Kandeke House, which has been helping previously incarcerated women get back on their feet for over 30 years.
The mission’s annual Mother’s Day banquet is an important opportunity for women in the shelter system to interact with people from different walks of life. This year, those people included Susan Sarandon, N.Y.C. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and N.Y.C. Councilwoman Margaret Chin.
Also helping serve was Tyler Williams, 46, who graduated from the Rescue Mission’s 12-step program in March. After numerous arrests and three decades of substance abuse, Tyler’s mother never gave up on him. She died before Tyler entered the program, but was very much present on Saturday.
“She’s with me today and every day,” he said. “I know that she’s watching, and that she’s proud. This is what she always wanted for me.”
Gina, 22, was taken from her own mother at age seven, and was grateful for the opportunity to enjoy prime rib with her grandmother and her two sons, ages 3 and 7. She made a special effort to try and keep their dining location under wraps. “My seven-year-old thinks mommy has her own apartment,” she explained. “But if he asks, I’ll have to tell him that this is a place for people who don’t have a home.” Gina’s three-year-old son has been in foster care for over a year, but will soon be moving into Kandake House as part of a new Greenhope initiative to house children under the age of five. Gina is six months into the 18-month program that will give her and many others the tools necessary to live independently, remain substance free and avoid relapse or re-incarceration.
When Bloomberg’s budget cuts shut down John Heuss House at 42 Beaver Street, the Rescue Mission saw a 30 percent increase in people looking for food, clothing and shelter. They are currently trying to raise enough money to build three additional floors, but cannot apply for federal funding due to stipulations placed on religious-nonprofits. They want to use part of the new space to launch a pilot program for women, and if they can raise enough money, they will be able to join places like Kandake House in helping mothers year-round.
“I’m glad we can get food on the table so families can enjoy Mother’s Day in the face of economic difficulty,” said de Blasio. “But we need a more yearly sense of helping people in need.”
As the women left the mission, they smiled and sifted through gift bags compiled of children’s flu medicine, hand sanitizer, and other items normally found in a drug store. As they boarded the buses, it was not hard to tell that some women, like Jackie, were grateful for even more: another chance to be a mother.