A year ago, Gina Maxwell wanted out of debt, out of abusive relationships and out of hopelessness.
Today, all three of her wishes have been granted.
“I feel extremely blessed,” said Columbus’ 41-year-old Maxwell, her eyes pooling with tears. “I have had so many opportunities come my way.”
That includes opportunities to learn new ways of budgeting and saving, new chances for supportive relationships and a new path of general and spiritual guidance.
The single parent links all that to Bridge of Hope, a national, nonprofit Christian program that gives gives homeless single mothers practical, emotional and spiritual support to achieve a measure of stability.
In Bartholomew County, it does that by matching needy clients with a Love Chapel case worker and a trained team of eight or nine encouraging mentors from area churches for an 18-month to two-year period.
Maxwell, now in a northside apartment with her two children, will be the year-old local program’s first graduate Sunday. Bridge of Hope leaders now are seeking other clients to help.
Dawn Whaley, a Bridge of Hope supportive living caseworker, said the outreach worked impressively. An alumni program will now begin so graduates such as Maxwell can more easily continue new habits and still feel others’ support.
“A big, important piece I saw was Gina having that support and encouragement (from mentors),” Whaley said.
Maxwell acknowledged that she initially worried about being judged by church members. But the eight volunteers from Columbus’ Sandy Hook United Methodist Church have showered her with compassion and love.
“It can be a hard place when it comes to sharing yourself,” Whaley said, referring to elements of Maxwell’s personal struggles being made known to the mentors. “But this program is not about fixing her, or anyone else.
“We simply believe that everyone is a child of God. And we all have our own strengths and weaknesses.”
Sandy Hook member Justin Reid remembers that during the first month of the program, he and his wife, Miah, shared a few of their personal struggles with Maxwell. Such vulnerability allowed both sides to drop their guard and any judgmental tendencies. It also allowed a bond of trust to form.
“From that moment on,” Reid said, “this became more than just a mentoring program. It became a friendship.”
Reid has been coming to Maxwell’s apartment every Tuesday afternoon to spend time in simple activities such as video games with her 13-year-old son, Dalton. Reid remembers how tough life was when he was 12 in a single-parent household.
“My primary calling in this whole situation is Dalton,” Reid said.
Their friendship is relaxed enough that Dalton regularly ribs Reid, who is 28, that he actually must be a lot older because Reid is prematurely balding.
“You must really be 80,” Dalton tells him.
Reid chuckled about whatever impact he might have had on Maxwell or her son in the past 12 months. He thinks the program has touched him as much.
“It definitely has given me more faith in general that so many things in life can be turned around,” he said.
Maxwell openly acknowledged that her turnaround has been marked by a lot of tears in weekly sessions with caseworker Whaley and time with her mentors. She had to learn to break old habits of unhealthy spending, for instance.
“I like retail therapy,” Maxwell said with a laugh.
Healing has come gradually, according to all involved.
“This is definitely not a quick fix,” Whaley said. “We can’t begin working with clients simply because they say, ‘I’m homeless and need a place to go.’”
Some elements of the program provided healing almost from the beginning for Maxwell. Though Bridge of Hope never requires a client to embrace any particular faith in any way, she and her two children began attending Sandy Hook United Methodist to bolster their Christian faith. It has done that — and shaken her from what she now considers an unhealthy viewpoint.
“My older thinking in my head had told me, ‘I got myself into this mess I was in, and I need to be the one to get myself out of it,’” Maxwell said.
Yet, over a year’s time, what got her out was one caseworker, eight volunteers and a whole church family with arms open wide.