The Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose,” Dajah Spence’s said at her Youth of the Year speech earlier this year. Leading a life of purpose has been the driving force behind everything she has done in the past few years.
Defying all statistics, Dajah graduated high school in June, and will attend Bowling Green State University in the fall; a future she is both excited about and ready to embrace.
Dajah grew up in the King Kennedy public housing complex. At 17, she is currently the only member of her family of five that is employed, and she takes responsibility for meeting the needs of her younger siblings.
When she is not working or studying, you can usually find Dajah at the King Kennedy Boys & Girls Club. She became a member when she was 11 years old, and she participated in every program offered. She views the Club as one of the most important influences in her life.
“I feel like being at the Boys & Girls Club keeps you off the street. There is always someone you can talk to, especially when things get tough at home,” she explains. “It is more than just a place to hang out. It is a family here.”
Cleveland Housing Network
After escaping an emotionally abusive marriage, my daughter Joy and I became homeless. We lived in a shelter, but I eventually succumbed to depression and turned to drugs and alcohol to mask the pain. I was utterly unrecognizable by any who knew me.
After I was introduced to Cleveland Housing Network and [social worker] Tamika in 2003, my life changed drastically. I have a home. I have conquered my demons. I have returned to college after 10 years, and I have a 4.0 GPA. Eventually I plan to earn a Masters Degree and a Doctorate. My daughter is an honor roll student.
Some people come into our lives to help us fulfill our destiny. I believe CHN came into my life to help me fulfill mine. Every day, I do two things: I wake up and see myself where I want to be and refuse to stop working toward that. And every day, I reinforce to my daughter that she can make it. I teach her to have the confidence that she can do anything.
I know that without the help of CHN, and my strength in God, none of this would have been possible. —Monique
St. Paul's Community Outreach
Dawn Kocuba cashed in everything she had for pills and booze.
Finally, she lost the house she had bought on her own when she was 28.
“I ended up homeless,” Kocuba said. “My family didn’t want anything to do with me. I stole from them.”
She also “lost” three years of her life, now a hazy memory of drugs and despair.
Perseverance to beat her drug addiction and a little luck ultimately brought her to St. Paul’s Community Outreach Center.
St. Paul’s Outreach Center offers some of the most basic items – thousands of socks, basic hygiene kits including toothbrushes and soap, and a food pantry, to its neighborhood on a shoestring budget.
With a budget at about $103,000 a year, they have a part-time nurse who treats people’s more minor ailments, basic first aid and helps keep diabetics – foot checks and others with chronic diseases healthy.
The center, which was started and runs out of St. Paul's Community Church on the city's near westside, employs people to do street outreach, passing out basic need items and encouraging, sometimes driving them to get tested for HIV.
For the past year, Kocuba has worked a part-time street outreach worker for St. Paul’s.
“I do whatever is needed,” she said. “One of the prostitutes I was working with got into Laura’s Home (a women’s crisis center run by the City Mission). “That’s one less girl off the streets,” Kocuba said proudly.
While the work for Kocuba, now sober for 3 ½ years, is meaningful it’s not enough for her to pay rent or get health insurance.
“I’m asked to speak at places and I’m embarrassed,” Kocuba said. She is missing several teeth.
Kocuba is working hard to help other people’s lives better, but could use some help herself.