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‘A good place for living': Mamma’s Hands' Valley shelters help women in crisis
Alva was a government employee, working at Ministry of Justice in her home country of El Salvador, when life changed.
When Alva’s boss upset the wrong people, her job became deadly.
“Men with guns said ‘You leave or I kill you,’” said Alva. “I can’t talk about this. It was really dangerous for me.”
Alva and her son Daniel fled as refugees. Today, they live at one of Mamma’s Hands Houses of Hope shelters.
Staying at one of the Valley shelters for women and children in crisis, Alva has been working on gaining permanent resident status and learning English so that she can get a job in the health industry.
“It is a home, a good place for living,” she says.
Now in their 19th year of operation, Mamma’s Hands’ Houses of Hope offer struggling women a place to sleep, prepare meals, shower, do laundry, push for goals and simply function, day-to-day, in a safe environment.
“We are a place for women who are ready to rebuild their lives, and work towards independence and self sufficiency,” says founder and president Denny Hancock.
Children play at the one of the Valley-area Houses of Hope.
In the fall of 1991, Hancock was in debt and losing his home. As he was driving away from the house where he had raised his children, Hancock realized he was blessed to have a family and supportive friends. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Hancock decided to pour his time and resources into providing for people who had fallen into homelessness.
Hancock began by serving dinner to Seattle homeless men and women out of an old potato chip delivery truck turned kitchen.
Today his Valley ministry, Mamma’s Hands, provides crisis housing to up to a dozen women and children at a time.
As Hancock spent time working with homeless individuals, he began to realize that warm meals weren’t enough, especially for mothers trying to raise small children.
“I started to think about what it would be like to raise children in a homeless shelter,” said Hancock. “I wanted to provide something else.”
Hancock began reading about a transitional home run by nuns in Chicago. When he called them to get information, they invited him up for a visit. The two nuns who managed the home defied stereotypes. Sister Connie, a former military officer, smoked and wore an eye patch. Sister Therese was tiny, and always tried to smooth over Sister Connie.
“They ran a tight ship,” said Hancock. “Sister Connie always said, ‘We don’t put up with excuses.’” Their facility was clean and well-run. Many of the women who left the ministry were self-sufficient and stable.
Setting the rules
Inspired by the nuns, Hancock returned to implement their ideas in the Snoqualmie Valley. In 1994, he purchased Mamma’s Hands’ first house. Today the Bellevue-based organization owns three homes in the Valley and vicinity.
Women are selected into the program, case by case. Each application is carefully reviewed as staff seek to place women in conflict-free living situations.
“We have to thinking about everyone’s personalities and how everyone will get along,” said Mamma’s Hands employee Kaylene Fraser. Women must agree to attended required meetings and counseling sessions, participate in chores, follow house rules and abstain from drugs and alcohol
“We explain the rules and make sure they are willing to abide by them,” Fraser said.
General policy is that children should be age 12 or younger, “but we do make exceptions,” she said.
Most women typically stay six months.
“I honestly love each and every one of them, and they know it,” says Hancock. “There is nothing to compare with a 4-year-old looking you in the eye and telling you that they love you.”
Volunteers are always needed for maintenance, babysitting, activities with residents and driving. The organization also hosts an annual auction and a number of corporate service days. Cash donations, groceries and help with utilities are often needed.
• You can learn more about Mamma’s Hands House of Hope and its programs at http://www.mammashands.org.