In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to stay close to home, we may have taken for granted what a luxury it is to have a safe home to retreat to.
Our Matt Urban Center housing team recently handed the keys to our very first tenants at Hope House, our newly renovated apartment complex located in the former P.S. 57 building on Sears Street. Our partners at Best Self Behavioral Health helped us in securing a safe, warm, affordable home for Christina and her 10 year-old daughter, Na’zia.
Christina had been patiently waiting for those keys for a long time. The past two years have been a rough road for her as she worked to overcome substance abuse and the hardships it brought to her and Na’zia’s lives.
“I’ve always been a drinker, but then I started indulging in cocaine,” she said. “I did that for about a year and a half, and I lost everything – my job, my car, and my home.”
Christina got into a 28-day rehab program at the Stutzman Addiction Treatment Center, but when the program concluded, she knew she wasn’t ready to step out on her own yet. She made her way to Best Self’s Lighthouse Women’s Residence to continue her recovery. Upon hearing from her counselor that she was a candidate for tenancy at Hope House, she requested to extend her stay at Lighthouse while waiting for renovations to be completed. She knew there were so few options for affordable housing where she and her daughter could go and truly feel safe.
“They asked if I wanted to leave and wait, but I didn’t want to jeopardize my recovery being somewhere else, and there’s a lack of places for women to go safely with their children,” Christina said. “It was a journey being optimistic, but I believe in God and he kept telling me if you just wait, it will be so worth it. I would do it all over again. I would wait another 6 months if I had to.”
Now Christina has a bright, modernly furnished apartment with large windows and on-site laundry facilities. She’s close to the Broadway Market, the post office, and other businesses where she can run her errands. More importantly, she has access to support from the Best Self Behavioral Health staff who work in the building when she needs it. And for the first time in two years – since they lost their home – Na’zia finally has her own room and privacy again.
“I’m so grateful for this place,” Christina said. “To be able to come somewhere secure, safe, affordable, and nice on top of everything else. I was expecting the bare minimum, but it’s so beautiful and modern and innovative with the high ceilings and the light fixtures. This is my sanctuary.”
Christina and Na’zia are looking forward to decorating their new home for the holidays with Christina’s mother, and continuing to work on their DIY projects together. The enjoy spending time together making jewelry and finding new ideas from online tutorials. Christina’s also looking forward to having a quiet space to write her poetry.
“I’m really into my NA book now, I do a lot of meetings,” she said. “I like to help other women who have been through the same things that I have. I’m just looking forward to working with my peers here to sustain my sobriety and just do my part, being responsible and living life on life’s terms. I want to be able to sit with my emotions, deal with my problems as they occur, keep my daughter happy. I really just want to do my part and evolve.”
Below is a poem Christina wrote, inspired by her new home at Hope House:
Hope is home after a long day of confusion
Where your reality is yours without any illusion
Your family is safe and call this place home
Where you’ll be content even when you are alone
This place is comfortable and affordable too
Within the decisions you make, you’ll find the hidden truth
That this is the place that you can be you
Where tenants are happy and have found hope here, too!
For those who need housing assistance and want to learn more about applying for an apartment at Hope House, contact Best Self Behavioral Health at 716-449-3372.
Keep an eye on our website and Matt Urban Center social media for more stories and updates from Hope House!
The Matt Urban Center has appointed Benjamin Hilligas as its new Executive Director. He will join the agency in January 2021.
Alissa Venturini, Acting Executive Director, states “I am thrilled to welcome Ben Hilligas to the Matt Urban Center team. He and I have worked together in different capacities over the years. He is a kind and dedicated leader and I am honored to have this opportunity to work alongside him.” Venturini will be returning to her role as Chief Program Officer once Hilligas arrives.
Hilligas joins the Matt Urban Center from the Erie County Department of Social Services, where he served for the past six years as Senior Youth Bureau Director in the Division of Youth Services. Prior to his time with Erie County, Hilligas worked for Say Yes Buffalo and Compass House youth shelter in a variety of capacities.
Hilligas received his Master’s degree from The University at Buffalo and is licensed to practice social work by the State of New York. He has received ongoing education and certifications from the NYS Institute for Youth Justice, Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and has recently been working closely with the Haywood Burns Institute and the Flourish Agenda, both national leaders in racial equity work, on several local and statewide initiatives.
“The Matt Urban Center is a critical human services provider in our community in addition to, like the surrounding neighborhood itself, a historic institution and cultural touchstone,” Hilligas said. “I had the pleasure in my career of working with many talented employees of the agency and have always come away from those interactions impressed and inspired. My goals as a leader, a social worker and a civically minded citizen of the City of Buffalo, is to ensure that every member of our community has the resources and support they need to achieve success and provide for the health and well-being of their family. I believe that the Matt Urban Center has been providing precisely this type of service for over 40 years and it is my distinct honor and privilege to have been selected by the Board to continue that legacy while evolving the organization to meet the needs of the future. I want to thank the board for the enormous time and energy they have committed to leading the agency during an uncertain time as well as the rigor with which they approached the search process. I look forward to working with the Board, agency leadership, staff at every level, community members and all of our partners to ensure mutual success and the continued revitalization of our City and region.”
“We are excited about Ben’s appointment and are looking forward to working with him on the Center’s vision for the future,” said Marcia Pacciotti, Board Chair. “We will be taking a close look at the agency and all the services we provide, and evaluating what is working, what we can improve upon and how well we are meeting the needs of our community. Our focus is always on our mission to revitalize neighborhoods, serve families and change lives.”
The Matt Urban Center has been proudly serving East Buffalo, the Town of Cheektowaga and West Seneca for the past 44 years. It fulfills its mission by bringing together public and private resources in an effort to assist community residents in becoming self-sustaining.
Join us next Wednesday, November 25 for a grab-and-go Thanksgiving Feast prepared by our Hope Center chef, Chris! Meals are free to the community and can be picked up from 2-5pm outside 385 Paderewski Drive. Masks are mandatory and social distancing measures will be in place. One member of a household can come pick up on behalf of your family.
Happy Thanksgiving to our community!
We’re SO excited that Cookies for a Cause will still be taking place this year (in pandemic-safe fashion, of course), thanks to the determination of our event organizer, Rebecca Decker.
This year’s event has been reimagined as a cookie sale, with all proceeds benefitting the Matt Urban Center. Orders must be submitted by November 28. The online cookie order form can be found here: https://forms.gle/F3sMzXG1KmUKfgoH7
More information and updates can be found on the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/648458776034419