By Christine Persichette
Joyce Clark was just 23-years-old —a single mom of two —when she found herself homeless.
“It was very overwhelming. I felt like I was failing,” she said. “You have to smile for the kids and inside it’s a very overwhelming feeling. You feel really dark.”
But that darkness turned to light when she was placed in Bethany House. The homeless shelter on Long Island for women and children was founded by Sister Aimee Koonmen in 1978.
“At first I didn’t want to go,” Joyce recalled, “but I didn’t have a choice. But after going there, that’s when all the weight got lifted off my shoulders.”
“The whole purpose is to love you back to life,” explained Sr. Aimee. When talking about their mission, she refers to Isaiah 58: “We ask that you share bread with the hungry, you shelter the homeless poor, and do not turn your back upon your own so we have a special mission to women and children.”
Women and children feel right at home at each of Bethany’s five houses.
“You have your own room, you have your own space,” said Joyce. “You have dinner every night, you have people who smile at you, you have staff who take care of you and are very welcoming…it’s a wonderful experience, it is.”
But there are rules and expectations, Sr. Aimee explained. “We have an expression- at Bethany you either grow, or you go.”
Joyce said she grew while at Bethany House.
“They taught me structure… they taught me to grow, that growth is fine…that sometimes you can get knocked back, but you pick yourself back up.”
And Joyce did get back up. She now lives in her own apartment, but she still comes back to Bethany House to pay it forward, help the new women there and share her story.
“I’ve had a lot of challenges in life. I can sit all day and tell you about them, but…I’ve been in the fire. I came through the fire, and you know at times you may feel like you’re still in the fire,” she said. “But I believe in God. I have faith, so I’ll be fine.”
Help is also coming from the healthcare organization Pro-Health, which just donated $100,000 along with clothing, toiletries and diapers, to Bethany House. It’s all to help keep the welcome mat out and the door open.
“When we started we said our job is to work ourselves out of a job,” said Sr. Aimee. “We felt that if we could really get hold of this problem we could make a difference. I do believe we make a difference every day, but the problem keeps growing… it’s much, much bigger than we are.”
But their faith helps them go on and move forward.
“Wherever God leads us, the pathway will open,” Sr. Aimee said.