By Laura McDonough
For Nicholas Dudley, hitting rock bottom meant moving to a homeless shelter.
The 28-year-old single dad and his 8-year-old son spent about three months in a small, third floor room with a bed, dresser and window. Their only view was of the street below, where they watched people getting arrested and drama unfolding.
“I had to sign papers that put me on a homeless database that you look my name up, I’m homeless. My son was listed homeless. He went to school like that, homeless,” he laments. “That’s my life. My baby.”
And that, Dudley states, was the inspiration to turn his life around. But finding help, he says, wasn’t easy. He researched housing organizations, but because of his income and housing availability, help wasn’t readily accessible.
“In general, I make $735 a month from my son’s SSI. They always want you to be like two to three times over what that rental will be,” he explains.
“I called a lot of places, and Beatitude was the only one that ever called me back,” Dudley continues. “I actually called them back to make sure they knew I was a guy.”
Beatitude House, a ministry of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown since 1991, has traditionally served disadvantaged women and their children, helping them break the cycle of generational poverty through housing, education and other assistance. Recently, Beatitude House changed from offering transitional housing to permanent supportive housing – and now accepts fathers as well.
“Some of our funding sources thought it was fine to have a focus, but thought it was discriminatory to have it exclusively for women. Especially since we wanted to serve parents and children,” explains Sister Patricia McNicholas, senior executive for Beatitude House. “We were happy to make that change and they were pleased as well.”
Dudley is the first single father accepted into the program.
“People been telling me since I was 20-years-old I needed my own place. I was never on my own, so it was hard. I didn’t like it. I didn’t know what to do,” Dudley says.
He and his son have been with the Beatitude House for about four months and are starting to feel comfort and stability in their new life.
“They’re a tremendous help,” Dudley says. “We’re doing great. We got a place that we call home, my son loves school. He’s doing a lot better than he has in the last few years of school,” Dudley continues. “He goes to counseling, I go to counseling... I got everything I need from nothing.”
Leslie Ostick, a social worker with Beatitude House and Dudley’s caseworker, says the father and son are a great addition to the Beatitude House family.
“It’s important to know that our clients are really just like anybody else. They’re trying hard to do what’s best for their family. We, as an agency, are here to support their goals and their dreams, and just give them the support they need when they need it to reach those goals for their families,” Ostick observes. “Nick and his son are just like every other family we have here, just trying hard to do what’s best for their family, and better their situations. They’re all hard working and certain circumstances in their lives conspired, and they all hit rock bottom at some point. They’re all very hard working.”
Ostick finds it personally rewarding to watch her clients succeed.
“My favorite thing about my job is that I get to see my clients reach whatever level of independence they are able to reach and seeing the look on their face when they realize that they’re on their way up,” Ostick states. “Helping them to achieve their goals and seeing the look on their faces and how they feel when realize they’ve put in the hard work to achieve what they’ve been able to achieve is the best part.”
Dudley says it’s important that families in difficult situations, such as his, stay motivated.
“You just can’t give up. You gotta keep going until you find something. It’s not just gonna fall in your hands,” he states. “Take as much help as you can get. Focus on you and your kid. I thought I would have been [at the mission] forever. But God blessed me with everything I have today.”
In 1988, late Ursuline Sister Margaret Scheetz was inspired by the film God Bless the Child to create the Beatitude House ministry. It began in a donated mansion on the north side of Youngstown. Still headquartered on Youngstown’s north side, Beatitude House now offers housing at numerous locations in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties. It also offers an English Language Learning and children’s tutoring program on the city’s west side that helps immigrant families from nine different locales: Palestine, China, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru and Venezuela.
The ministry also offers Ursuline Sisters Scholars. Through this program, disadvantaged young adults are helped to successfully enroll in, negotiate and graduate from institutions of higher learning by pairing them with mentors and providing financial assistance for school-related living expenses.
Further, Beatitude House is expanding its programming for immigrants in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties.
“Beatitude House has consistently worked to carry out its mission -- to create homes, provide education and foster healthy families,” Sister Patricia states. “The expression of that mission has changed over the years, but new expressions are always consistent with the core mission.”
Since it began, Beatitude House has helped more than 3,000 people.