Persistence Pays Forward

Catherine and Katie JiavaOn the day Shelley Mihalik met Catherine Ashley and her daughter, the two had come to The Salvation Army office in Honesdale to ask for help with clothing. Summer was turning into fall and neither Catherine nor Catie had any long sleeves or outerwear to protect them from the chill in the air. As the three spoke, it became clear to Shelley that they needed much more than warm clothes. Catherine and Catie needed a home.

Shelley is the architect of The Salvation Army’s Journey of Hope. The program in Honesdale is designed to provide scaffolding to help clients like Catherine and Catie rebuild their lives. Journey of Hope engages and supports clients while they develop life skills and resources to ultimately succeed on their own.

A devastating car accident in 1996 seemed to trigger a near constant barrage of challenges and setbacks for Catherine and Catie that would continue for the next 20 years. Serious health problems, divorce, and job loss, were all emotionally and financially depleting. Too ill to work, Catherine used savings and sold their home, but when the money ran out so did their options. They had been living in their car for several months when they met Shelley at The Salvation Army.

Shelley immediately began making phone calls to find an apartment Catherine could afford on her monthly social security income. Eventually Shelley reached out to a partner agency and Catherine became eligible and approved for housing assistance. The two women were ready to move into an apartment when Shelley received a call: the caseworker at the partner agency made a mistake and Catherine would not be receiving housing assistance after all.

Shelley was distraught but resolute in her advocacy for Catherine and Catie. “I kept pushing and pushing the supervisor at the partner agency to tell me why and how a person can be told they have housing assistance, go find an apartment and then have it pulled from them,” said Shelley. She told the supervisor, “There’s something wrong here. You’ve just dashed this person’s hope.”

Undeterred, Shelley repeatedly called the partner agency’s supervisor for answers and solutions. Three weeks of persistence paid off when Shelley received another phone call: Catherine’s housing assistance was approved. Shelley helped Catherine and Catie find a mobile home rental and for the first time in years, they are relatively stable and independent.

During the uphill battle, Shelley said Catherine was always gracious and appreciative, and kept asking what she could do to give back. Catherine told Shelley that regardless of her situation there are other people going through worse.

“Out of the ashes arose a person who is just phenomenal and wants to meet the needs of others because she’s been there,” said Shelley.

“In a roundabout way, I think God brought us to The Salvation Army for a reason,” said Catherine. “We all stress out about different things, but the day ends and a new day begins, and with God’s help you make it through. I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I know my daughter feels the same way.”

Last October, Catherine and Catie returned to The Salvation Army to volunteer 2–3 times each week. Catherine, who has been hearing impaired since she was a young woman, now helps write vouchers and meets with new clients as The Salvation Army’s social secretary for a portion of Wayne County. “My long term goal would be to continue to do God’s work and give hope to others the way he has done for us,” says Catherine.

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