Welcome message from Executive Director of Borromeo Housing, Inc. (BHI)
The following is a letter from Darlene Bakke, Executive Director of Borromeo Housing, Inc.
My journey with Borromeo Housing, Inc. (BHI) began more than seven years ago when I volunteered as a “Birthday Angel” with another organization that provided support to BHI through their shelter partner program. As a birthday angel, I was responsible for visiting BHI each month and providing a cake and a gift to any child living in the shelter that had a birthday during that month. I wasn’t familiar with BHI, but I knew it wasn’t a typical shelter. I knew it was an education program for young teen mothers and their children. I was told when you call the coordinator and ask for the children birthday list for that month to include the mothers, because most of them are children themselves and are under the age of eighteen. So, I called the coordinator and sure enough the first birthday I would be celebrating as a volunteer was that of a young mother named Joanna who was turning sixteen. She had moved into the BHI house with her son a month prior to my visit. I was thrilled to buy my first birthday cake and to visit the house for the first time to have a party. The coordinator was very specific about the cake I was to buy. She told me Joanna had requested a yellow cake, with chocolate frosting and she wanted her name written in pink and if possible she would like pink flowers on the cake. I said, “I can do that” and on my way home from work I stopped at the local grocery store and picked up the cake.
I was excited and nervous as I approached the BHI house, not really sure what to expect. When I met Joanna, she was beaming because it was her birthday and she wanted to see the cake. I showed her the cake and she wanted to celebrate immediately. The coordinators said “fine, let’s sing ‘Happy Birthday’” and the party started. All of the mothers and children sang for Joanna; she was thrilled. My nervousness disappeared as I sang with the group, and I noticed that Joanna took her time cutting the cake making sure not to ruin the pink flowers. She cut around her name and told everyone she was putting it in the refrigerator, to save it. At the time, I did think it was a little odd for a sixteen year old girl to be so excited about a birthday cake. But I put it out of mind and enjoyed the cake. It was a wonderful party and I enjoyed meeting the young mothers and their children. I told them I would be back next month to celebrate another birthday.
As I was walking out the door, Joanna stopped me and said, “thank you Ms. Darlene for bringing me my beautiful birthday cake.” I thanked her, for a great time, and then Joanna then looked at me and said, “this was a special day for me, because I have never had my own birthday cake or my own party. I’ll never forget it.”
As I walked out the door and to my car, it suddenly occurred to me that a simple gesture I take for granted—stopping at a grocery store to buy a birthday cake—could be so meaningful to a young mother. Joanna had never had her own birthday cake and I brought her the cake she had probably been dreaming about since she was a little girl. It brought tears to my eyes.
When people ask me what is the most memorable experience you have had with BHI, I always tell them the story of Joanna. Of course, every time I attend a young mother’s graduation – I know it is a life changing moment for that mother and her child. She is receiving the gift of an education that BHI helped her achieve and it is this gift of an education that no one can take from her. It will be with her always and will change her life forever. But the reason I always mention Joanna’s story, is because at that moment my life was changed. I was immediately aware that even though we all live in the same community, we have very different life stories. I can’t assume that every young mother I meet has had the same life experiences that I have had. Now, when I have a conversation with a young mother, I am open and aware of our differences, but I am also humbled by our similarities. We are both mothers, trying to provide a better life for our children, one day at a time. We value the power of an education and know that if we work hard, we will make our lives better. Who knew a birthday cake with pink flowers could be so significant?
For almost 25 years, BHI has changed the lives of many young mothers like Joanna. When the mothers commit to our program, BHI commits to the young mother and her child. In two years, BHI transforms the lives of these young mothers. They learn to parent properly and become self-reliant, educated, empowered women. By committing to the program, they commit to their child by providing a better life and ending the cycle of homelessness.
Please make a point to tell a friend about BHI, or how you can support our mission. We need more voices, more volunteers, and more donors to continue this good work! With your help, we can say “yes” more often to more homeless young mothers. With your continued support, we can make a difference in a child’s life, and change lives one family at a time.
Borromeo Housing, Inc.