06/01/09 — A chance to shine

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A chance to shine

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on June 1, 2009 1:46 PM

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AmeriCorps Fellow TaTreka Polite, left, and Operation Transition organizer Mary Mosely look through one of the dozens of boxes of clothes and other donated goods collected during a clothing drive, held in conjunction with Smart Choices for Youth. Ms. Polite said the community response was tremendous.

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Shanata Jeffries, right, and Louise Moats leave 305 Walnut St. with their daughters Asia, 6 months, and Amber, 2, for a walk in Goldsboro. Both mothers are living in the home with the guidance of Operation Transition.

She had no job, no home, and no way to care for her 2-year-old child.

But when domestic violence victim Louise Moats found Operation Transition, all of that changed.

The locally run, nonprofit organization maintains a safe house in Goldsboro for women and children who, like Ms. Moats and her daughter, have nowhere else to go.

The Moatses have been residents of Operation Transition for about six weeks, and already, life has changed for them both.

"The life here at Operation Transition is awesome. It's given me a new start in life," Ms. Moats said. "It's helping my child to develop well. It's helping me get a start on working."

Operation Transition is still a small and fairly new organization, but it has a long and emotional history for founders Elbert and Pearl Porter.

The Porters' vision of helping others began when their son, a drug user who became stuck in a cycle of illegal activity, passed away.

At about the same time, Mrs. Porter had purchased a spacious house in historic downtown Goldsboro. She originally planned to turn the property into a boarding house, but after her son's death, she began to think about populations who could use a helping hand to escape the perils of recidivism.

"They go back (to jail) because they don't have nowhere to go. No validation, nothing, so they're back on the street," she said.

Some local officials were opposed to the idea of having such a home in the area, fearing a potential increase in crime. The Goldsboro Planning Commission in 2007 voiced concerns that having the halfway home downtown could be detrimental to the revitalization efforts. Some members of the community were against it, too.  

"They didn't want it in their neighborhood," Mrs. Porter said.

In response, the organizers shifted the focus from helping young men recently released from prison to exclusively helping women and children.

"All I want to do is help someone, and that's where we're at now," Mrs. Porter said.

Since Operation Trans-ition opened its front door just over a year ago, the group has helped more than 50 families begin their reintroduction to productive and fulfilling lives.

"We've served over 3,000 meals. We've given homeless women and children over 600 nights of safe residency here in our home. We've provided transportation," said Mary Mosely, Operation Transition coordinator. "Ninety-six percent of women who come to our program are employed when they leave."

The ultimate Operation Transition goal is to provide a support network to victims of domestic violence, mothers and children left homeless and previously incarcerated females as they begin to re-enter mainstream society.

"The whole basis for the program was a new beginning with new choices and new voices, and this is what we give to all of our residents, to give them a chance to be in a safe home. We have laundry facilities. We have cable TV. We provide food," Ms. Mosely said.

They do not "warehouse" residents, she added. There are house rules about staying in the home, and the residents must work toward independence. The organizers and volunteers help them prepare for interviews, hunt for jobs and coordinate with Wayne Community College to get their residents back in the classroom.

Operation Transition also works with the Goldsboro Boys and Girls Club to coordinate support for the children staying in the home. Many of the young residents have been accepted, for free, into the club programs, and some take martial arts training provided by Belinda Callaway.

The home opened before the program was officially recognized as a 501(c)3 charitable organization, and most of the funding for the program has come from the Porters. The family thatfounded Operation Trans-ition continues to purchase furniture, pay the electricity bills and provide other necessities for the residents, although with the recent licensure as a non-profit, other funding sources are becoming available.

Half of an $18,000 grant, distributed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is in their bank account now and the other half should be coming along soon. The organizers are also constantly applying for other grants, Ms. Mosely said.

"Applications are going out every week," she said.

But much of the time, they rely on donations to help provide residents with necessities such as food, clothing and toiletries. The home must be stocked with all the little things required for daily life, Ms. Mosely said.

"We need curtains, we need sheets, we need clothing, we need soap, dishwashing liquid. We need things to just keep the house rolling. These ladies, when they come in, some of them, with (only) the clothes on their backs," she said.

When AmeriCorps Fellow TaTreka Polite, working with the long-running Goldsboro program Smart Choices for Youth, heard about Operation Transition, she decided the residents would be the perfect beneficiaries for her capstone AmeriCorps project. This year's AmeriCorps theme is "drive," she explained, and she had considered conducting a drive to benefit another community nonprofit group.

"You can see actually that you're helping somebody, you see they're actually using the toothpaste," Ms. Polite said. "Whereas some organizations, you give and give and give, and you don't see the benefit of your work. You don't see who's getting it, you don't really know if it's going to a good cause or not, but this one, you can see the direct effect."

Ms. Polite's drive collected clothes, linens, pillows, toys and even children's Halloween costumes, all donated to the residents of Operation Transition.

The Operation Transition house itself is large, airy and comfortable, equipped with six kitchens and 18 bedrooms. Silk flower arrangements, draped curtains and warm blankets add to the homelike atmosphere, and the kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms are all kept scrupulously clean.

The smell of fresh paint drifts through the air on the first floor, another sign that some of Goldsboro's many volunteers have been hard at work to support the organization's mission. Adamsville Baptist Church volunteers spent an afternoon painting one of the more heavily used rooms.

And likewise, the organization attempts to give back to the community that has given so much to them. Shortly before Christmas, Operation Transition volunteers conducted a coat drive, then delivered the jackets to Herman Park and distributed them to more than 500 people.

Despite the home-sweet-home atmosphere, there are still clues to the dangers many of the residents have endured in the past. The house has a thorough security system of surveillance cameras both inside and outside the property, to ensure residents' safety.

While some officials and community members originally feared that crime in the area around the Operation Transition home would increase, it seems to have remained stable.

Police Chief Tim Bell reported that in general, he hasn't seen any increase in crime in the area since the house opened last year.

"It's probably been about the same," he said.

In 2008 and 2009, police have received a total of three calls to the house's block, one a recovery of a stolen vehicle and a second a misdemeanor larceny. That area of the city is fairly quiet, Bell said.

Operation Transition might have improved the neighborhood, Mrs. Porter said.

"When we got here, drug houses. Drugs," she said. "You couldn't even walk. They said the judge across the street couldn't even walk his dog. That was how bad it was. It was very, very bad in this neighborhood."

Operation Transition has room to expand in the future, but city officials have been reluctant to allow more residents to live in the home. The need for the program is undoubtedly there, Ms. Mosely said.

Right now, Operation Transition is allowed to house a maximum of six women and children.

"Six lucky women," Ms. Moats added.

But Ms. Mosely continues to pursue the possibility of expanding that number.

Working with the residents can be an intense experience, but a happy one, Ms. Mosely said.

"Watching these women come in broken and downtrodden, and after they've been here, they just blossom into a confident, more self-assured and empowered person. And that's the joy to me, to see these ladies go from one phase in their life and realize that it's not over, people are trying, we're here to support you, we're here to guide you," she said.

And for Ms. Moats, that guidance has already begun to shed light on the long road still ahead of her.

In fact, she just found a job, she said.

The news of her employment brought a round of applause and cheers from Ms. Mosely and Ms. Polite.

While only the first step in the long process of regaining what violence has taken away, it was a big leap toward independence for the family.

"The next stage will be for her to have a savings. We encourage the ladies. We open bank accounts for them," Ms. Mosely said. "They just don't run out there with their first paycheck and think they're going to start a new life. We're looking down the road, and she's on the right track, and I say in the next three to five months, she'll be ready to spread her wings."

And she has the staff of Operation Transition to thank for that, Ms. Moats said.

"Just knowing that I do have a future now, that we do have a solid place, a safe roof over our heads, knowing that now, as far as being stable now -- I can be stable," she said.