By JEROD CLAPP
NEW ALBANY — Upon her arrival in Louisville, she stepped off the Greyhound bus she boarded in Chicago with her children. She was 38, got involved with alcohol and had nowhere to go.
That was 14 years ago. Today, Lisa Donohue helps run the program that got her back on her feet.
The Family Self-Sufficiency program with the New Albany Housing Authority helps the city’s public housing residents get their education and job skills to get them in their own homes.
“Basically, what we do is when families are in public housing and have hit rock bottom, we try to work with the head of the household, lay out goals and help them get back on their feet,” Donohue said.
Through various community partnerships, she said they’re able to reach out and help people from their cycles of poverty and other issues.
On Thursday, residents involved in the program heard from two people who overcame difficult circumstances — one whose story was much like Donohue’s and another who some see every day.
Kenny Boyd arrived in Louisville the same way as Donohue, also 14 years ago. He escaped Tennessee and a dangerous lifestyle that he feared would leave him either homeless, in prison or dead.
He said the place he left had him “strung out on dope” and got him caught in the middle of a shooting that nearly left him paralyzed.
“I just want you to understand that it was a deep, dark nightmare,” Boyd said. “I didn’t know there was going to be a nightmare along the journey.”
Though Louisville wasn’t the place he thought he’d end up, he said the area changed his perspective on life. Seeing the campus of the University of Louisville inspired him to do something for himself.
At 30 years old, Boyd said he earned his high school diploma. He kept working and got a bachelor’s degree. Now a homeschool coordinator for Jefferson County Public Schools, Boyd is 30 hours away from earning his master’s.
He said before the move, school principals and even his own mother were afraid for his future. He said he can’t wait to go back home and show those people his badge from JCPS.
“Don’t let nothing or nobody make you feel like you don’t count,” Boyd said. “Can’t nobody count you out of life. I need you to believe that somebody here is going to be talking to you like I am 10 years down the road.”
Dawne Gee, a news anchor on WAVE 3, also spoke with the residents. She said she didn’t get a job at the television station until after she applied for a ninth time.
Even then, she didn’t get an opportunity to go on screen for years. Battling lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, she finally made her way on screen when an anchor didn’t come in for work.
She said her when grandchildren color pictures and proclaim themselves the best artists in the world, it reminds her that self-confidence is an important trait to revive if it’s been beaten down with age.
“Where did you all lose that little kid? That one who says, ‘Look at what I did,” Gee said. “It doesn’t even have to be anything big.”
She said celebrating even the smallest of victories can help people bring themselves out of the darkest of situations.
After Gee’s reading of “Cookie’s Week” to children of program participants, the kids got to pick two brand new books from several piles stacked on tables.
Donohue said Family Self-Sufficiency works with the whole family, including reaching to children by culminating a love of reading and getting parents more involved in their lives.
She said like other facets of the program, the books were secured through grant money. She said helping residents get their education is a paramount goal, but working with the whole family is important.
“When a young mom, for example, joins Family Self-Sufficiency, we help with referrals for daycares and then the rent is based on income,” Donohue said. “When she joined our program, rent might be $50 a month. But if she gets a job, it might go up to $200 to $300. But that difference goes into a savings account for that family through Housing and Urban Development.”
She said the savings account doesn’t go back to the Housing Authority. Instead, it’s built up to help that family purchase its own home.
But grant funding helps in other ways, she said. Residents can have the $70 fee for their General Education Development diploma test. From there, partnerships with IU Southeast and local hospitals can help them get a college degree or training to become a certified nursing assistant.
She said a new program allows the CNA training on-site, and a new community garden for the facility could be opening soon with the help of a master gardener from IU Southeast.
With more partnerships forming, she said residents have more opportunities to put themselves back on solid ground.
“We want to get plugged into whatever it takes to create growth,” Donohue said. “We want parents who are in public housing to get a lot of tools at their disposable and transition out. We don’t want them to get stuck.”