SOMERSWORTH – It takes a village. For the women and children living at Lydia’s House of Hope, that phrase is liberally applied and is creating success stories.
Theresa Tozier, founder of Seeds of Faith and Executive Director of Lydia’s House of Hope, said she is in awe of the way people in the community have embraced them, not only in words but by jumping in to help.
Seeds of Faith was founded in 2002, with a mission to help the homeless and low-income people of the Seacoast. From it grew Lydia’s House of Hope, a 365-day transitional program for women and children. The house was named in memory of Lydia Valdez, a 9-year-old girl from Portsmouth who lost a battle with cancer. Her parents helped establish the home.
The eight families living there come from all walks of life, the homeless, victims of domestic or sexual violence, those with a substance use disorder, and some who turned to prostitution to survive.
Tozier will try to help someone in need but is quick to point out that Lydia’s House of Hope is not a shelter.
“We have more than 30 programs running through here,” Tozier said. “The women who succeed here know they have to do the work. They have to be moving toward their own recovery and independence. Not all make it here, but the ones who do have a great chance for success.”
It’s very ambitious, and the house is working because instead of facing a not-in-my-back-yard mentality, the Somersworth home has been virtually adopted by community members, by the city, and by people who are stepping up across the state to help.
People come to mow the lawn, to teach the women skills like cooking and child care. They do maintenance on the house. Classes for the women were recently held at the University of New Hampshire. Planet Fitness is planning a workout room in the basement and on Monday, the women and Tozier had lunch and a meeting with Gov. Chris Sununu.
“The women could not believe the governor was willing to meet with them,” said Tozier. “They asked why he would be willing to take the time to talk to them. Now they are all writing him thank you cards. He had lunch made and he sat with them. He listened to the stories of their lives and there were two situations we brought to him that he said he will try to help with. They were amazed by the experience, noting he didn’t try to rush them out but made them feel valued, that their words counted.”
Tozier couldn’t go into detail about what brought them to seek help from the governor. She said only that one involved a woman’s efforts to get her children back, and the other was a truly out-of-control situation that they can’t fix but hope the governor can.
“The CEO of Planet Fitness wanted to help us, so he is building a workout room in the basement,” said Tozier. “People came to take measurements and the governor is paying for the electrical work that will be needed. I used to think we didn’t need government help here, but so many officials have come forward to help, like the governor, the city council, and like state Senator David Watters, that my opinion on that is changing. I realize there are things they can do that I cannot.”
At UNH, Tozier said the women were treated to a program created with them in mind.
“They learned about financial planning, about building a resume and mathematics,” said Tozier. “They learned about better ways to deal with conflict. All the professors involved were so great with the women. The women told me they were treated like students and they felt that were valued.”
One of the women, Quinn, had a tough moment that turned into gold.
“During some of the talks, she admitted she didn’t have a diploma, or a GED,” said Tozier. “She was embarrassed, but professor Daniel Silverman told her not to be. He told her he dropped out and went back, and that she could too.”
Quinn was comforted by his words, and later in the week, she got a surprise. Silverman, who is also a Mason, sent her a GED study book. He pledged the support of his lodge and encouraged Quinn to try. He sent her a message that reads “A gift for you. Quinn, most barriers in life are illusions. You are special and very capable. The Brothers at St. John’s Masonic Lodge have got your back. When it’s time to look for a college – you’ve got advocates. See you soon!”
“Now she has a tutor, who is assessing where she is now and is going to make a plan for her to get her GED,” said Tozier.
“I dropped out in the eighth grade, went back and dropped out again in the 11th grade,” said Quinn. “I was encouraged when he told me his story and said I could do it. When the book arrived, I was so moved. He didn’t expect anything of me. He just wants to help. He sees potential in me. I feel I now have a lifelong friend who will support my efforts.”
Tozier said Quinn’s background included almost no support so she is awed by the fact that a stranger wants to step in.
The small things happening at Lydia’s House of Hope mean just as much, said Tozier.
“There is Laura Perutip, a nurse at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital,” said Tozier. “She lives nearby and helped plant flowers and create a memorial garden for Lydia. She comes every week with her push mower and cuts our grass and weeds.”
Matt Keiser and Christopher Smith, also local, do maintenance on the home.
“Matt comes every week, to see what might need to be done,” said Tozier “Christopher is our emergency guy. He comes when we are in trouble.”
Every Tuesday, Justin Blais, a chef at Atlantic Grill and the River House, comes to cook with the women. Tozier said the food is provided by restaurant owners Peter and Maria Labrie.
“Justin eats dinner with them,” said Tozier. “He encourages them to be better.”
Transportation for the women, to appointments, treatment and counseling was originally an issue. Now they have three vans, a 12 passenger, and two seven passengers, donated to Lydia’s House of Hope.
“The community is embracing us,” said Tozier. “They want to see us succeed. If we didn’t have them, who knows. We are graduating women. They have jobs and are moving into their own apartments. One of our first, is now on staff here and she is wonderful with the other women. We are watching our caterpillars become butterflies. We couldn’t do it without help. We are blessed with help from every corner.”
To learn more, visit https://seedsoffaithnh.org/lydias-house-of-hope/.