Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Natasha House Reaches Out To The Community

(Courtesy of Natasha House)

YORK COUNTY — Karen Brown, the executive director of Natasha House, has seen the non-profit grow and continue to leave an impact on the local community in recent years.

Brown says that is because they consider themselves “innovative disrupters.” The non-profit is a transitional home for homeless women with children. According to Brown, Natasha House differs from a traditional homeless shelter.

“They come here to live up to two years. We provide housing and supportive services to them,” said Brown. “When they apply it’s a two-part application process and part of that application is that they write down what their goals are in a wide variety of areas,” she said. “Money, transportation, career, personal, family, spiritual, self-awareness, and mental health. All of those things. So when they’re accepted in, we sit with them and our social worker helps translate those goals into short-term, intermediate, and long-term smart goals with action steps.”

The mothers enrolled in the program will meet with its social worker to make sure that they are working towards achieving those personal goals. The mothers also sign a contract with Natasha House.

“It’s not a traditional landlord and tenant agreement, because it’s a program. We are a program, and this program also provides transitional housing for them,” said Brown. “They are required to do chores, and we have weekly training sessions for them as well as for their children. They have a curfew. If they are not working at the time they applied for entrance into the Natasha House, we have a partnership with workforce development, and they are required to choose one of those careers that they currently train in, and they are required to attend that.”

Brown believes that the Natasha House program works not only because she has personally seen countless graduates from the program go on to own homes, start local businesses, find careers like becoming accountants or pharmacy techs, but also because at one point in time she was a homeless mother while raising her three boys. She was the first mother to go through the program and she was its first graduate.

(Courtesy of Natasha House)

“First, I worked as a custodian at Christopher Newport [University]. I worked at Christopher Newport from five in the morning until five in the afternoon, and then I worked at taco bell from five in the evening to three in the morning. I had to enroll in the program to change some things. That’s why I talk about getting a career, not a job, so that you can spend quality time with your children. You can really set some goals for yourself and for them, and you can really achieve those goals,” said Brown. “I’m from Illinois. I’m a veteran, and at the time there weren’t all these programs that they have now. They didn’t exist at that time. It was a very painful and memorable experience. So we really believe that you have to help them change their mindset because if you don’t do that they’re going to end up in the same situation at first.”

After graduating from the program, Brown eventually went back to school at Christopher Newport (CNU) and graduated in 1997 with her bachelor’s degree. She went on to become a teacher after graduation.

Around 2000, Brown went around the various local counties seeking a special use permit in order to begin work on constructing Natasha House. She eventually was able to receive the permit from York County. It took approximately ten years to raise the money needed to build the facility. The church next door that sat next door to the future home of Natasha House, Faith for Living Outreach Center, sold the property to the organization for only a dollar.

“The pastor and I were the two people that went around speaking and sharing the vision, and so, they sold us the property for a dollar. Then they borrowed the money. We refinanced once the building was built to take it off of them. We are a 501(c)(3) and we serve the Peninsula because of our occupancy permit is from the county,” said Brown. “First priority is given to York County and Poquoson, and because of my veteran status, to veterans on entering Natasha house, but we serve Newport News, Hampton, James City County, Williamsburg, Gloucester, and the surrounding cities. The majority of our residents, probably around 56% of them, come from Newport News.”

How The Program Works

(Courtesy of Natasha House)

All of the mothers who are staying at Natasha House don’t pay any rent. However, in their first 30 days living at the facility, they are required to pay 10 percent of all their income and after that, it’s 20 percent. At the same time, they are also required to save 10 percent for the first 30 days and 20 percent thereafter.

Natasha House has partnered with the Urban League of Hampton Roads to help assign the mothers in the program a financial plan and budget in order to either repair or establish their credit ratings. They then bring that plan back to Natasha House and the social worker, who helps them monitor their spending. In order to help track their weekly expenses, the mothers fill out a form with their receipts. This log makes it so that they can help examine and change some of the financial habits that may have contributed to them needing Natasha House’s assistance.

“We are firm believers that they need careers and not just a job and so we help them work towards achieving that goal. They are required to save, and they are required to repair their credit,” said Brown. “We have financial classes, mental health assessments, and they get counseling. It’s all required.”

(Courtesy of Natasha House)

Natasha House does not receive any federal funding. All the funding that it receives is provided through donations, fundraising events, and the sale of products they currently produce.

“We have a garden, so they[the mothers] help us with the garden. We sell those shares to the community to help raise funds for us. Recently, we have applied to get our salsa approved by the FDA so that we can market it and sell them,” said Brown. “We have two seasonings that we make from the herbs with a blending company. We also have a line of cookies called ‘delights’ that we make, bath bombs, and we make a calendar that the children create every year to sell. So we make quite a few products to market and sell because we’re not a shelter. So we’re not eligible for federal funds. All of our funds come from our fundraisers and our donor families.”

The program has grown in recent years. There are about fifteen mothers currently enrolled in the program. However, not all the mothers are actually staying at Natasha House; some do not require the housing provided through the program. However, they do want the supportive services provided by the organization.

Natasha House started off with only five units for mothers to stay in, but now it has seven. Last year it was approved by York County to expand so that it can build eight more units on the upstairs of its building.

“So that’s the next project we are going to be working on. We’ll have what we call ‘suites’ upstairs to help them get ready for homeownership and careers,” said Brown. “During the pandemic, we had to close down and do our sessions virtually, but we were not able to do any of our outdoor events except our golf tournament that we hold at Kiskiack [Golf Club] every year.”

This month, Natasha House plans to have a virtual auction in order to help raise funds for the organization.

For more information on Natasha House and what services they provide, you can head over to their Facebook and their website.

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