Guest Profile: Finding the Light

Rose never dreamed she would stand in front of 385 people at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, sharing her personal story. “I was broken, wounded, hurting,” she told the audience. “Coming to St. Francis House was my salvation.”

Rose had grown up in Worcester, in a strict Italian family that emphasized hard work and did not discuss emotions. In high school, Rose was a cheerleader and class secretary. She also worked full time as a telephone operator. “I loved the challenge and the responsibility,” she says. But a day at Lake George changed everything.

As Rose watched a young man parasailing, something went terribly wrong. The chute crashed down to the sand and Rose became tangled in the ropes. “The next thing I knew, I was being dragged through the water by my mouth.” Rose had head-to-toe rope burns, and her teeth and gums were nearly destroyed. She also had cognitive damage and internal damage and would probably never have children. “After that, I felt like I was in a fog all the time,” she says. “I didn’t feel normal, and I couldn’t comprehend anything. I had to quit the job I loved.” Rose took prescription painkillers for weeks and then used street drugs to numb the physical and emotional pain. “After the accident, I became a different person,” she says. “So much of my future had been stolen.” Rose felt a glimmer of hope when she learned, sometime later, that she was pregnant. “I had always dreamed of having my own children to love,” she says. “I’d do anything for my daughter.”

Rose worked as a waitress initially, and as her body began to heal, she studied cosmetology and barbering, earning a license in both fields. “I loved being a hairstylist and I loved being a mother,” she says. The one thing Rose couldn’t do was overcome her growing dependence on drugs. Some days, she’d use one drug to get up and another drug to go to sleep. “That began a downward spiral that continued for years,” she says. “I just couldn’t overcome that demon.”

Things got worse when Rose met a charming man who seemed like Mr. Right. The couple had two children together, and Rose felt she was finally building the happy family she’d always wanted. “He loved my independence and the fact that I could take care of myself,” she says. “I didn’t mind if he went away for days at a time on business.” His “business” was selling drugs, and after a while, he asked Rose to help deliver packages. “I loved the guy, and he took advantage of that, and my addiction,” she says. When Rose went to jail the first time, her children stayed with family members. The second time she was incarcerated, Rose got three to five years in MCI- Framingham, and her two youngest children went into foster care. (The oldest daughter was grown.) “I was devastated,” she recalls.

Rose hit her lowest point in Framingham. “My children were upset with me, and I was tired of being tired,” she says. “Something had to give.” During a daylong spiritual event, Rose found another ray of hope. “I knew God was there and He loved me. After that, I started to gradually turn my life around.” Shortly before her release in 2007, Rose was diagnosed with depression and ADHD and finally received the medication she needed. She also heard a presentation about the Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program (MAP) at St. Francis House in Boston. Something in her spirit said, “Go there,” and one day after she arrived in the Hub, she joined Class 79. “Addiction made me feel like I was drowning, but MAP opened the doors to a whole new life,” she says. “The staff helped me get all my needs met and taught me to live life on life’s terms.”

Rose learned to ask for help and to identify her strengths – such as dealing with people. She also worked with a therapist in our Mental Health Department and attended an Ignatian spiritual retreat through Sister Kathy McGrath, who was then a MAP Instructor. “After my first retreat, I was hooked,” she says. “I volunteered to become a ‘witness’ and began sharing my story of incarceration, addiction, and homelessness with others.” Rose’s career path was less clear because she could no longer stand on her feet for hours. “My right hip had given me trouble for years and needed to be replaced.” She had surgery, recovered, and then started volunteering at MAP. “I knew that would open doors for me,” she says. And it did. Rose learned she could get paid by the Urban League, which trains people for professional jobs. “That felt like a gift from God because it meant that I could continue my work at MAP.”

For the past two years, Rose has thrived as a part-time receptionist greeting and assisting MAP students and alumni on the 5th floor. She answers phones, answers questions, gives encouragement, and makes sure breakfast, lunch, and graduations run smoothly. “She knows what the students are experiencing, and she’s a living example that life can get better if you work hard and see yourself as a fighter, not as a victim,” says Chris Bundick, MAP Instructor.

Rose turned 60 recently, and she describes herself as happy and fulfilled. She speaks at and organizes spiritual retreats, and she has reconciled with her family. All three of her children attended All the Way Home in October, where Rose talked about her life and was featured in a powerful video.

“None of this would have been possible without St. Francis House,” she says. “I was focused on the light at the end of the tunnel; they showed me that the light had been inside me all along.”