Meet Chiya: Faces of St. Francis House

Chiya’s journey is like a tapestry woven from the threads of her past, dreams, and newfound purpose. She originally hails from New Bedford, Massachusetts, the place where she first experienced life’s unpredictability. Her father had a career in the Air Force, which meant she and her family moved around frequently, so Chiya grew up to be resilient, accustomed to change and challenges. When Chiya’s mother passed away, she was left with her father and two siblings, and this new dynamic formed the intricate bonds of their family. Throughout her childhood, Chiya aspired to be a lawyer and go to Harvard, determined and eager to succeed.

Life took a turn, though, when Chiya became a teen mom, and she had no choice but to put school on hold. As a mother of four at 22, she had zero capacity to continue her education. By the time she reached her 40s, life took another unexpected turn when Chiya found herself battling addiction. After being placed in a sober home and going through outpatient therapy, she realized she wanted and deserved better for herself, and from there, was introduced to St. Francis House, where her life changed dramatically. At SFH, Chiya was accepted into our Moving Ahead Program (MAP), joined our Room to Grow (RTG) recovery program, and secured an apartment unit in our Next Step housing. She shared the two most compelling aspects that drew her into St. Francis House, MAP in particular: the promise of better income and the opportunity for education.

Chiya’s housing transition happened smoothly and quickly. She remarked, “It happened fast, and that was life changing. I needed it to happen fast, and when it did, it was miraculous for me.” Given her lifelong struggle with stable housing, this achievement held immense value for her; she finally had a stable place to call home. Introduced to Room to Grow (RTG) and the Moving Ahead Program (MAP) by SFH staff, Chiya found a second family and support system that became integral to her recovery. As she puts it, “I went for the lunch and stayed for the family.” What she values most about RTG is that it truly allows room for personal growth, offering consistent support to each guest. Our shelter’s year-round operation was a crucial part of her recovery, too, and she credits part of her success today to the fact that our doors were open 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Recovery never stops, so why should we?

Additionally, our MAP program’s structured approach resonated with Chiya. The financial incentives for education were precisely what she needed. Completing her education was the gift sobriety gave her, something she had dreamt of since her youth. Although life threw her constant curveballs, she realized she could still be a first-generation college student – it wasn’t too late. Chiya pursued her education at Bridge to College at JVS Boston and then at Quincy College, graduating in January from the “Substance Abuse/Addiction Counseling” program and recently graduating for a second time from the “Community Health Worker” program.

Chiya had been living in her Next Step apartment for almost a year, a remarkable milestone in her journey, and is currently working as a Residential Counselor for young adults in recovery at Bridge Over Troubled Waters, an agency in Boston that provides life-changing services for unhoused, runaway, and at-risk youth. Her work in recovery adds purpose and meaning to her life, giving her “a reason to get up every day.” Her motivation is fueled by her spirituality and all four of her children, now ages 28, 25, 22, and 21.