"One foot in front of the other. Everything will be OK."
That's what Brenda Anthony would tell the 2009 version of herself that was living at Our House, a residence for the homeless or near-homeless, with her 5-year-old son.
Raised on the west coast, Anthony followed work to West Helena where her alcoholism began to spiral. She made the tough decision, but one she stood by as a single mother, to check into a rehab facility in Little Rock. Having completed the program, she then found herself living in a rundown apartment, struggling to pay the bills.
"I was in constant fear," Anthony says. "How will I buy food? Will they turn off our electricity? Will my car hold up?"
Then a friend told her about Our House. The facility had one bed available, which Anthony and her son shared for weeks. There she took part in financial literacy classes, mental health services, family counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other offerings that helped her piece her life back together.
"It wasn't what I expected. A lot of people have negative ideas of homeless shelters, and I was no different," Anthony says. "I walked in thinking, 'I have a business degree, I can help these people.' No, I may have had different advantages in my life, but we were all in the same place. All that mattered was that I wasn't scared anymore."
Fast forward 10 years and Anthony now serves on the Our House board of directors in a seat reserved for former residents. And once again, it's not what she expected.
"We all have our roles. Some are really good at fundraising or planning events, and I'm proud of the practical perspectives I can provide," she says, "but no one is here just to boost their status. They truly, truly care."
Today she sits in the home she owns thanks to a partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Our House and begins to brag on her now-teenage son and the level of compassion he possesses.
"You know, I'm deeply impressed with an environment that helped build
a human like him," she says of the family they gained while at Our House. "It was him being around people who make people their priority. I'm so glad my son is one of the ones who learned how to care."
She looks out at an oak tree in her front yard, one that bears a limb removal scar that healed in the shape of a heart.
"I believe in this mission," she says. "It saves lives.
Help support Our House at Home for the Holidays Under the Stars on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m. at War Memorial Stadium. ourhouseshelter.org.