I’d like to introduce you to another of our most beloved staff member: Antonette – the Housing Wizard! No but really, she’s the amazing person that runs the show in the housing office – getting our clients from where they are to (hopefully) where they’d like to be for their next step. If you’ve ever stopped by our Portsmouth location, you’ve probably seen this short-statured firecracker organizing donations, hollering or laughing. She’s got the personality to make you feel so loved and, when necessary, she can sit you down you’d think she was your mama and give you a stern talking to. She adds to the awesome-soup that makes our office so diverse and energetic. You’re lucky to cross her path, and unlucky to never meet her.
Part One – Professional/Work-Related Questions:
1) Please start by giving an overview of your time and positions here at the HER Shelter.
Before working at the HER Shelter, I worked at the PARC Shelter here in Portsmouth as a Shelter Relief Worker. I began at HER in 2013, starting right off where I am today – in the housing office. For the past 4 years I have remained as the Housing Advocate and built up a network of relationships with landlords and community workers across the Portsmouth and Chesapeake region.
2) Can you describe what you think about everyday as you drive to work?
To be honest, as I drive to work in the morning, my mind often floats to my relationships with my coworkers and the community we share as we try to help people. I often run through lists of things that need to be done, calls I need to make, people I get to approve for housing assistance, and those that we have some issues to resolve.
3) This can be challenging and emotional work. How do you cope with the stress and the heavy emotional toll that sometimes threatens to go home with you?
Prayer. Sometimes I just stop and randomly sing at the top of my lungs. And when necessary, a good cry always makes me feel better.
4) During your time at the HER Shelter, is there a particular mistake you made that you think you learned the most from?
At one point, during a phone call with a community client, I spent several minutes getting cussed out. After she had finished, I was emotional and ended up hurting her feelings with the things I said. I was extremely troubled by the conversation and ended up leaving the office and visiting her in person to seek her forgiveness. I was in no place to be punishing her for what she’d said, and the program is not based on who I want to give the money to, but on who needs it – my feelings aside. I needed to humble myself to embrace this woman who had been through so much – I could have been her, and I was at one point. She was under pressure, and I didn’t meet her in peace, and our conversation broke down. It made me rethink (and continues to) how to be professional under pressure and to connect in a manner of peace with whomever calls me.
5) When you were a dewy-eyed youth, was this the type of work you imagined yourself doing? If not, what other career paths were you interested in pursuing?
A veterinarian! When I was younger that was the plan. It seemed like, growing up in the projects, that all the “good” neighborhoods were on the other side of the tracks, so to speak. And one of the ways that there was a cross-over between our neighborhoods is that those people’s pets would come over to scavenge – beautiful dogs and cats. We would watch those cats and dogs come into our neighborhood and then watch them go back to where they slept. Everyday my sister and I would play with their animals, and then go back up to our rooms at the end of the day and part ways with them. I loved those animals, and wanted to be someone who took care of them.
6) In what ways do the mission and vision of the HER Shelter resonate with you on a personal level?
To be honest, I wish I’d had a place like this as a resource when I was younger. Speaking from experience, these things happen, they are real. It means the world to me to be able to help.
7) Similar to an earlier question, is there a particular story or moment of success that has stuck with you and encouraged you over the years?
When the HER Shelter won the Rapid Rehousing Challenge Award (in 2013), it meant the world to me – that we had been doing what we were supposed to do and helping as many people as possible. It was recognizing us for being great at helping – and that felt so encouraging. Even though we don’t get awards every year, I strive to meet every goal that comes my way – because at the end of the day it means we help a maximum number of people. And I don’t do it by myself – our team is awesome, and everybody is involved in making it happen.
8) Does the work you do have the potential to empower people, but also the potential to harm?
It depends. There are definitely people who our housing program isn’t the best option for? If this makes sense, we can put people into housing for good reasons, but then the person could use that housing for a reason other than a safe harbor. Sometimes we get calls from landlords about an ex-client that wants to register a complaint about someone we housed with them. Of course we have people that we’ve housed that ended up losing what we helped them achieve – for a variety of reasons. We can’t force people to create a home, all we can do is help to provide a house – if that makes sense. We do our best to monitor and help our clients maintain healthy life-styles and habits so that they can be successful. We try to put people in housing, and wrap our services around them to become sustainable and achieve something long-term.
9) If you were to give advice to a young person interested in work like this, what would be the top tips you’d give?
- Know yourself first. You have to know who you are so you can stay grounded. This work is a movement, and it’s easy to get swept into our clients’ lives if you don’t have something holding you down. It can be depressing and tough, but somebody has to do it. We’re here to help people get picked up, and unless you’re ready for that, you’ll get pulled down. When you hear the stories from intake, you can’t keep that with you – their story can’t become yours.
- Along a similar line, learn healthy ways to empathize and sympathize – without internalizing – it’s so essential.
Part Two – Personal/Get-to-Know-You Questions:
1) In a few sentences, how would you summarize yourself? Who is Antonette?
I am loud, cheerful, colorful, bright, can’t-take-her-anywhere, a success-story, a survivor of abuse, a mother – happy and here. I don’t think I’ve fully made it, but I feel like I am living a purpose driven life. You know how people don’t know what that purpose is? I always feel like I know what my point is, and it fulfills itself everyday. I always knew I’d be Antonette, the queen. Woop!
2) Morning person or evening person? Why?
All around person, but morning probably. I like the feeling of getting up early and being productive. I like to be alert so I know when people are lurking, or messing with my stuff.
3) When life gives you lemons, what do you do?
Make ghetto juice. That’s that kool-aid with a whole five-pound bag of sugar in it. Knocks your teeth straight out. You gotta do what you gotta do.
4) If Antonette was a cleaning product she would be a _______? Why?
Pow-Wow Degreaser, it’s gonna knock your socks right off.
5) Stopping three good friends of yours on the sidewalk, I ask them to describe you and they say….?
“That fried chicken though.” or “Oh I love her!” or “Party in shoes right there.”
6) It’s the end of the world and the zombies are coming – what’s your strategy to survive?
Turn into Michonne from the Walking Dead. That girl is crazy awesome. Recite the Lord’s Prayer. Take care of my family.
7) The HER Shelter is a family oriented organization – would this also be a fitting description for you? (Without too much detail!)
Yup. My family is my everything.
8) What are your top personal strengths and weaknesses?
- Strengths: My faith. My energy. Positive outlook – there is light at the end of the tunnel.
- Weaknesses: Unorganized. Last-minute, but I think I work well under pressure!
9) Life-long goal – base-jumping in Yosemite? Traveling to Mars?
- Work-related long-term goal: To have a boys home. For me and my husband to be able to foster as many as we can.
- Personal: To be a first-time home owner and to live out loud.