Stories & Insights

What are you thankful for?

President & CEO Karen Santilli shares a story that makes her feel especially thankful this season.

November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for? I’d like to share a story of something for which I’m thankful.

It’s about a woman I met through my work here at Crossroads…and the community that came together to help her. Without divulging too much about her personal situation that would identify her, I’d like to share my experience with her. I first met her 3 1/2 years ago. She was in our front desk area talking with some front line staff and wanted to know who the “new Crossroads President” was – so they introduced me to her. We chatted and she told me about herself and had kind words to share. I remember thinking she had such a beautiful smile. Over the course of the following few years, we’ve seen each other here in my office as well as on the streets of the city where she lived. She always remembered my name and had a beautiful smile for me…well most times. Sometimes, she was not in a condition where she wanted to be friendly or conversant. I could always tell when she was like that and gave her space. One Saturday while shopping downtown with my 16 year old daughter, I saw her and introduced her to my daughter. Again, the woman had a beautiful smile and kind words for my daughter, and then would always ask about her when we’d see each other.

Because of mental and physical health challenges, this woman would go through very dark and difficult periods of time where she could become violent and aggressive with people. While she was well-known to many in the city, they struggled to understand how best to help her…and often felt frustrated with her presence - understandably so sometimes. There were many individuals, businesses and social service partners that worked together and met regularly over the last several years to figure out the best plan to help. As soon as we’d get close, she’d either disappear or disengage. But none of us ever gave up. We’d change tactics and try again when she was receptive to services. I cannot tell you how many texts, phone calls and emails were exchanged between the team of folks working to help her. I would get frustrated with the slow progress and our social workers would remind me, rightly so, that we were moving in the right direction and we needed patience. So many nights I’d fear she would die on the streets and we would have failed her. I don’t know what trauma she suffered in her life, but I’m sure it was significant. I felt like I came to know her in some small way and it was our responsibility, our reason for being, to get her off the streets and into her own safe apartment. I thought if we can’t help her get into housing, then we have failed. And I wanted more for her. She deserved better.

It took time, patience, creativity and optimism, but last month she was ready to move in. The team was finally able to get her into an apartment here in our building. When she came in to sign her lease, she asked for me to visit her in her apartment. I went with her case manager to visit and was not expecting the reaction I had. When I saw her smiling at her kitchen table in her own apartment with her own bed and bathroom, I lost it. She hugged me as I cried. She was comforting me. The woman who had always been on the receiving end of “help” was now giving. Someone later told me how powerful that must have been for her. As she hugged me she kept saying, “everything was going to be okay.” I don’t know if she was trying to convince me or herself, but I truly wish that for her. I know she still struggles with her demons and doesn’t always sleep in her bed here, but she knows it’ll always be here for her. As will the community that helped her get to this safe place. I am thankful for our staff here at Crossroads, for the community that came together in whatever way they knew how to help her, and for our partners. I am also thankful that I met this woman with the beautiful smile and kind words.
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