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Catholic Life Features Ministry

Immaculata Home offers spiritual programs, community living for homeless women

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Christine Kesterson has spent the last 10 years offering spiritual guidance as chaplain at Albion Correction Facility. She has seen women undergo substance abuse treatment, anger management and trauma programs. She has also witnessed God surrounding those who are suffering. Four years ago, she took many of those programs outside the medium correctional facility and into a faith-based transitional house she calls Immaculata Home.

The mission of the Lockport-based home is to provide housing and programs for women touched by incarceration, who desire to live in a family-style, spiritual community. Chaplain Kesterson defines “touched by incarceration” as having family members incarcerated, by having a brush with the law, by being at risk for incarceration, or having served time themselves. The Victorian-style home built in 1866 offers clean and safe transitional housing with five bedrooms, two baths, dining room and chapel, where the residents participate in job readiness and conflict resolution programs, opportunities for spiritual growth, and linkage to Social Services.

“It’s mainly a communal home for women,” explained Kesterson. “We focus on women who are at risk for incarceration or may have had some history of incarceration, either personally or in their family.”

Kesterson, who earned a master’s degree in divinity from Christ the King Seminary, runs the home with a Catholic foundation, but accepts anyone who has an interest in spiritual growth. “Our goal is to help women use spirituality as complimentary to any other social services that they need in order to gain independence,” she said. “We provide, first of all, a loving environment where they can belong to a family, a surrogate family, where they can be in a Christian environment where we pray every morning.  Every single morning we have chapel prayer. The girls gather together and pray. Then we run programs.”

Currently five women live there, with capacity for nine. The typical resident is homeless for a variety of reasons. Residents may be struggling with addiction or other types of personal issues, like co-dependency. One resident was dropped off by a brother at the age of 18 when she aged out of foster care. The average stay is six months to a year, but residents can stay up to two years.

“They typically want to live independently, but they’re not ready for that. They enjoy living together and not being alone, and learning and growing,” Kesterson said.

One current resident had a husband, son, beautiful house in Clarence, and 17 years of sobriety when she relapsed.

“I lost everything,” Ann Marie said. “I had to go through a divorce. I had to sell my home. I sought treatment a year and a half ago at Reflections (Recovery Center in Lockport).”

Unable to trust herself on her own so soon after rehab, Ann Marie came to Immaculata Home 18 months ago. It provides a stepping stone to help her move forward with her life. The residents support each other. They do not supervise each other. So, they are free to take care of personal business during the day.

“What I love about the Immaculata Home is they do wonderful programing for woman,” Ann Marie said. “It’s a spiritual-based home where they support recovery. They’re very strong on abstinence, which is wonderful, and they provide groups that help with that knowledge and moving toward your goal to getting yourself back on your feet.”

Ann Marie now speaks with an upbeat tone when she talks about how she has reconnected with her ex-husband, son and friends.

“I’m not the girl who walked in her year and a half ago,” she said.

Covid has limited the number of residents the home can handle, and also cut the volunteer opportunities. Currently, Rhonda Bartholomew is the only paid employee, thanks to a grant from the United Way. As program director, she handles all the administrative aspects, writes the newsletter, and makes sure chores are done. She also oversees that the women maintain their mental health through the various programs and meetings the home offers. She recently started yoga classes to relive stress and anxiety in these troublesome and uncertain times.

“We are the last step before a woman can live independently, so a woman who has been scarred from previous incarcerations, drug or alcohol or any other forms of addiction. They live pretty independently. However, they live in a home with structured groups, programs and meetings,” she said.

Kesterson, who runs the home with her husband, Charles, felt a Divine inspiration to open the home back in 2016. “The call for me came like a computer download. It was something I felt God was asking of me,” she said. “I know about women and where they struggle and what services are available for them. The call to open Immaculata Home came from the fact that the type of woman who I care for, who is typically in her 50s. She is on the bottom of the barrel for women’s services.” More services are available for women with children, Kesterson said, adding families will get housing faster than single women.

What sets Immaculata Home apart from similar homes is the length of stay. Most transitional housing lasts only three months.

“That is the model that, in my opinion, does not work because no one is ready, coming out of a crisis situation, in three months to be on their feet. There’s a lot of healing that needs to take place and healing takes time. We provide the time and the place where they can feel safe, so they can begin to reconnect with their family members and reconnect with themselves to figure out who they are and what they want. Ultimately, we hope they reconnect with God because He will always be with them.”

For more information call 716-727-0003 or visit http://www.immaculatahome.org.

Chaplain Christine Kesterson (center) with her husband, Charles, and Rhonda Bartholomew show off the Immaculata Home Chapel. The Lockport house offers programs and living space to homeless women.

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