As a kid, Jade Stewart loved being in the streets. In fact, Stewart said, she was addicted to it.
Her parents, also very involved in street life, weren’t there for her growing up. Those circumstances eventually landed Stewart, now 24, in jail. After a recent stint, she ended up in the Naomi Project, founded by a minister at New Mt. Pilgrim Church on the West Side, Tammy McNeal, who turned her own life around from substance abuse and is looking to help other women like Stewart.
“What I wanted to do is give back to single women,” said McNeal, executive director of the Naomi Project.
The non-profit organization, in partnership with New Mt. Pilgrim Church and other organizations, has opened a transition home for women recently released from correctional institutions. The home, open for about a month, had its grand opening Saturday.
Stewart was the first resident. After being released from jail, she went right back to the streets, living “here and there,” she said, for a couple of weeks before finding the home. She learned about the project and their newly opened transition house through co-workers. She initially saw it as another way to “get over.”
“Honestly, when I first came here, I was like, ‘I’m going to do this program, they’ll help me find an apartment, but I’ll be right back on the street. I’m still going to do what I want to do,'” she recalled. “That’s all I was thinking about.”
The two-flat, three-bedroom and two-bathroom house, located near New Mt. Pilgrim Church, is a regular residential home, inside and out. The home is available to take in three residents at a time, some sharing a bedroom. The women can stay for up to a year, and the Naomi Project provides aftercare and transition into permanent housing after their stay. The house, which will have a computer lab among other resources, has a 24-hour staff, some of whom, including McNeal, have a background similar to the residents. Staff members say they’re doing God’s work.
“I believe God is bringing us women together” said staff member Loretta Ashford. “I believe it’s no coincidence that God has chosen each and every one of us, as well as the residents, to come to the Naomi Project at such a time because I believe he has a plan for all of us.”
Staff member Shirley Goldman said some of the residents can relate to the female staff.
“The experience has been me coming out of myself to help someone else,” said Goldman, who’s referred to as “the momma of the house.”
“I already see and feel that we’ll be growing. It’s said that we are more powerful in numbers, so I know we are some strong black women.”
Stewart, who joked that as the first resident, she was “the baby of the house, but the elder also,” eventually changed her mind about living in the home.
“Now that I’m here, it’s not about me getting an apartment. It’s about me getting healed, and getting my mind together,” she said.
“This isn’t just a place for people who’s recovering from drugs. You could be recovering from the street life; you can be recovering from whatever it is you’re addicted to. This is somewhere to help you grow as an individual spiritually, mentally and physically.”