Grassroots Non-Profit Offers Housing, Life Lessons

Grassroots Non-Profit Offers Housing, Life Lessons

At Hillcrest Transitional Housing, tenants stay for three months, before "graduating" with a new set of life skills.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Liz Marcou is a 25-year-old mother of three who moved to St. Joseph with her fiancée in March.

The fiancée is currently incarcerated, following what Marcou says is "a relapse, and a mistake."

She gets to talk to him once a month, but caring for her three boys: Damien, 8, Devlin, 2, and Daryan, 10 months, is still her biggest priority.

"Me and the kids really didn't have anywhere to go.  We stayed with a really good friend out in Rosendale," Marcou said.

But sharing bedrooms and living spaces is hardly a permanent living arrangement.

Knowing her situation needed to change, Marcou got on the Internet and searched for other housing.

"You have three lives in your hands.  It's up to you on what's going to happen in their lives," she said.

Online she found Hillcrest Transitional Housing, a grassroots program that is still a work in progress.

They've refurbished some apartments on the Parkway, and continue to get them ready for residents to move in.

Most of the work so far is thanks to volunteers, and many building materials were donated.

"It's slow and steady.  In spring time, we'll have some landscaping and some gardening and a fire pit project," explains Case Manager Kellie Barton; Barton is one of only two employees at Hillcrest's Buchanan County division.

Barton explains that the three month experience requires tenants to learn how to cook in their kitchen.

They'll also learn basic financial skills.

"We're not looking to enable anybody," Barton said.  "We're looking to empower people.  Individuals have a sense of pride in 'home' and 'community.'"

If, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, the goal of this community is to be that village for people who maybe haven't had that sense of community before.

That community will have its own food pantry. And access to hygiene products and medicines.

"This is an all needs, no wants program," Barton said.  "That doesn't mean a bread and water diet.  You won't go without the basic staples you need, as well as some luxuries and amenities.  What it means is that you're getting away from things like soda, and chips, and ice cream on your food stamps, and you're learning how to prepare a meal that's actually going to last your family for a substantial amount of time."

Needs are provided, but residents are expected to buy in by continually participating in the learning activities provided by Hillcrest and their volunteers.

"Even though it might not be permanent, but right now it's stability for the kids more than anything," Marcou said.  "They're in a home of their own, versus sharing a bedroom with another little boy.  They have their own bedroom, their own bunk beds.  I think it's better for them all around."

Marcou will graduate the program in February.

She hopes to have her fiancée back soon after that.

They ultimately plan to move back to her home state of Washington, with a more optimistic outlook on the rest of their lives.

Applications for Hillcrest Transitional Housing can be found on the non-profit's website.
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