Written by Mary McCusker
Lauren Segers’ phone pinged as she sat in Catholic Charities’ Vineland office. Glancing at it, her eyes lit up, and she said with a huge smile, “That’s my new employer. They told me just yesterday that I was hired.”
Landing this new job added another item to her list of accomplishments over this past year through the assistance of Catholic Charities, despite the dark trials and challenges she’s faced.
The 29-year-old looked down lovingly at her toddler son, who was clumsily walking around the office, holding a book, babbling away.
From her positive demeanor, contagious laugh and bright smile, it was difficult to believe that just a year and a half ago, Segers was homeless and living out of her car with her son. At the time, they had just been told that the local homeless shelter was full. That news left Segers at rock bottom, coupled by the tumultuous circumstances that led her there. After having endured a complicated pregnancy, she said everything — her job and her plan to attend college — had to be put on the back burner as she dealt with health issues and unemployment. Her financial troubles multiplied after struggling to get back to work.
But, even after finding housing on her own, her hardships continued. Despite having no pets of her own, fleas made their way into her apartment from other tenants’ pets. Neighbors were loud, and her landlord kept raising the rent. It was not a suitable place for her son.
It was then that she reached out to Catholic Charities. “I just started looking around online and I found this place,” she said, glancing at her case manager, Cynthia Lebron, and Brittany Thurston, housing stability coordinator. “They were the first people to truly help me.”
Added Thurston, “[Segers] is a role model of a client. She has risen above so much adversity and has an amazing work ethic. Everything we’ve asked and encouraged her to do, she’s done, and more. She’s been so determined — to find a home, get back to work, go to school and provide for her child.”
Unfortunately, Segers’ history of overcoming challenges started at a very young age when she faced a series of traumatic incidents that resulted in an unstable and challenging upbringing. But the trauma, she said, allowed her to relate to others in a deeper way, especially in her field of behavioral health. The mother worked on the graveyard shift which involved interacting closely with children and teens who struggle with behavioral health issues — often during their darkest hours.
“[The trauma] … it makes you see people differently. I still have my moments, it’s difficult. But I’ve learned that there’s no sense in being depressed and dwelling on the negative. I’ve got other things to focus on,” she said, smiling at her son — living proof that she persevered, despite the obstacles life threw at her.
With secure employment and a new home on the horizon, Segers was able to go back to school at Cumberland County College.
The assistance that Lebron and Thurston provided was made possible by the Cumberland County Trust Program — a renewal grant awarded to Catholic Charities. They explained that in addition to meeting basic needs of clients and helping them achieve personal and economic self-sufficiency and stability, the program allows them to develop a personal connection with their clients, as well as work and develop close relationships with private landlords in the community who provide affordable housing.
Even with a more stable life and a promising road ahead, Segers still thinks about the homeless she encounters. “I actually overheard two ladies talking on the street, saying that they didn’t want to go back to the shelter. I told them, ‘Hey, go to Catholic Charities. They’ll help you’” she laughed.
“Really, I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for them,” she added.