Thankful for ... A place to call home

Published: 11/24/2016 11:00 AM
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BY STEPHANIE BETTICK

THE NEWS-ITEM stephanie_b@newsitem.com

COAL TOWNSHIP — As people gather around the dinner table today and detail what they’re thankful for, perhaps no one will have a list filled with as much gratitude as two young mothers who have been helped by Pinnacle Place.

Shantel McLaughlin, 19, and Amanda Samms, 22, have become “two peas in a pod,” learning and growing into bright young women and mothers at the maternity home. They attribute it all to Kim Eroh, family education program manager, and Tammy Sempko, house manager, and the other house moms.

Pinnacle Place has provided a home to 22 mothers and children throughout its four years in Coal Township. Mothers ages 18 through 21, who were pregnant or already parenting, can find shelter there while learning how to make goals, accomplish those goals, get jobs, save money, take care of their children and other important life skills to get them on their feet.

Eroh said the program is funded by the Administration for Children and Families Runaway and Homeless Youth Program (RHY) through the federal government.

The program accepts homeless youth from 10 counties — Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Sullivan and Union.

From angry to mature

McLaughlin, a senior in high school, said she entered the home nine months ago a defiant, angry person. At one point, she moved out of the home because she wanted to do things her way. The place she was living was not a healthy place for her and her 1-year-old son, Liam, so she moved back.

“When I moved back, Kim and Tammy asked me why I wanted to move back, and I told them because I wanted to work on my goals and I wanted to mature,” she said.

She’s done just that, noting, “Every time they talk to me now or if I get mad, I don’t storm off. I voice how I feel nicely and am respectful of them. I have grown a lot since being here.”

Eroh said the great thing about McLaughlin is that, through the community service projects done as part of the agency’s grant requirement, McLaughlin has not only joined the Interact Club at Shamokin Area Middle/High School, but she has become the secretary.

‘Out of my shell’

As for Samms, it was the service projects, which include making bracelets for Operation Gratitude, chemotherapy care kits for Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, diaper babies for the March of Dimes and blankets for Project Linus, through which she stepped up and was instrumental in making phone calls to coordinate the efforts, Eroh said.

“It was scary for me,” said Samms. “I’m not used to talking to people, so it was kind of a new experience for me and actually brought me out of my shell.”

Samms moved into Pinnacle Place almost a year ago at age of 21, with her children, Adrian, 2, and Keisha, 6 months. With an 18-month time limit for living at the home, Samms is six months away from taking what she learned from Eroh and Sempko and applying it to life on her own.

“When I came here, I was shy. I didn’t have a very good outlook on myself, and I knew some things,” she said, “but I didn’t know as much as I should as a parent.”

Samms said she has three children, the oldest living with his grandmother. She went into the home pregnant, unsure of how she was going to support her new baby and Adrian. Upon entering the home, her self-esteem and her outlook on life completely changed.

She said, “If I wouldn’t have come to Pinnacle, I probably wouldn’t have my two children and I’d probably be walking the streets right now.”

At Pinnacle, Samms said they have learned about nutrition, parenting, cleaning, counseling and more, all at once.

“I worked my butt off trying to get everything I needed to make their lives better, and it actually feels good having the help and knowing you have the people to stand behind you and push you forward,” she said.

McLaughlin said Eroh and Sempko have stuck by her side no matter how much trouble she would get in.

“I’m honestly grateful for the program because sometimes there are days when it’s a struggle, so having people around me that show me that, ‘you can do this; you just have to try your hardest,’ helps a lot, so I’m thankful for the moms. Every one of them,” McLaughlin said.

Samms said, “You always have somebody to pick you up. It’s like a big family.”

Sempko said Samms has become a great leader within the past year and is often used in a leadership role when she or another house assistant can’t be there during the week.

Samms said, “The girls all have this little joke; they’re all my kids and I’m mom. They pretty much all at times have called me ‘mom’ as a joke.”

McLaughlin said she isn’t the type of person who likes to ask for help, but when it comes to Liam or if she has a personal problem and needs to talk, she always goes to Samms.

Reaching goals

Both girls are on their way to completing goals they have set throughout the past year.

McLaughlin said she is currently in cosmetology at the Northumberland County Career and Technology Center and is set to graduate in spring. Having just started cosmetology this year, she said she hopes to go back next year to complete her training hours and is OK with having to wait to get her diploma, as long as she can walk the stage at graduation.

“This year was the first year I got good grades, and my principal called me into his office to tell me to try to get honor roll. That’s a good feeling,” she said.

Samms hopes to go through her certified nurse assistant training (CNA) and eventually become a registered nurse (RN).

McLaughlin said the program is very worth the time if for those willing to work hard.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I would probably be in a bad spot,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t be attending school like I’m supposed to. I probably wouldn’t have the grades I have and worked hard for.”

Samms added that people tell her they’re sorry when she informs them she lives in a maternity group home, but she isn’t ashamed.

“I feel sometimes that maybe people ... have too much pride to come in and ask for help,” she said. “A place like this is worth coming to.”

For more information on Pinnacle place, contact Eroh at keroh@csiu.org or 570-523-1155 ext. 2322, or Sempkat at tsempko@csiu.org or 570-809-4579. They can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CSIUPinnaclePlace.

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