3-Year-Old Gracious Hands Fills Housing Need In NW Charlotte
Charlotte native Sonja Chisholm was working as a supervisor at a soft-drink distributor when she and a friend founded the non-profit, Gracious Hands, in 2015. It's what's called a "transitional home" - a place for homeless women and their children to stay while they're working their way toward permanent housing.
At one time, both women were teen mothers and they wanted to help other women in crisis.
"By the age of 21 I had three children," Chisholm said. "I've never been in the situation where I had to live in a transitional house or a shelter. But I've always said that once I hit the lottery I'm going to open up a house for homeless women and children."
She and her friend never did hit the lottery, but they opened the two-bedroom house on North Hoskins Road anyway.
She now runs it alone. In the past three years, Gracious Hands has housed 91 women and their children - families in transition from homelessness or unstable housing, to permanent homes.
It's one of just a handful of transitional homes in Charlotte for women with children. Comparable programs include Women in Transition at the YWCA, Hope House in Huntersville and Charlotte Family Housing. Some programs serve specific populations, like homeless women, women just getting out of jail or women from abusive homes.
Chisholm runs a tight ship. She requires women to find jobs within two weeks of their arrival. The women have to save half of their incomes, so they're ready to live on their own. Chisholm helps them repair their credit, find training and seek jobs.
Not everyone makes it. About half of the women haven't graduated. Chisholm said what makes the difference is their willingness to work hard.
"What I tell people is that everyone that says they want help, doesn't [actually] want help," Chisholm said. "I tell people if you're looking for a handout, Gracious Hands is not the place for you. If you're looking for a hand up and really get on your feet and get your life moving in the right direction, this is definitely the place for you."
Chisholm said she's eager to help the women that want to help themselves because "you can't help anyone that does not want it themselves."
Women typically are referred to Chisholm by other social service providers. She screens them carefully to make sure they're motivated. If they make it through the process, she's there to help them with everything.
A key requirement is that they save half their incomes. That's money they'll need for security deposits on apartments or down payments on their own homes, which Chisholm said she prefers.
"You have to buy," she said. That way, "they don't have to worry about someone just coming to kick them out or the rent ballooning on them because they're not making enough money."
If that happened, Chisholm said the women would end up right back where they started.
Chisolm now runs Gracious Hands by herself, funding it with a combination of small grants (so far, none larger than $3,000) and her own savings. Women also pay $200 a month in rent - she calls it a donation.