Just try telling Tameika Hughes that she doesn’t understand what you’re going through – she does know because she’s been there. Although her duties now include coordinating the house supervisors, directing and overseeing the child care center and specializing in family support, it wasn’t that long ago when she was a resident at Freedom House, a single mother of five who was getting out from abusive relationships and concerned about where her kids were heading. That was in July of 2004 when she left everything she knew in Indiana because she didn’t want her kids to have the kind of life she had. There weren’t any positive role models because everyone around her was either on drugs or alcohol, and her oldest son was starting to get into trouble. She was convinced her kids wouldn’t be able to stay out of gangs and she desperately wanted to give them hope for a stable, “normal” life. She packed up the car and headed to Green Bay where her Aunt lived. She thought they were going to stay with her while she tried to establish a home in Wisconsin, but on the way up, a phone call from her Aunt told her otherwise.
“She told me that she didn’t think it was going to work out,” Tameika recalled. “I kept going, I thought, ‘It will work out, maybe not for you but it will work out.’ It took my 13-year old daughter to remind me that ‘it’s going to be OK, we can do this cuz Momma’s a survivor.’ I so needed to hear that,” she said. “It was the motivation to keep going – I was doing it all for my kids.”
That’s when she knew she needed help and she found it at Freedom House through its Life Skills Program. Like so many families, Tameika was put on a waiting list and sent to Appleton to wait for an opening – something that took three weeks. And the transition once she entered Freedom House was difficult to say the least. Learning to “live” with four other families, abide by the rules and stop feeling so guilty that she was a horrible parent. Eventually, Tameika embraced the teachings and life skills at Freedom House. She graduated, found permanent housing and was hired as a house supervisor. When she started in that role, she worked swing shifts – talk about difficulties finding childcare! Tameika’s kids cared for themselves as she worked the night shifts, covered by a lot of prayer and worry. That’s partly why she’s so passionate about offering full time daycare at Freedom House – she knows how desperately it’s needed and she understands better than most exactly how those parents are feeling.
Tameika was promoted to case manager, a position she held for 2 ½ years but then she broke new ground as family support specialist, a role she developed based on her understanding of the troubles residents encounter. In that role, she takes care of the basic daily needs of the families in house. When they have issues, she helps resolve those problems. She also conducts the pre-intake screening with families when they first come in, goes over all the rules, takes them on a tour, gets them settled into their room and makes sure everybody is comfortable and on the same page. Now, she’s taken on the additional role of overseeing the new childcare center and supervises its employees. She’s become the model of how strong families operate and who better to do that than someone who’s walked in their shoes?
“I’m thankful for the difficulties I’ve had and my time at Freedom House because I can look the people we’re trying to help in the eye and say, ‘Hey, this is a possibility, you can come through this too.’ Just to be able to come alongside them and say, ‘I can pray with you and I can be a voice for you to help you get through this.’ It’s such a passion of mine; I don’t think I would be able to do this if I didn’t have the experience myself,” she explained.
“I’ve heard them say, you don’t have kids or you don’t realize what it’s like to live in Freedom House, and I say, ‘Well yeah, I do realize, let me tell you about it.’ And that is really just to say to them, you can do it too, to give them hope, encourage them and make them believe they can overcome as well,” she explained. “I don’t allow anyone to say, ‘I can’t do this.’ Impossible is just a word, just an excuse,” she emphasized.
Right now, the childcare center is available only to those in-house residents who cannot qualify for any other assistance. In the future, Tameika’s vision is to be able to offer the service to families who want or need childcare after they leave Freedom House. She’d also like to expand the hours (recall her experience working swing shift) and expand coverage to members of the staff who need childcare. Those are her dreams, eventually one day opening the center to the community at large, providing several employment opportunities for former residents – a win/win/win/win for the entire community. Tameika knows how to dream big and she understands the work it takes to realize those dreams – after all she moved her family hundreds of miles away to give them a better future, she realized a lifelong dream of being paid to help others and a growing dream to offer strong, safe daycare solutions to struggling families. In her eyes, and experience, the sky’s the limit!
“I just want to give people hope, I want our families to come through here and to leave with possibilities; knowing that they can do this,” she said. “That’s always been my desire; I just want to give them hope. I don’t have any suggestions about what it’s going to take to do that, but that’s what we work through while they’re here. I want them to come through the doors at Freedom House and not look at it as rock bottom, but have it be the best thing that ever happened to them.”