Melissa began using meth at age 15, leading to homelessness and domestic violence, and having parental rights to her first child terminated. In January, Melissa will celebrate three years clean and sober. After graduating from the House of Mercy program Melissa and her five-year old daughter Madeline have a home of their own through ANAWIM Housing’s Shelter Plus Care Program. Melissa continues as an active member of a recovery support program, has participated in Dress for Success’s Going Places Network, and has been employed at the same bookstore for over a year. She has developed positive parenting skills and provides a loving home for her daughter. Melissa shares her inspiring stories in the community, speaking on addiction with high school students and others.
Youth Award Nominated by Amalia Riordan, Iowa Homeless Youth Centers
Having been recently released from jail and on probation, no longer enrolled in high school and experiencing homelessness, Justin Ahlberg came to the Buchanan Transitional Living Program. While in the program Justin earned his HiSET (high school equivalency diploma) and he has maintained employment at Subway, The Continental, and Wells Fargo Iowa Events Center. Using his earnings he has paid off all of his probation and court fines, and purchased a car. After completing the Buchanan Program, he has moved to his own home. Justin has volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House, Night Eyes at the Blank Park Zoo, at RAGBRAI and has shared his life experience at a local poverty simulation.
Compelling Life Story Award Nominated by Kate Polush, Iowa Homeless Youth Centers
At age seven, Decontee came with her dad as a refugee from Liberia. Her mother arrived soon after and sought and obtained custody when Decontee was 12. While working toward her high school diploma, Decontee found she was pregnant and was kicked out of her home. After time at New Directions Shelter she moved to the Lighthouse Transitional Living Program where she currently resides with her son. She completed high school at Scavo in May 2014. Since then she completed a Goodwill training program, then enrolled in Patient Registration classes at DMACC and is working at Goodwill. Decontee is working toward citizenship, has saved about $3,000 since moving to the Lighthouse and has goals of finishing her training, buying a car, and eventually moving to her own apartment.
Veteran Award Nominated by Tobi Simmons, YMCA
In the past Thomas Beil made many unhealthy choices, resulting in a time of homelessness, living in a shed with no heat or running water. He went door to door to earn money doing lawn care. Waking up one day and deciding his life had more meaning than this, he reached out to the VA and was placed in the Grant Per Diem Program. He joined a program through the Evelyn Davis center to become more employable, and is now attending DMACC for certification in Maintenance, and he recently accepted a maintenance position. Thomas frequently volunteers to cook, clean, or do lawn service at homeless shelters. He plays the saxophone in coffee shops and recently has reached out to the community by doing an interview with WHO about how the Des Moines community resources have helped him get where he is today.
Single Adult Award: Dan Mundt Nominated by Drew Kaufman, YMCA
Dan Mundt for many years moved from one couch to another and was in and out of hospitals for medical challenges, including a point at which he “gave up hope.” In fall 2013, Dan obtained a permanent home at the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus. Since obtaining stable housing, he has started working on a degree at ISU. He works as a trainer at another branch of the Y. He provides service to his home YMCA and has become a volunteer with Polk County Conservation.