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Irene’s hope story: “I am not the same person”

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This season, Irene is thankful for so much — including you! 

Irene moved to New York City after graduating from art school. She ended up buying a sewing machine because it was something she had loved from childhood. “I started sewing when I was nine years old,” Irene remembers. “I got a sewing machine for Christmas, and I was so excited.” She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and became a certified tailor. 

Over time, she developed a freelance business in fashion design working out of her home studio. She worked with stylists and created wardrobe items for commercials and celebrity fittings. Irene shares, “Whenever you say ‘fashion design,’ people tend to think of celebrities. But there’s always someone behind the scenes who is actually making the clothes, and that person has to figure out the design, the patterns and the construction. That’s the way my brain works. I’m constantly thinking about how to make things.” 

“My life began to spiral downward” 

In 2018, Irene was recovering from a heart attack. “My freelance work began dwindling rapidly, and I began running out of funds,” she recalls. Eventually, her landlord asked her to leave. She lost her home and her workplace all at once. “My life began to spiral downward,” she says. “The next few years, I alternated between staying with friends, living in hotels, staying in a boarding house and staying in shelters. In total, I stayed in 22 different places.” 

“What people don’t understand is it can happen to you. It can happen to anybody. It’s a job loss, it’s a sudden increase in rent and boom, you’re out.” — Irene

“When you’re homeless, you’re under an incredible amount of pressure,” Irene shares. Her anxiety rose and her mind would race as she tried to just survive. In a couple of places where she stayed, Irene feared for her safety. “A few shelters were crowded. Others required 5 to 10-hour long waits. I couldn’t find anywhere I could be at peace,” she says. “At my lowest point, I remember walking around with my suitcase with nowhere to go. I was in a park, and it was getting to be nighttime. I was so scared.” 

From fear to safety and peace

When Irene arrived at The Bowery Mission, she found the safety and peace she desperately needed. “I could finally breathe, relax, take a shower and do whatever I needed to do,” she says. Irene appreciated the daily routine, the encouragement of staff members and knowing she had “a clean bed and a caring environment.” She decided to transfer to our Women’s Residential Program. Being in a stable environment gave her the chance to return to her passion.

Irene sewing

“After such a disorienting chapter, it was a gift to be at the Mission. I was able to bring my sewing machine onsite so I could sew again. It was relaxing to enter back into the realm of design and imagination, of working with different fabrics and patterns. I made my winter coat right there in the chapel.” — Irene

Equipped for a brighter future

“It was healing to be with other women who understood the experience of homelessness on a personal level,” Irene remembers. “I found myself being lifted out of the downward spiral I had been in for so long.” She felt renewed by times of Bible study and prayer. She says, “I was equipped with the tools for growing in my understanding of emotional health, developing a financial plan and learning addiction triggers. And the staff was so thoughtful and sensitive. I remember times when they would ask, ‘Is everything OK?’ If I said ‘maybe not’ we’d stop then and there to say a prayer.” 

A year after joining the Residential Program, Irene graduated. Currently, she is in our Transitional Housing Program, saving money while searching for housing and working on her career. “Sewing remains a big part of my life. Most recently, I’ve been making costumes for a children’s program at my church. I would love to find a way to use my talents on some kind of nonprofit level, because I think sewing is such a valuable skill.” 

Irene at graduation

Irene shares a word of encouragement for others in need: “For anyone who is considering this Residential Program, I would say do it! Yes, it will be challenging. Yes, there may be times when you’re tempted to give up. But you are never alone in that house — you can always reach out for help. And if you can just stick with it, you will not be the same person when you walk out.” She also reflects on her own journey:

“I am not the same person who walked through these doors. I have become wiser, calmer and more steadfast in faith. I know God led my footsteps to the Mission, and I know He has a plan for my life.” — Irene

You can help others find hope and experience new life

Your support helps restore lives and offer hope for people like Irene. Thank you for your compassion that makes the life-changing work of The Bowery Mission possible!