S.O.U.L.S. volunteers spend afternoon at Casa Nueva Vida, local homeless shelter

Suffolk’s S.O.U.L.S. volunteered at Casa Nueva Vida, a program “with the mission of helping our resident families gain the education and skills they need to permanently lift themselves out of poverty”, according to the Casa Nueva Vida website. S.O.U.L.S. members visited on Saturday, Nov. 2 to help clean up the outside of the home where the children’s playground is located, as well as spend time with the children helping them with their homework or playing a game.

Denise Quiros, an administrator at Casa Nueva Vida, provided a tour of the home, showing S.O.U.L.S. the colorful library for the 23 children who currently live there, the shared kitchen and dining area for all the families, and the computer room where the single mothers of the home are able to receive basic computer skills in a class taught by a local professor. Women who participate receive a certificate upon finishing this class, a skill that they can add to their resumes to find jobs.

“Casa Nueva Vida is a homeless shelter,” Quiros said. “We started off in 1987 in the basement of a church with four families.” Two years later, they were able to purchase a small property and began to build the house. Quiros explained that CNV originally could only house seven families due to the limited space and funds that they were granted. Since then, however, it has expanded to now have 16 families under its roof, each with their own room and privacy. The three-story home also has a kitchen where each family has their own fridge, but share all other appliances. Each mother is assigned a night to cook dinner for everyone in the house, an activity designed so that all the children and adults spend bonding time together.

(From left to right) Virgilio Rojas (Project Leader), Annie Duong, Ayhan Melis Semerci
(Photo by Dani Marrero)

“Six years ago we opened a new shelter in Lawrence, and we are looking to build a third one in 2014. We are doing pretty good,” Qurios said as she walked S.O.U.L.S. to the living room to end the tour. “In Lawrence, we have 12 families, and we hope to have another 10 in the third one.”

Families can stay at the shelter from a few weeks to up to two years and are referred by the Department of Housing and Community Development as space becomes available at CNV. During their time at Casa Nueva Vida, a housing manager and case worker aid them in their transition as they find stable income and a place of their own. They are also offered an English Second Language (ESL) program.

“We offer these programs [ESL and basic computer training] to help them find jobs. We sit with them and search for jobs online and help them write their resumes. We do it to give them the first step to organize their lives and get them back up on their feet.”

Project Leader Virgilio Rojas said that S.O.U.L.S. has visited the home on several occasions, every time helping out with the weekly chores and engaging with the children.

“It’s a good feeling to give back to the community,” Rojas expressed.

Annie Duong, Suffolk class of 2014, joined the organization to volunteer at CNV for the first time on Saturday.

“I enjoy helping out in events like these where I know I am making a positive change. I would like to work in this environment after graduation,” Doung shared.

Quiros expressed warm thanks to the S.O.U.L.S. volunteers as they finished cleaning up the leaves that covered the front porch of the building.

“We are always grateful when volunteers visit us. You all are what helps us make this home look the way it does.”