A Safe and Affordable Home to Call Her Own

Faced with an unsafe living situation and the threat of rising rent, Mary knew she had to do something.

“I was like ‘I’ve got to do something,’” she said. “I’m not getting [anywhere]. I’m not paying any bills. I’m not helping my credit. I’m just losing money and making myself depressed.”

She was paying $700 a month to rent a small room where she couldn’t open the windows or leave the room without fear of a dog attacking her or her cat.

Mary had applied to live at FROM’s Main Street Housing in the past, but the available unit wasn’t a good fit for her. She decided to apply again, and this time, she was able to move in.

The year she’s been in her new home wasn’t easy. Shortly after moving in, with limited work hours significantly impacting her income, Mary made the decision to transition jobs. She was encouraged to change jobs by her supportive friends, and a few FROM staff members. While it was a positive change for her, the delay in paycheck meant she needed an extension to pay her rent for the next month.

Wendie, FROM Executive Director, agreed to work with her, and Mary was thankful, saying it’s not a chance you really get anywhere else.

“I just wanted to cry when I wanted to ask [Wendie] about it…” Mary said. “I don’t like asking like that.”

She’s now settled into her new job, where she enjoys running a Hi-Lo, something she’s done for more than a decade.

Moving to Main Street Housing has had a positive impact on her financially, as well as helping improve her mental health, and stay more positive.

“I’m actually watching my credit go up, I’m getting everything paid off, I’m able to help my dad,” Mary said. “If I was still in that spot, I would not be able to help my dad…I wouldn’t be able to do everything an adult should be able to help their parents’ do.”

She’s thankful for the positive impact that stable and affordable housing has had on her life, and the foundation she is building, living in the community where she has support.

“I’m doing it on my own. I’m here in Lowell, that’s all I wanted,” she said.

When asked about why affordable housing is so important to the Greater Lowell community, Mary was quick to share.

“People deserve [affordable housing]. They deserve the opportunity, that’s what they deserve.”

A Place to Thrive

(Rex pictured here with one of the raised garden beds he tends to at Main Street Housing over the summer)

After living south of Lowell for almost five years, Rex needed to find a place to live. He had 30 days to find a new place, and his options were limited.

“I couldn’t afford, what, over $1,000 in rent,” he said about the available houses and apartments in Lowell.

The avid science fiction reader and gardener saw that FROM’s Main Street Housing had a unit for rent and quickly applied.

“I applied and within 2 weeks I’d been ok’d,” he said. “…It’s fitting my needs for right now.”

Previously, he rented a room in a house and shared the rest of the house and kitchen. He appreciates that he now has a place to truly call his own. Plus his shorter commute to and from his job at Meijer saves him gas money

In the summer you’ll find him working in the raised garden beds outside of the house or reading about gardening in one of the more than 1,000 books he owns.

“It’s a nice environment, the rent is reasonable, it’s fair,” Rex said about living at Main Street Housing.

Though the house historically had a negative reputation in the community prior to FROM taking ownership, Rex said that the reputation has changed for the better.

“I’ve had a couple people ask me when I moved in if it was like it was before,” he said. The folks living there are more friendly and take ownership of where they live. FROM has brought structure and safety through policies and security cameras.

“It’s equal housing, anybody can come here and apply,” he said about why he appreciates where he lives. “…the community does need it.”

Helping Wherever is Needed

“I didn’t know how much need there was in the community,” Diane said. “It’s nice to see we can help a lot of people.”

Diane has been involved at FROM (Flat River Outreach Ministries) for more than 20 years. Since she got involved in 2003, she has served in nearly every area of FROM. Starting as a cashier in Treasures Thrift Store, she came on staff as the Administrative Assistant in 2014, serving in that position until her retirement in 2021.

The grandma of 6 currently volunteers in the Farm Market, Medical Equipment Loan Closet and with VITA Tax. “I don’t like housework and can only read so many books,” she said with a laugh.

She especially appreciates the Medical Equipment Loan Closet program because it helps save on the expense of equipment when it’s only needed for a short time.

“FROM does some really good things in our community and helps people who need help,” Diane said. “I’ve seen people who have been able to be helped who now give back by volunteering.”

Giving Back First as Staff, Now As Volunteer

Diane K., former FROM Volunteer Coordinator, shares her experience coming to FROM and why she continues to stay involved.

My husband and I have lived in Lowell for almost 30 years.  We have one son who is married and they also live in Lowell with their 3.5 year-old twin daughters.  My first priority is my family.  My husband and I are blessed to babysit our twin granddaughters during the work week and we are so happy to be such a big part of their lives.

I originally heard about FROM through the church my family and I attended.  In 2000, joined the FROM Board and was our church representative.  I remained on the FROM Board until I was hired as the Volunteer Coordinator in 2013.  While I was on the Board, I also began volunteering in the thrift shop, now called Treasures Thrift Store. I wanted to learn more about FROM and to be part of the day-to-day business.

I was hired as the first Volunteer Coordinator in 2013 and performed that job for 7 years.  During that time, I also became the FROM maintenance coordinator and had many other miscellaneous duties.  Each year, I helped organize and make gifts for the annual Volunteer Appreciation events.

When I retired in 2020, I just assumed I would continue by volunteering again.  But then COVID-19 hit.  I decided to stay at home and only be around my family for health purposes.  COVID-19 turned out to be a very long time of seclusion.  I really had to push myself to come back.  I knew that staff had changed, there were many new volunteers, and many other changes.  Change is not easy, but FROM’s mission and purpose has not changed. FROM continues to assist our greater Lowell community. FROM is still helping our neighbors in need and still has compassion for those in the community that are struggling.

As of today, I volunteer in Treasures Thrift Store sorting and pricing coats, winter wear, activewear and men’s suits.  I also help where needed if I have extra time.

I would encourage anyone who would like to know more about FROM and their programs or volunteer opportunities to visit their website: www.fromlowell.org .



Volunteer or Staff, Still Giving Back

When former FROM staff members Dawn, Diane B., Diane K. and Kathy transitioned out of their positions, they knew they wanted to stay involved.

“I love everything about FROM,” Dawn, former FROM Executive Director, said. “When I left as a staff member, I never thought that would mean I left as a volunteer.”

Diane, former Volunteer Coordinator, agreed saying when she retired, she assumed she would continue by volunteering.

Each of them has found a way to stay involved and continue serving the community. You will find them stocking the Farm Market, working in Treasures Thrift Store, sitting on our board, or filling in whereever they’re needed.

“I didn’t know how much need there was in the community when I started,” Diane Barnes, former Administrative Assistant, said. “It’s nice to see we can help a lot of people.”

They each shared it doesn’t matter where you get involved at FROM, it all makes a difference.

“No matter where you volunteer, it’s good.” Kathy, former Thrift Store Coordinator, said. “In your community is even better.”

Hear more of their individual stories, as well as current volunteer opportunities by visiting our website at: www.fromlowell.org.

The People Helped Us Too

I first came to FROM in the early 2010’s as a struggling divorced mom of two. I was working a part-time job that wasn’t meeting my financial needs, and my girls and I shopped in the Thrift Store for clothes.

In 2015, my husband Scott and I married, after meeting through our kids, and had to provide for our five kids.

FROM helped fill the gaps. Mobile Food Pantry and other food programs helped provide food. The Backpack Distribution and Christmas Toy Store and Food Basket helped fill other gaps.

We were sad that we couldn’t buy enough food and get new clothes for the kids. FROM helped us, and not just the tangible items like food and school supplies.

The people helped us too. We felt kindness here, not pity. We were not seen as broken people, hopeless or useless. We found friends and neighbors who were volunteers and program participants just like us. We received a warm greeting with smiling faces. There was hope that life would get better. It meant a lot to not feel alone or defeated for a while. We kept working and learning and, eventually, life did get better.

Even when we had nothing, we volunteered and donated what we could. Today, we continue to volunteer, as do our kids, and I joined FROM staff in 2021. Giving to others has always been a big part of who we are, as individuals and as a family. We do it to be kind, and to share a mission of hope.

A giving spirit stokes the fire of hope in others. We wish to inspire people to keep trying and moving forward. Because there is always hope for you too.

Today, I’m glad to work at FROM because I can relate to families facing struggles. I understand that sometimes it’s still not enough even when you’re doing the best you can. While FROM can’t fix everything, we can help with basic needs, fill a gap or make someone’s day a little brighter simply by listening.