The founder of Lydia’s House of Hope has a vision to do more

SOMERSWORTH — More than 25 years ago, Theresa Tozier was on a crowded train when she saw a homeless woman walking down the aisle, dodging gazes to find a place to sit.

“I said to myself selfishly, ‘Please don’t sit in the empty seat next to me,'” Tozier recalled thinking at the time. “When she sat next to me, her body brushed against mine. She was shivering with cold. At that moment, I was reminded that, homeless or not, she was human.

It was a moment that became the catalyst for decades of work that became Seeds of Faith Ministries and later Lydia’s House of Hope and Grace House, serving homeless women and children. While Grace House has only been operational for a year, Tozier is already planning a third house.

Amy Paquette, Lydia's House of Hope Grant Editor, and Theresa Tozier, Founder and Executive Director, have a vision to expand the operation in the future.

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“No kid ever grew up thinking, ‘I can’t wait to be homeless,'” Tozier said. “I took my jacket off and gave it to her. When she put the jacket on, and I “I’ll never forget how she thanked me again and again as I left. It was just a jacket for me, not a big deal, right? But for her, it was an act of kindness that was so much more than that.”

The experience changed Tozier’s perspective. She wanted to help women like the stranger she had met on the train. She got involved in a church, but eventually felt that volunteering wasn’t enough. She wanted to institute long-term change.

From homeless to hopeful

Seeds of Faith Ministries began helping the homeless. What started as outreach programs grew into something much bigger when Lydia’s House of Hope opened in 2016. There are over 30 programs operating out of the home, but the foundation is the program of 365 days called New Beginnings. Another transitional housing program, Grace House, opened last year.

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A bedroom at Lydia's House of Hope on Friday May 13, 2022 in Somersworth.

Lydia’s House of Hope offers women and children, who are homeless for all kinds of reasons, a place to get their lives back on track. During their stay, they receive support to overcome traumatic experiences and challenges while learning life skills to leave home as independent women ready to care for themselves and their families. These life skills vary from learning to sew, budgeting, cooking, communication and much more.

“We teach a variety of life skills, kind of a crash course,” Tozier said. “It’s the kind of things they missed out on in life because their priority was trying to survive. Once they have a roof over their head and support around them, they can grow and thrive.

Works of art are proudly displayed on the walls of Lydia’s House of Hope, made by the women and children who live there. The house is always busy and full of life, whether it’s someone using the computer to take online lessons, mothers chasing their toddlers down the hall, someone using the gym in stockings or something cooking in the kitchen. Tozier said each woman has her own bedroom as a private space, and for many it’s the first private haven they’ve had in a long time.

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Grace House offers apartments for “graduates” of Lydia’s House and their children. It serves as a safe, interim place where they can progress towards independence with ongoing support and guidance from Lydia staff as needed.

Theresa Tozier, founder and executive director of Lydia's House of Hope, explains that women in the home are responsible for doing their own laundry, as seen on Friday May 13, 2022 in Somersworth.

“The depth of the break and the trauma in some of these women is severe because they’ve been through so much,” Tozier said. “In this house, I say they are no longer homeless. It is their house. But it’s not just homelessness that these women face. It’s an addiction. It’s alcoholism. It’s domestic violence. It’s losing custody of their children. We look at each woman’s individual needs and say, “How can we help? »

The Next Chapter: Paul’s Place

Lydia’s House and Grace House both focus on women and children, but Tozier said there’s a huge need for a similar house specific to men.

Tozier said last week a man approached the house to ask if they were providing shelter. She could not house him and referred him to the Strafford County Community Action Partnership in Dover and the nearest shelter.

“We get a lot of calls from men who are just looking for help,” Tozier said. “It happened more and more after the warming center closed. There is not much we can do with our two houses based on women and children. Men also need a place to go. This question has been ignored for too long.

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Tozier envisions Paul’s Place – a bridging program to support men facing homelessness and substance abuse issues. She said she has someone to run the house, and a willing sponsor as well, but Tozier needs to find a location. She is confident that when the time comes, “God and the community will step in again to make this idea a reality.”

“People donate to us in different ways,” Tozier said. “Some in their time, some in their money, and some in their kindness to give all they can. There’s a woman who puts down a gallon of milk every week. It’s a small thing, but every contribution to our homes counts.

What’s next for the House of Hope?

A woman from Lydia's House of Hope shows the paintings she made on Friday May 13, 2022 in Somersworth.

A resident of Lydia’s House of Hope showed a reporter and photographer around her light blue bedroom. Although she said she didn’t have much, she was very proud to show off the blanket she had knitted and the recent artwork she had painted.

Tozier said many of the women who reside at Lydia’s House of Hope have untapped creative abilities that can be therapeutic. She recently had an idea: what if women could sell their crafts to raise money to fund the individual’s program or to achieve a goal?

Tozier plans to create an online Etsy store for the home, so those who want can make handmade items to sell. The Etsy store will be called New Beginnings Boutique and will likely go live in the fall. Residents are currently building up an inventory of crafts like jewelry, handmade bags, paintings and knitted blankets in anticipation of the online store opening. She said each item is “truly handmade with love and hope.”

“This type of program helps them be more responsible and accountable,” Tozier said. “You wouldn’t believe how much creativity there is in this house. It allows them to earn money, learn new skills, budget, and feel good about how much their artwork or crafts are appreciated. »

Amy Paquette, grants writer for Tozier’s organization, said watching women find rewarding new talent was inspiring.

“There’s so much untapped potential in different skills,” Paquette said. “I saw their faces light up when they learned a new skill or learned a skill they were good at. They can tap into the deeper, creative sides of themselves and have time to focus on what they love. This sense of pride and accomplishment is amazing to see when working on projects.

This program is the first step in a much broader vision for Tozier. In the long term, she would like to open a café-bakery where residents who love to cook can use their skills, while gaining valuable work experience to build their resumes. It’s a long way off, but Tozier said everything they’ve done so far “started as a dream.”

Tozier now has a Seeds of Hope fund for its residents. It is used to help send children from home to private school and can be used to help women in other ways. One example was buying a taxi for a pregnant woman who had no transportation to Lydia’s House of Hope.

“There are so many stories of our grads thriving now,” Tozier said. “Before Lydia’s House, a woman was homeless, caught overdosing in a gas station bathroom. Now she has a job, a car, savings, and reunited with one of her children. She lives in an apartment and she’s doing great. That’s our goal as a holistic, faith-based program. It’s an everlasting relationship with our graduates once they leave here, it’s still their home.

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