Best Friends Emerge From Homelessness To Lead Productive Lives

Former Harmony House residents and best friends, Sonya Thomas and Alnisha Smith, say that the year they spent at Harmony House helped them make progress towards reaching their goals.

Best Friends Emerge From Homelessness To Lead Productive Lives

By Angela Stewart

Alnisha Smith and Sonya Thomas share a friendship that dates back to their days at Newark’s Weequahic High School. It was then that they discovered they had a mutual interest—a young man—but it turns out they were not the only two students in whom he was showing an interest.

“We didn’t blame each other. We put the blame on him. We’ve been friends ever since,” said Thomas.

Their friendship has endured through very difficult period in their lives, including homelessness. Both ended up at NCC’s Harmony House transitional living facility in 2001 as young, single mothers. Today, they are both employed, living independently and leading, stable productive lives as the heads of their respective households.

“I had never lived on my own before coming to Harmony House,” said Thomas, 35, the mother of a 14-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.

Both Thomas and Smith are still working at the same jobs they acquired back in 2003. Smith, now a 35-year-old mother of three, is employed by the Newark Fire Department’s Division of Prevention and Life Safety, where she is a principal account clerk typist. Thomas, meanwhile, is employed as a data entry machine operator for the city of Newark.

“It’s good for me because you are giving back to the community and you are helping people,” Smith said of her position with the Newark Fire Department. “People come to us after losing their house to get the reports they need to help them move on.”

Smith, who also once worked in a homeless shelter in East Orange, plans to take a course and then an exam to become a fire inspector, while Thomas has plans to enter Essex County College to become an x-ray technician.

The women credit the year they spent at NCC’s Harmony House with helping them to learn responsibility and practical things like budgeting, how to prepare a resume, present yourself for a job interview and conduct yourself in the workplace. The goal at Harmony House is to move families from dependency to self-sufficiency, generally within a period of six to nine months. Each family is assigned a case worker who works closely with the clients to ensure they are making progress in reaching this goal.

“Being at Harmony House gave me time to get things together. It helped me get off public assistance and, thank God, I have not had to return to it,” said Smith, who now lives about 10 minutes away from her best friend, Thomas, in a Newark apartment. “I knew some things about computers, but I also had an opportunity to take a computer class while living at Harmony House,” she added.

Smith was able to leave her then two children at the on-site early learning center at Harmony House while she worked a job at Newark Liberty International Airport. Because she had to start work at 7:30 a.m., her friend Thomas would often drop her children off at the Harmony House Early Learning Center as a favor.

“I was able to pick them up,” said Smith, whose children are now 15, 13 and 6. “Everyone was just so pleasant and helpful. I was also able to get donations of toys for my children through Harmony House and also take advantage of the New Community food pantry.”

After Smith was hired by the Fire Department in February 2003, she encouraged her friend Thomas to also apply for a job with the city of Newark.

“I told her to go down and see the mayor. She took her resume and tried it and eventually she got hired in July (2003),” Smith said.

The women’s sons, who are 14 and 15, have also bonded. Just like their mothers, they are also now good friends.

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