“By looking at me, you might not believe my story.” Gia, 27, shifts in her seat, dozens of eyes glued to her. Her audience – other single mothers with the LifeHope Childcare Center – knows better than anyone that looks cannot mask someone’s story, and Gia’s is one of deep pain, yet beautiful transformation.
She’s a beautician by profession. She opened a salon two years ago and works a second job as a nursing-home beautician. With her wages, she is paying for school, supporting her 2-year-old son, and working her way toward complete self-sufficiency. Although she has been part of Northland for over three years, many don’t know Gia’s story. But she wants that to change. “I want people to know my story. I hope it can help someone out there who has similar struggles.”
Gia comes from a stable home – supportive parents, two sisters and a “normal” educational upbringing. Like many high schoolers and college students, she partied some and would get into a “little trouble here and there,” but she was ambitious and by 20 years old was working two good jobs and had her own apartment.
“Through one of those jobs … I met someone. He introduced me to drugs one night.” Gia shuffles in her chair and clears her throat. She had never used drugs before, and what seemed like a harmless, one-time experience sent her careening down a steep, slippery slope. “I became an IV drug user in August of 2011.”
In the months that followed, Gia sank deeper and deeper into a daily addiction. Bit by bit, her well-built life began to unravel. She lost both jobs and her car, and was evicted from her apartment. When her family members realized the dark hole that Gia was in, they tried hard to help her. But their efforts were unrewarded, as Gia was so desperate for money that she stole from them.
“I burnt every bridge with my family and friends. I had no community. I wanted to get better, but I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Over those three years, Gia was in and out of jail. During one of her stints, she heard about a faith-based rehab program called Healing and Transition (HAT). To make her parents believe she wanted to change, she told them about it. When she got out of jail, they took her to a place they discovered was associated with the program – Northland Church’s Celebrate Recovery.
She wanted to change, yet she didn’t. Gia went “kicking and screaming,” and despite raising hell for everyone trying to help her, she went to HAT.
“It was August 25, 2014, when my parents dropped me off at Northland to be taken to the live-in center. That day my life changed forever.”
Sixteen weeks later, Gia came out of HAT clean. While there, she rekindled her relationship with God. Yet recovery is a long process for addicts, and Gia turned to someone else to bring her stability in life – a man she met in HAT. “I always had my family, or drugs, to turn to. When I got clean, I felt like I had to turn to something else to bring me stability.”
She and her boyfriend began attending Northland, as they both sought a life of recovery together. She got pregnant, and they were working toward marriage, attending Marriage Prep and meeting regularly with Pastor Gus and other mentors at Northland. It seemed as if life was back on track for Gia. She was so determined to stay clean that when it came time to have her son, she refused all pain meds after a C-section. But it took another sharp turn when she found out that her boyfriend had not recovered from his drug addiction. He would disappear for days at a time, and their relationship became strained.
Gia knew she had to cut ties with him. She also knew that in doing so, she would be letting go of what she once thought could bring her stability. But through her years of growing closer to God, Gia was realizing that only He could bring her healing. “Nothing could have gotten me out of this addiction except for God … something bigger than me.”
This was clear to Gia as, in September 2016, she left Gino’s father. While Gia wore many hats over the past few years, she now wore the hat of a single mother. She needed a job, a home and financial management insight. While her parents were supportive and helpful, she knew she couldn’t rely on them for all that and babysitting Gino.
Pastor Gus, who had walked with Gia over the years after her recovery, recommended that as a single mother, she check out the LifeHope Childcare Center. Like many Northlanders, Gia didn’t know that the two pop-up “cottages” next to The Rink weren’t just a day care for the church.
He introduced Gia to the director of the cottages, Melissa Rivera, who walked her through the program. Melissa will tell anyone she talks to that the LifeHope Childcare Center isn’t just about the babies – the moms are just as important. They can enroll their children for free childcare, but they have to be ready for a life transformation.
“Melissa and other LifeHope staff encourage you to keep achieving new goals,” Gia explains. “One of my big goals was to be financially stable. So once I got a job and was making some money, they said, ‘What next?’ I thought, Well, I want to go back to school!”
On top of finding jobs, going back to school and being independent, “the moms” take classes and attend Bible studies at Northland, as well as serve in various capacities. Most people may not know it, but at almost every service, one of the moms puts on an orange lanyard and serves with the Connect Team. Others have volunteered as team leaders during Local Serve Day. One even cooked hundreds of hamburgers during the Hurricane Irma cookout at Northland!
Gia is nearing the end of her time with LifeHope Childcare, as Gino is almost 3 and ready to graduate from the program, making room for more participants. Gia says the most life-changing part of being at Northland and with LifeHope has been “learning to depend on God.” Now she is ready for the next chapter of life. “The community that stuck with me and encouraged me continues to do so. It’s what got me through the hard times.” She hopes her story can, in turn, help someone else get through hard times.
Interested in knowing more about LifeHope Childcare Center (LHCC)? It is available to single mothers with children ages 6 weeks to 2 years old. Its mission is to walk alongside the parents, providing extensive and holistic case management, and children, providing a safe and Christ-centered atmosphere. LHCC (www.lifehopechildcare.com) is funded in part by a private donor and your tithes and offerings. Want to meet the moms and staff? Come celebrate the second birthday of LHCC after all the worship services during the weekend of February 10 through 12. Stop by the tables in the foyer for refreshments, to drop off diapers and unscented wipes, and to take a tour of the childcare center. You’ll also be able to learn about volunteer opportunities within this ministry.