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Wilhelmina moved into Maxwell Garden Apartments in 2013, proud to enter Pathlight HOME’s Safe Haven Program for chronically homeless, disabled adults. “It was a fresh start,” she says. “I have a personal room, privacy…you have to follow regulations. You can’t beat that!”

“There are a lot of opportunities,” she continues. “The case managers help you in every area…with the doctor, legal issues. If you ask, they’ll do it. You’ve just got to be honest…”

Wilhelmina’s goals are humble: “to stay clean and help my fellow man.” However, she now allows herself to dream for the future, something she hasn’t done in a lifetime. “I want to own my own home one day,” she muses. “And I want a car too!” But that wasn’t always the case.

This intelligent, friendly and thoughtful woman recently rose above her trepidation to become the new resident-member of the Pathlight HOME Board of Directors.

Raised in Orlando by a giving mother who owned her own home and worked hard to raise her family of 10, Wilhelmina’s life changed course in an instant from one of educational prospects to years of emotional breakdowns, prison time and drug addiction.

At the tender age of 14, she wildly stabbed a man who had just attacked her brother, killing him on the spot. Barely comprehending she had taken a life and couldn’t go home, had entered the justice system and had been sentenced to the next 15 years in prison, young Wilhelmina completely broke down.

Anger and rages plagued her in dealings with other inmates and even after the charges were dropped, resulting in additional jail time, seven years of probation and 14 years of parole.

Life after prison was tough, with jobs in a cafeteria and a nursing home. Enjoying the latter very much, Wilhelmina got scared her background would be discovered and she’d be fired…so she quit instead. “I felt that all I did was in vain and gave up on everything.”

That’s when Wilhelmina started hanging with the wrong people and using drugs. For the next 20 years, her life was one of drugging, working sporadically, stealing what she needed, wandering the streets for days at a time, and then crashing with her worried family.

Finally, in 2010, Wilhelmina acknowledged she needed help and went to what is now Aspire Health Partners. Fortunately, they had an opening in the residential Anchor Program for chronically homeless adults with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, onsite at Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments.

There, she learned how to love herself. “I learned to change and to stay clean. I realized I had issues and a lot of bad behaviors,” she says. “That’s when I started to change…when I saw other people and it was myself I was looking at! I had to change my thinking, attitude and ways.”

Wilhelmina’s life was transforming; yet, finding a job with her felony background was difficult. Frustration, surgery and leaving Anchor created an imperfect storm and she relapsed. Bravely returning to at Anchor, Wilhelmina learned from her mistake. Through their treatment and numerous NA meetings, this time she internalized better ways to cope with life’s situations. Wanting to live more independently with her new coping skills, she moved into Maxwell Garden.

She may still fight her demons daily and ruminate about having squandered her chance for formal education, but has wise words for others on the down and out:

“It can be done. Your life can turn around. You can change, but you’ve got to want it!”