Fourteen months ago, Lisa Cepeda needed someone to believe in her. At Providence House, she found a whole community of support and was finally able to turn her life around.
“I had to get things together and not look back,” Cepeda said. “They invited me into their hearts with open arms, and I love them for that.”
Today, she is drug-free, gainfully employed and about to sign the lease on a new studio apartment – becoming one of the first residents of the new Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan Residence at 329 Lincoln Rd. in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
Providence House developed the $8.2 million residence in partnership with Alembic Community Development, with financing from the N.Y.C. Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, The Richman Group and the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the N.Y.C. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The six-story building has 22 studio and two-bedroom apartments of supportive housing for homeless adults with special needs and low-income adults and families. Every unit features hardwood floors, new appliances and large windows. On-site services include a building manager, case management, independent living programs and security.
A photograph of the late auxiliary bishop in the main hallways greeted Providence House staff, partners and guests as they arrived for the grand-opening ceremony with a blessing and ribbon cutting on Nov. 19.
Bishop Sullivan, known for his service in Catholic Charities and as an advocate for the poor and disadvantaged, was instrumental in the establishment of Providence House in 1979.
“He helped us create the formal organization,” said Sister Janet Kinney, C.S.J., executive director, “and he was so proud of the Sisters (of St. Joseph) and the work that they pioneered at a time when there were very few programs or opportunities for women, especially coming out of prison.”
Started 35 years ago as a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, L.I., Providence House offers shelter and support services to homeless, abused and formerly incarcerated women and their children in Brooklyn, Queens and Westchester. Its mission is to help residents strengthen their families and acquire the skills they need to rebuild their lives.
To date, over 8,500 women and 4,500 children have lived at Providence House. In the past year, the nonprofit helped 427 women and children in transitional and permanent housing – 67 completed job training and educational programs, and 75 found new employment.
In 2013, the organization also opened the D’Addario Residence, an apartment-style supportive housing development in Bedford-Stuyvesant, for special needs and low-income adults and families. The Bishop Sullivan Residence is the 10th and newest building.
Following formal remarks and an invocation led by Sister Helen Kearney, C.S.J., congregation president, a blessing of the residence was conducted by Sister Elaine Roulet, C.S.J., one the founders of Providence House; Frances Sullivan, the bishop’s sister; and Cepeda.
Sister Elaine lived in the first Providence House at 396 Lincoln Rd. in the former convent of St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise parish, Crown Heights. Through her work in the prison system, she helped formerly incarcerated women reunite with their children, learn trades and find jobs.
Providence House took the women and their children in regardless of their faith or backgrounds, she said, because “God is in each one of us and that’s what really counts.”
Frances Sullivan is honored that the residence is named in her brother’s memory. Much like him, she supports this ministry of compassion and justice.
“This building is important on two levels,” she said. “It shows what can be done. … (and) It shows what must be done. If we as a Christian faith community don’t embrace it, we are letting down the whole mission of the Gospel and our whole purpose for being on this earth.”
Without Providence House, Cepeda said, “I don’t think I would have made it.”
After a 13-year struggle with drugs and incarceration, she arrived at one of the transitional homes in 2013, determined to get her life on track.
“The Sisters have been very loving and understanding,” she said.
Cepeda received support on her journey of drug rehabilitation, learned a trade and gained employment as a maintenance worker in a men’s shelter. She finds purpose in her work and was recently named employee of the month.
“I love doing what I do and making sure the men have a clean atmosphere,” she said.
Looking around the clean and spacious building where she soon will live, Cepeda’s joy was palpable.
“I don’t have to worry where I’m going to sleep anymore or if I’m going to have to sleep in a shelter,” she said. “This is my home now.”