When Erin Hatt was a junior in high school, her parents sold their home in Connecticut, packed up their belongings, and hit the road “in hopes of a better life.” Erin, however, was skeptical.
“I was leaving my hometown of 17 years, all my friends from school, and a high school I loved. When we got to Florida, I was depressed, but my dad kept saying things would get better.”
But, as Erin recalls, “things didn’t get better.” Despite her dad applying for multiple jobs, the family’s bank accounts “dwindled to nothing.” By the time he did find a job, it was too late for the family. They were behind on rent and other bills and were evicted a few weeks before Christmas.
Following their eviction, the Hatt family found Family Renew Community in Holly Hill. The family of four entered into a two-room cottage, and were taught to be more accountable for their expenses.
Still, however, Erin sought ways to remove herself from the realities of her day-to-day situation.
“An avid reader, I spent many of my days reading library books from the nearby Holly Hill Library to escape from my reality when I wasn’t doing homework,” said Erin, who was attending school at Mainland High.
But things picked up for the better, remembers Erin, when she — along with her mom and sister — got involved in improving and beautifying the Family Renew property. Working with business students from nearby University of Central Florida, the group planted flowers and enjoyed bonding together.
“It was nice to have something to look forward to each weekend,” Erin said. “Working with the students gave us a sense of purpose and unity within the community.”
Erin continued to attend school at Mainland and graduated in May of 2005. Despite not having the same, traditional senior year experience most of her classmates did, Erin was glad to have celebrated the milestone in her own unique way.
“The kind people at Family Renew paid for my yearbook so I had a souvenir of my memories there,” Erin said. “My fondest memory at Family Renew was my graduation party. My mom also took GED classes that year, so we celebrated together. We shared our joy and happiness with the few friends we had in Florida and our new Family Renew friends.”
Erin has been back in her home state of Connecticut for 10 years — and says that her has changed dramatically, “mostly for the best.” She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in human services in August, and began her master’s in management at the end of September. She says her experience at Family Renew helped to shape her views of homelessness and the community.
“When I tell people I was homeless for six months, they always think homelessness is the worst possible thing that could happen to themselves or anyone else,” Erin said. “I certainly don’t ‘look’ or ‘talk’ like someone who used to be homeless. Most people picture someone homeless as dirty, perhaps a person with drug or alcohol abuse issues, begging for money or food on the side of the road.”
Erin — who says she herself used to share these views — has since developed a new outlook on life. She hopes to one day begin and manage her own nonprofit organization in hopes of giving back to the community, because she knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such help.
“I’ve received so much support and help over the years, especially from Family Renew,” Erin said. “The people who worked there never stopped believing in me, even when times were tough. I will never forget my time there and I am forever grateful for that experience.”