To Ground Zero and Back

September 10, 2018

Collisa recalls exactly where she was during the World Trade Center attacks on September 11 – stuck on a New York City subway.

A single mother and former teacher-turned-police officer, Collisa was heading to graduate school classes when tragedy struck. She was called to action and spent the next two weeks volunteering at Ground Zero during her time off.

By the end of September, however,  stress pushed her to resign from the force.

Desperate to escape the haunting memories, she moved around the country with her young daughter, eventually returning to teaching. After the birth of her second daughter, the family moved to Georgia to be with Collisa’s partner, and life settled down…until her partner abruptly turned them out of his home.

Collisa was about to start a new job, but the family had nowhere to go. She secured a loan to pay or a hotel room – a temporary solution – and soon found the Family Promise Affiliate in Athens, Georgia.

Family Promise became the support system Collisa needed, providing emergency shelter and helping her navigate her next steps. Once back on her feet, Collisa was asked to serve as the Affiliate’s interim Service Director, eventually accepting an offer to join the Affiliate full time.

“Families’ faces light up with they hear my story,” says Collisa. “It gives them hope.”

She says her experience stemming from 9/11 gives her a unique perspective.

“When you’re dealing with trauma, there are no rules. That’s how it was during 9/11, and that’s how it feels to be homeless. But people don’t think that way if they’ve never experienced a crisis like that,” Collisa explains.

Collisa also helps train Family Promise volunteers. Educated and employed when she lost her home, she feels her story changes people’s assumptions of homelessness.

“I’ve been there. I know you can’t assume anything. I know how families in this situation think and feel,” she says, adding, “That’s what’s so great about Family Promise: we give families more than shelter, we help them focus on healing and moving forward.”

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