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Shana Conde stands near the pavilion in the park near the public library in Osceola, the city Conde and her husband Robert promised their children they would stay in, so the kids could attend school with their friends. The Condes are in the process of buying a house in Osceola.

Former clients appreciate life after Grace Place

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Shana Conde described it as a dark time in her family's history, a time of difficulty, frustration and fear. Conde's family moved to Oregon so her husband could start a business with his cousin. Unfortunately, Conde said, the business was a failure. It was time, Conde said, to go back to Osceola, the family's hometown.

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"We came back to nothing," Conde said.

So the Conde family went to the Salvation Army for help and was sent to Grace Place. From Grace Place, the Condes were moved to transitional housing managed by Grace Place and from there they moved to a hotel for three months until the summer of 2011 when they were finally able to move into a three-bedroom apartment.

Looking back, Conde said she thinks the experience of being homeless gave her family something valuable.

"It really humbled us and brought us closer together," Conde said. "We had to work out problems together. It really taught us ...to focus on what's really valuable in life: family and not possessions and not the biggest house."

Conde, her husband Robert, daughter Dynisty (now 12), sons Robert. Jr. (10) and Jason (7) are now living in a three-bedroom apartment in Osceola and in the process of buying a house. Conde said they are very happy to be where they are, but they won't forget what it was like to be homeless. Conde said the family prays every day, thanking God for their home. Conde said prayer is what helped her family survive the ordeal of homelessness, especially during their three-month stay in a hotel.

"I was afraid our whole family would fall apart while we were there," Conde said. "But there was a swimming pool." Which Conde said helped relieve some of the tension of living in such close quarters, but she also credited good communication in her marriage with getting her family through its darkest hour.

Conde said the church her family attends also helped and Grace Place never stopped helping, even after the family left the shelter. Grace Place programs like the giving tree at Christmas, the food shelf and Shop with a Cop helped the family save money so they could afford to pay for a place of their own.

Conde's husband is now employed in drywall restoration and Conde is starting classes at Empire Beauty School soon. Conde said she always loved the idea of cutting hair, but one of her experiences at Grace Place gave her additional incentive to get her cosmetology certificate. During her time in the shelter, Conde said there were a couple of women who came in to give free haircuts to the people in the shelter. She said getting a nice, new haircut is not a luxury many people in shelters can afford and that can make people feel "ugly and worthless".

"I'm going to cut hair for people in shelters," Conde said. "That's one of my goals and I'm going to do it."

Conde said she wants to help women feel beautiful again and help guys feel handsome.

***

Ken Lowrie made an unusual call to the Pierce County district attorney. Lowrie had been involved in what he termed "criminal activity" for most of his life.

"You got no problem putting me in jail," Lowrie said he told the DA. "How can I go about staying out?"

Lowrie was homeless at that point and the only alternative he could think of was going back to a life of crime.

When the DA recommended Lowrie try going to a homeless shelter in Somerset, Lowrie said he was shocked.

"I said 'you've got to be kidding me,'" Lowrie said. "'That's what you have to offer me?'"

Lowrie said he had been expecting to find old guys with bowls of soup and covered with newspapers at the shelter. But when he walked in, he said that wasn't the case at all.

"They made me feel real comfortable when I walked in," Lowrie said. "I know they were very leery about having me with my criminal background (which included several felonies and grand misdemeanors). "But they gave me and opportunity and I ran with it."

Lowrie came to Grace Place in fall of 2005. Lowrie said he wasn't planning on staying there long, maybe a few days at most, but the longer he stayed at Grace Place the more he was able to accomplish for himself.

"They opened their doors to me, helped me for God knows why. They didn't pressure me, they left it up to me to do what I needed to do and what I guess I was ready to do," Lowrie said. "The change was quite amazing."

With the help of Grace Place workers and volunteers, Lowrie said he was able to turn his life around.

"They tell me I did all the work, but they gave me the tools to be able to do what I needed to do, changing my life around," Lowrie said.

During his time at Grace Place, Lowrie was able to get his driver's license re-instated, get a job and save up to get an apartment. But Lowrie said his proudest accomplishment was gaining custody of his daughter (now 10 and a fifth-grader at Somerset Elementary).

"I'm just so grateful that they were there and when the suggestion popped up that I took that advice," Lowrie said. "It was probably the best decision I ever made in my life."

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Gretta Stark
Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.
(715) 426-1048
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