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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : LOS ALAMITOS

Shelter Helps Women to Their Feet

March 09, 2000|ANA CHOLO-TIPTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seated in a large room at the Precious Life Shelter in Los Alamitos with 2-year-old Elizabeth playing at her feet, Connie Godoy is proud to say she is finally on her feet.

Although she is juggling the responsibilities of a single mom, worrying about bills and working 60 hours a week in two departments at Los Alamitos Medical Center, she couldn't be more fulfilled.

But there's another woman in the room. As this woman looks at Godoy's life, struggles and all, it seems simple to her.

As Irma Geiles puts it: "I want to go where Connie's at."

You will, Godoy assures Geiles, who at 34 is two weeks away from giving birth to her fourth child. Geiles has three other children in the legal custody of her mother in Los Angeles and has been at the shelter for one month. With another on the way, Geiles wants to learn how to be a better parent to her baby and eventually to regain custody of her other children.

"Concentrate on going to school," the 31-year-old woman advised Geiles, who listened intently. "This is a chance for you to start over. I've been where you've been, partying, not caring. . . . I'm so responsible now, I can't even believe it."

The 11-year-old shelter accepts pregnant women such as Godoy and Geiles who face financial hardship or other problems. They can stay as long as two years but must participate in a three-phase program that helps them make the transition to an independent and more financially stable life. The women work and may attend school while at the shelter. Child care is mostly subsidized through grants. A thrift store at the site provides a major source of income for the nonprofit shelter.

Both Geiles and Godoy have survived heavy doses of trouble, including drug use, abuse and homelessness. They are on different legs of their journey, however.

When Godoy arrived at the center in November 1997, she was eight months' pregnant with no place to go. Elizabeth's father disappeared from her life soon after finding out Godoy was pregnant.

"When I came here, I didn't have anything, just a box of clothes," Godoy said.

"I didn't have any idea of what was going to happen. All my life, I didn't really think I could do anything."

Godoy got through her depression and sadness. She lived at the center for two years. But for almost five months now, she has been on her own, living in a small, one-bedroom apartment in Anaheim with her daughter.

She dreams of getting her associate of arts degree and perhaps getting married one day to a strong Christian like herself. But that is all in the future, and she says she's not looking just yet.

Geiles says that while her family loves her, she is "a total disappointment to them." She almost went to a drug treatment center a month ago instead of the shelter, which she had imagined as a rat- and cockroach-infested place. She was pleasantly surprised to find a well-kept and homelike establishment.

"It's a blessing to have a place like this for women that have been through a lot," she said. "I was really at my wits' end when I got here. By coming here, I have a whole new outlook on my life. . . . This program is going to give me the ability to be who I'm able to be."

Ana Cholo-Tipton can be reached at (714) 966-5890.

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