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Beginning a Journey Toward a Better Life

A dinner preceded the Out of Poverty graduation ceremony. Program participant Milli Wright, third from left, is surrounded by friends and family members, including daughter Joy Alvarado, 7. The program was created a decade ago by a Catholic Charities social worker and an academic.
A dinner preceded the Out of Poverty graduation ceremony. Program participant Milli Wright, third from left, is surrounded by friends and family members, including daughter Joy Alvarado, 7. The program was created a decade ago by a Catholic Charities social worker and an academic. (Tracy A. Woodward - The Washington Post)

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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005

"I am here to change the poverty in my life."

The 12 women standing in the conference room of a homeless shelter in Fairfax County shifted uncomfortably as they recited together.

Their words came out as a reluctant rumble.

" Poverty takes many forms," they read from sheets of paper. "It is more than a lack of money and material things."

It was the first class in a 10-week Out of Poverty program offered by New Hope Housing, a nonprofit agency in the Alexandria section of Fairfax. The women were reciting Out of Poverty's "assembling statement," as they would before each class at New Hope Housing's Mondloch House.

But the opening chapter of what was supposed to be a three-month odyssey toward building a better life was less than promising.

One woman had come into the class, red-eyed with exhaustion, and put her head on a table. This was her second time in a New Hope shelter and, she complained, she had already taken the class.

Another participant announced that her husband, not her, was the one who needed the program. And a third asked hopefully if she could leave when she couldn't find her name tag.

On one side of the room, 36-year-old Milagros "Milli" Wright -- coppery blond hair elaborately coiffed and her makeup perfect -- didn't join the grousing.

She told the group that she lived in Springfield with her five children. All but one are girls.

"Boys would be easier," she told them in a sugary voice overlaid with a broad Brooklyn accent. With a laugh, she complained about the high price of shampoo and makeup.

What this suburban mom didn't have to say was where she came from.


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