After decades of fear, resident finds security and hope as volunteer at Archway Commons

Eah Housing

August 2017, Modesto, California - “When I moved here, it was like a weight was lifted off me,” said Lisa Harrell-Richardson, a mother of three and resident of Archway Commons in Modesto, Calif. “I want everybody to have a place to live; there are so many homeless in Modesto, it breaks my heart.”

Life hasn’t been easy for Lisa. On top of managing a lifelong serious medical condition, she survived three decades of domestic abuse. When her health problems forced her to stop working, she had to end her long career as a public and private school teacher.

“Anybody can be in this position at any time,” said Lisa, 57, who keeps busy as a volunteer at Archway Commons and at her church. “We need to have compassion for other people, rather than judgement.” 

Her health problems and Lisa’s financial dependence on her ex-husband, put her in a precarious housing situation for many years. But in 2016, she found security as an Archway resident. 

“Financial security is not worth your peace of mind and your physical safety,” said Lisa, divorced 10 years ago after a two-decade marriage.

As a dedicated volunteer at Archway Commons, Lisa devotes 10 to 15 hours a week assisting the resource coordinator. Lisa helps out with an after-school program for resident children and will soon teach a computer skills class. She hopes to bring a literacy class to residents later this year. 

In addition, Lisa looks after three of her four grandchildren, allowing their mother, her eldest daughter, to continue studying early childhood education at Modesto Junior College.

Lisa recently completed her third Celebrate Recovery program at Big Valley Grace Church in Modesto. “That recovery program is what helped me get through a lot of what I’ve been through,” she said. 

Lisa now uses Celebrate Recovery tools to help others coming back from serious life challenges, such as drug addiction, self-esteem issues and domestic abuse. She has already held one self-esteem session for Archway Commons residents.

Lisa is also an active affordable housing advocate. “Our common goal is to see fewer people homeless,” said Lisa.

In March, she went to Sacramento with other advocates to ask legislators, including state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, to vote yes on SB2, a bill calling for more affordable housing for those in need. Lisa says their plea to Galgiani’s legislative aide helped convinced the senator, whose district includes parts of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, not only to change her vote to yes, but to co-sponsor the bill.

“That vote was really exciting,” said Lisa, noting state senators passed the bill 27 to 12. “Obviously, our voices mattered.” SB2, the Homes and Jobs Act, would raise money to invest in public/private construction of affordable housing via a statewide fee on real estate transfers.

In recent years, though still unable to work, Lisa has learned to manage her medical condition. Along the way, she has also learned that helping others, at her church and as an Archway volunteer, is another hugely beneficial ingredient in her new life at Archway Commons.