From down the hall came a loud thud, and Leda Galdino rolled her eyes and grinned.
“What is that?” she said.
Galdino knew the answer. It was a Thursday evening, and by then her two sons, Murilo, 8, and Daniel, 3, were in the bedroom of the family’s third-story apartment off Buford Highway that Galdino, 33, converted into a playroom. Daniel was sitting on the floor surrounded by colored, wooden blocks. Murilo had found a large piece of foam that made for a good battering ram.
Galdino is among the first crop of graduates from Family Promise of Forsyth County, an affiliate of the national non-profit organization whose mission is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence. According to a Georgia Department of Community Affairs report, there were 10,373 homeless Georgians on any given night in 2017, down 25 percent from the previous year. An increasing percentage of the state’s homeless are in emergency or transitional housing instead of unsheltered.
Family Promise of Forsyth County takes what it calls a “community-based approach” to the situation, partnering with local churches to house families for a week at a time. They provide a place to eat, shower and sleep. They help parents find more consistent or improved work, sometimes tweaking resumes or conducting practice interviews. They find childcare and sometimes provide transportation.
Anything to help struggling families in a county that is the second-priciest place to live in Georgia, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute released this past March.
“What we want to do is take away the barriers that are keeping people from being able to work full-time,” said Tina Huck, executive director of Family Promise of Forsyth County.
Galdino was searching when she found Family Promise. By then, the life she expected to create when she came to America had dissolved. She had moved from her home in San Paulo, Brazil, in 2012 to Warner Robins with her boyfriend and Murilo, who was 2. Galdino and her boyfriend got married in 2014. Daniel was born a year later.
But soon after, the marriage started to collapse, and by 2016, Galdino and her husband were divorced. With no family nearby and without a sufficient job, she moved into a women’s shelter in Warner Robins.
In March of 2017, Galdino decided to start over, and so she drove with Murilo and Daniel to Forsyth County.
“I did not know what to expect,” Galdino said. “I didn’t even know we had a city called Cumming.”
Galdino first stayed with The Place of Forsyth. While there she got a part-time job with Regal Maid Services, but it wasn’t enough to get a place of her own.
The Place referred Galdino to Family Promise. The affiliate had started in October of 2016 and was just beginning to serve its first families. Galdino entered the program in April.
“Everything started to change,” Galdino said.
Quickly, Family Promise connected Galdino with Chick-fil-A where she got a new job with more stable hours that fit around her sons’ schedules. The group helped with the $180 a week for childcare at Akers Academy. Galdino learned how to make a budget and started saving into the program’s sustainable independence fund.
Though Galdino and her sons moved from church to church, they began to find a routine. They’d get up for breakfast provided by volunteers. Galdino went to work, the boys went to school, and when Galdino came home she found the boys playing with volunteers and a meal ready. At the end of the night, they closed the door to their private room and went to sleep.
And Galdino formed bonds with the other families in the program going through the same turmoil. She learned their stories – the family that sold everything to pay for a wife’s medical bills, and the single-mother who was starting over, just like Galdino. All of this is temporary, Galdino told herself.
“It’s scary to be in a situation where you don’t know where your child’s going to sleep tonight, or you don’t know how you’re going to provide for your child,” Huck said. “To be able to step through that fear and say, ‘I’m ready, I’m going to make this happen and I’m going to do this,’ is an amazing thing.”
After four months in the program, Galdino had saved enough money to get her own place. In July of 2017, the family moved into an apartment.
Family Promise helped Galdino get furniture and household items. The boys now have Spiderman and Paw Patrol comforters in the room they share. A skateboard and rollerblades lean against a wall by the front door. There’s a playground nearby, and when the apartment complex’s sprinklers are on Murilo begs his mom to go outside with him.
Galdino has new goals. She studied accounting in Brazil but wants to get her GED and work with animals. She spends as much time volunteering with Family Promise as she can. When Huck notices a family’s confidence waver, she’ll often call Galdino and ask her to come to the affiliate’s new day center.
And when she does, Galdino will tell the families the same thing she told herself to get through the toughest times in the program.
“Homelessness is nothing be ashamed of,” Galdino said. “It’s a status. You can change it.”