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A SMALL PROGRAM IS WORKING BIG MIRACLES AMONG HOMELESS

Six months ago, a 22-year old pregnant mother of two was just a room away from a life on the street.

Today, Rachel James' life is reborn.

One of eight graduates Friday from the Homespace Corp., Ms. James has traded her room at the Salvation Army for a professional wardrobe and a plan to attend Buffalo State College with her eyes on a future as a child psychologist.

"I'll be able to go out now and actually experience what life is all about," Ms James said.

Ms. James, like her fellow graduates from the Homespace Corp., was provided with a place to live and trained in self-sufficiency. It's what the organization has been doing in its four-year operation at 1030 Ellicott St.

Featured in The News' Neediest Fund just a month ago, Ms. James looks ahead to embarking on a new venture this April -- she will leave the Ellicott Street complex but will take with her all of the values she learned there and ambitions she cultivated.

"If I can just tell someone else in my situation who doesn't know about (Homespace) -- they can teach you everything," Ms. James said.

That support has turned her life around, she said, and its effects are certain to make life better for her 4-year-old son, Jonathan, and two daughters, Brooklynn, 1 1/2 , and newborn Megan.

The mission of Homespace Corp. -- reducing homelessness by providing transitional housing and support services to young single-parent families, like Ms. James -- was evident during the graduation ceremony Friday. The smiles, and at times damp eyes, seemed to say it all.

"I have to admit none of this would have happened . . ." struggled graduate Joy Lehman before being reduced to tears.

". . . if I had never come here," finished Thelma Roberts, executive director of Homespace, on Ms. Lehman's behalf. "It was a memorable and important step in helping me achieve my long-term goals," Ms. Lehman was able to add.

Ms. Lehman entered Homespace in June 1997 and stayed for a year. She combined the parenting, health care and vocational training offered there with an Erie Community College education and an internship at Health Care Plan, to earn a position in the business office at Mercy Hospital.

Some of the other graduates -- Zena Bliss, Junine Johnson, Ebony Jones, Jolean Powell, Angela Thomas and Champagne Woods -- now also have their own goals that range from furthering their education to starting a business.

"We tend to take things for granted," said Council Member Barbara Miller-Williams of the Ellicott District, who attended the graduation. "This is a very small program, but it reaches out to very big hearts."

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