Ana Garcia expects no sympathy for her choices.
“It’s my fault,” she admitted. “I take the blame. Only me.”
Garcia is referring to a dark time in her life, when her drug addiction led to losing custody of her children.
“(Child Protective Services) took away my babies,” she said. “It was so hard. I hurt so bad. I knew I needed to get clean for me and my children. I couldn’t live my life without my babies. They are everything to me.”
A Monroe County Family Court judge ordered Garcia to enroll in a drug-treatment program, which required her to attend rehabilitation, anger-management and family-counseling classes. For the past two years, court officials, social workers and a court-appointed special advocate for her children have monitored her progress.
“I do everything the court says,” Garcia said. “I earned privileges to see my kids. But if I ever wanted them back, I needed to do all the requirements.”
And she did. Garcia graduated from the court’s drug-treatment program on Sept. 19. Clean and sober since 2004, she has recently regained full custody of her children.
“I’m the mom now,” Garcia said proudly. “Before, I would be there for my kids just a little bit. My kids were exposed to a lot of things they shouldn’t be. But now, they are relying on me more as the mom, and I know now what I’m supposed to do. I don’t want to go back to be in that place no more (with drugs). I want this life with my kids.”
Garcia’s determination to be a good mother includes providing life’s essentials for her children. Matthew’s Closet, a clothing ministry of Rochester’s Corpus Christi Church, has been an important part in meeting some of those needs.
Last year, Matthew’s Closet distributed 34,000 items to more than 2,600 people. The ministry offers clothing for men, women and children as well as some household items. The ministry includes a retail program that is open to the general public and a referral program through which more than 125 social-service agencies send clients to the store for clothes.
In 2005, Matthew’s Closet received a Hunger Relief grant — which is funded in part by proceeds from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal — to purchase undergarments and children’s coats to give to clients.
“My daughter got a coat here, and she loves it,” Garcia smiled. “She says, ‘Don’t I look cute, Mommy?’ And I say, ‘Of course!’ She is so proud of that coat.”
Karen Sweeney is very familiar with Garcia’s journey. She represented Garcia’s children as a volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, and now that she no longer volunteers with CASA, she can have contact with Garcia outside the program through her work as comanager of Matthew’s Closet.
“I have seen Ana from the very beginning of this process,” Sweeney said. “She had to overcome so many things, but she is really working the program. She’s gaining the life skills she needs. She has had a remarkable turnaround. For me it’s been wonderful to see. It’s been hard for Ana, because she’s had to do all the real work. But the kids are doing so well now. They are really resilient. They are positive, happy and very respectful.”
“I’m really proud of Ana,” Sweeney continued. “She made some bad choices, but now she’s really committed to breaking the cycle. She has even made the choice to move to an area where she doesn’t know the people, so she’s not in the same environment that she was in before.”
“Sobriety is good,” Garcia said. “I’ve got to do it. I have to have food in the house. I can’t worry about the streets no more. I want to be a good mommy to my kids. That’s why I want to talk about it and let people know. It’s also good that I’m around good people now, like at Matthew’s Closet. They are happy people. It means a lot to have a place like this for people like me. On the street you’re treated like nothing. Here, you’re treated like a person. There’s love here. You’re getting clothes, yes. But they treat you with respect, and you feel good about that.”
Matthew’s Closet currently operates at 880 E. Main St. with 25 volunteers and three comanagers. Sometime at the beginning of the new year, the ministry will be moving to a new location that has not yet been determined.
“I absolutely love it here,” Sweeney said. “I’ve been associated with this place for seven years, and I believe it’s such an important service for the community. We may change locations, but the spirit won’t change.”