Tag Archives: Essence Scott

Scott: ‘Tis the Season for Unity

By Essence B. Scott

Every year, usually around October or November, there is a flurry of activity in the air. Adults of all stripes are looking to do something for the children they oversee. For some, this is easy. For others, not so much. There might not be enough money to go around to buy gifts and pay rent and other expenses. Some families struggle to find a job or, in some cases, work two jobs to make ends meet.

HomeFront does a lot for these struggling families. I know. I was in one of those families. Every year, there is a call for donations to build Thanksgiving food baskets for these families. No one should be hungry at any time during the year. I remember when my family was at the Pine Motel in Bordentown. We hadn’t had any food in a few days, when we heard a knock at the door. Food! Someone had delivered food! My mom thanked the kind volunteers profusely. So did my siblings and I. We fully embraced our simple, daily Grace that day. Our prayers had definitely been answered. Emotions were running high. The food made us happy.

At around Christmastime, there are a lot of gifts given out and games played. Every year, we went to see A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. At dinner and during the show, there is a sense of community that made the space hum with excitement. Some years, we actually met some of the cast of the play and they would sit and talk with us about it. A teaching artist from McCarter would come to our art class in the month or so leading up to the play and do acting exercises with us.

Another fond memory that stands out for me is the big Christmas party at The Pennington School. It was a time for everyone to get together and enjoy the holiday, even if a family was low on food or money for gifts. There were games and toys and I think Karaoke too. Kids could play outside. Parents could talk, and rest assured everyone got a good meal–usually turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and vegetables. For dessert: ice cream. Student volunteers, our hosts, made sure we were full and content. They worked very hard to engage both kids and parents alike in conversation and making sure all was well. HomeFront staff would be there to celebrate with the families they helped over the course of the year or several years. It really was a fun time, and I know it takes plenty of effort from them to send invitations out, manage RSVPs, and to just make it a good time. It shows beautifully.

Another tradition that HomeFront has is giving out gifts to the children. Every year, families fill out a wishlist with a couple items that volunteers go out and buy for the kids. It is a wonderful feeling to receive gifts, especially when a child might not get any due to lack of family finances.

There are other things that HomeFront does for the families they serve, perhaps another article’s worth. I am beyond grateful to HomeFront and what they have done for my family. I hope one day that I could pay it forward somehow.

The Highlight: Essence Scott

By Kristen Frohlich

Essence Scott began experiencing homelessness at eight years-old. Now 27, she is a homeowner attending Mercer County Community College. Essence is a dedciated community columnist for The Streetlight who has written numerous pieces about her experiences with homelessness. We sat down with her to share more of this story.

The Streetlight: At what age did you realize that you were homeless? How did you make this realization?

ES: I did not realize that I was homeless until I started getting involved with Homefront at age 13. I thought it all seemed normal even though at some level I knew it was not. I was confused as to why my parents never described our situation as “homelessness”; every time we had to get up and move, they just said that we had to go somewhere new. Getting involved with Homefront made me realize that there was a word for my situation: homeless. Now that I realize there is a word for this situation, I am choosing to give it a loud, clear voice and to recognize it for all its unique facets.

TS: What sorts of emotions did this realization evoke? How did those feelings change as you got older?

ES: I felt like an outsider especially when I first found a word to describe our situation. When I was living in Lawrenceville, my peers lived in fancy places, had their own bedroom, owned decent TVs, and could eat anything that they wanted to. I felt very envious of them because I wanted to have those things. When I got older, I didn’t want these things as much as I began wanting a space to express myself.

TS: We read your article “Connecticut Avenue” from the Spring 2016 issue. When did the motel housing start? What was the hardest part of living in a motel?

ES: We began living in motels when I was about 16 years old. At that time, it was my mother, brother, and sister all living in a small, cramped room. I was beginning to feel very depressed at this age and I wanted, desperately, to be by myself all the time but I could not find space to do this unless I went to the bathroom or sat outside. It was challenging.

TS: We understand that you worked with HomeFront and some of their programs while experiencing homelessness. Can you tell us a little more about this?

ES: I was a part of the first generation of a program called Triumphant Teens at HomeFront. This was my first experience working and it certainly taught me a lot about the value of independence and hard work. Both my parents are very hard working people and working with the program helped me appreciate their efforts so much more. There were very few programs out there for children in similar circumstances but I was lucky to find such a great mentorship with HomeFront.

TS: Who or what helped you the most during your time experiencing homelessness?

ES: My writing helped me a lot. I started keeping journals when I was 12 and I felt a lot better after that. I could be whoever I wanted to be in my writing—I could be happy, I could have more friends—really anything. Writing helped me to stay afloat a little longer.

TS: What did you learn about yourself while experiencing homelessness? What did you learn about others?

ES: My experience taught me the power of my own resilience. I am tough and that it takes a lot to wear me down. I know that I can handle a lot because I did for so many years. Others taught me that there is a lot of good in the world—more than you would expect—and sometimes we just are just looking in the wrong places. The night before Christmas Eve one year, my friend walked through the door with toys that her family had bought for us. I was not expecting this and I remember the feeling that I got when I saw her. It was truly incredible.

TS How did you transition from not having a home to being a homeowner?

ES: Before I met my boyfriend, I was living with my family in another apart ment. It was a sudden transition for my family and me as we were going to be evicted from a hotel. I then decided to ask someone at HomeFront for help since we were really about to be homeless and he helped us find and secure a home on Connecticut Avenue. I think I was too excited and overwhelmed at the time for it to really sink in. And for months after that, we were nervous about becoming homeless again. Once you experience the security of your own home, the last thing you want to do is lose it and return to an unfamiliar hotel room.

Scott: Food Meets Family

By Essence Scott

Food is a popular topic of conversation in my family.

We all enjoy talking about a good meal just as much as we enjoy eating one. Growing up, I remember my mother always cooking meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and my personal favorite pepper steak (our name for onion steak because it has no peppers in it).

My sister used to love (and still does) everything that my mother made. I also remember most of these foods being made in the microwave.

On the second day of every month, my mother would buy what she could from the long list of foods that we had been craving: Purdue chicken and hot wings galore.

Of course, we were not so fortunate to have many of these foods when we were living in motels. When we were living here, there was no stove to make pepper steak or meatloaf in. And before we moved from the Trails End Motel, we had been eating canned goods for approximately two years.

When the school nurse gave my family gift certificates every so often, we would walk to the diner and eat pancakes at four in the afternoon. The walk to the diner felt short. There were no sidewalks, only grassy areas.

I remember all of us staying in the grass, talking as we walked. When we got into the diner, it felt homey: safe, warm, inviting, and friendly. There were games that we could play, but they always cost money.

We ordered pancakes with butter and syrup. We ordered hot chocolate. My siblings and I were just kids but my mother would let us get what we wanted.

When we were not at the diner, we’d talk about the foods our mom would cook for us when we moved. Meatloaf slathered in ketchup, meatballs bathed in gravy. Pork chops.

We talked about ice cream — any food we did not have, we spoke about excitedly. Talking about food became my family’s way of discussing a better quality of life.

It is difficult to leave a lifestyle behind, especially if you are still entrenched in the happy moments from that time — despite
their brevity.

Nowadays, my mother always wants to know if I am “eating well.” For her, “eating well” is a hearty, home-cooked meal, or even a small meal from a restaurant — something that my family does not always get an opportunity to do.

But she is happy to see me eating well — unhealthily, sometimes so, but, for her, still better. And I am happy too.