Life’s Work: How A Journey Through Addiction Led One Woman To Her Purpose

By Grace Gay

Each one, teach one.

Today, LaToya W.’s motto is “Each one, teach one,” meaning that every person should pay forward what they learn from others. She has spent the last decade doing just that as an Interim Housing Associate at Lincoln Park Community Services, working for the homeless community, after she herself had been homeless.

Things were not going well for LaToya in 2009 when she came to Grace House, a transition home in Chicago for formerly incarcerated women. Like many previously addicted women, she was disconnected from her family and needed a place to live after being released from the correctional facility. Grace House, recommended to her by her godmother, provided safe housing where she was able to develop relationships and build her life. “It was a blessing to be there,” she says. Through the support offered at Grace House, she had access to a therapist, and most crucially, to advocates for incarcerated mothers. Through that infrastructure, she was able to reunite with her son.

Photo Courtesy: LaToya W.

After spending two years at Grace House, LaToya emerged “a better person.” She went on to work for Grace House itself, then for the Archdiocese of Chicago for five years. “My passion to help others grew over the years because I knew what it was like [to need help],” she says. 

… I knew what it was like [to need help]…

That passion led her to the Lincoln Park Community Services (LPCS), which provides support and housing for homeless people in the Lincoln Park area. Notably, people who have been to prison are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than members of the public at large (Prison Policy Initiative Report,  August 2018). LaToya’s favorite part of the job is that she can connect with the men and women there, and show them some of her past to help them build their own futures. 

While LaToya was able to grow herself in her time post-incarceration, she says there’s still a lot of work to be done for the community at large. At LPCS, she sees every day the lack of resources available to homeless individuals.  One thing she says, in particular, is lacking across the board, and that’s mental health support; unfortunately, it’s hard for the LPCS staff to ensure that the residents are taking care of themselves. While the residents have case managers, the LPCS lacks a full-time nurse, resources for employment support, and access to long-term housing. 

However, LaToya finds hope in the recent support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Since George Floyd’s death, she says that LPCS has seen a record number of people interested in volunteering and getting involved in their work. For example, Amazon donated hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to LPCS, while one family catered a meal for all residents. 

Nonetheless, LaToya notes that helping the unhoused is an ongoing struggle. Most people do not choose to be homeless, but she has noticed that being unhoused often results from some form of loss. LPCS does have returnees in its programming, since moving from subsidized housing to market-rate rentals presents a huge financial burden to most people, and these problems must be addressed. Still, LaToya focuses on trying to empower residents. She hopes to teach each resident consistency, time management, and other skills key to help them succeed. While LaToya says they have got to “crawl before they walk,” she believes every resident has the power to lead his or her own life and become an entrepreneur.

LaToya has had an incredible journey from first finding help at Grace House to finding her own path and positively impacting her community every day. Not only is she wonderfully empathetic, but she also executes her life purpose to help others through her work. With her spirit, her dedication, and her heart invested in her work, LaToya is an inspiration to anyone looking to make a positive difference in the world. 

To help Lincoln Park Community Services and LaToya’s work, you can view the LPCS donation wishlist at their website here. Monetary donations help pay guests’ rent and help them furnish their home, a huge step to setting them up for success for the future. You can contact Lincoln Park Community Services to get involved further at volunteer@lpcschicago.org. You can also donate to WINDprogram.org, which is currently offering services to women at transition homes like Grace House.

Below is a segment of LaToya’s writing from an activity done while she was at Grace House;  it illustrates her creativity, her enthusiasm for life, and how she used the power of imagination to help overcome the challenges of a difficult childhood.

“Finding Peace Around Me”

The place that makes me feel good is my dollhouse. When it would rain or storm outside, I would go and sit in my dollhouse because I felt safe there. In my dollhouse, I had a couch in the living room and comfortable chairs. Everything was pink. There were lots of daisies and other flowers. The room was very bright. I could hear the sounds of water flowing in the background and of birds chirping. The dollhouse smelled like flowers, a very sweet aroma. In my dollhouse, I felt safe and that’s where I would go and hide. I felt like I was in a different world where everyone was friendly all the time and no one had anything bad to say. There were many people laughing and having a really good time. All the people there gave lots of hugs and everyone was kind and loving. My dollhouse was in a big pink house; absolutely everything was pink. I felt like I could be myself, a little girl, her name was ToyToy and she got all the attention.

In another place, I was a mermaid and I had everything I ever wanted, all the candy, ice cream, pizza, I had everything I could ever imagine. I had a fairy God mom, her name was Ms. Shosha and I am her favorite. She said, “What is it that you want?” I told her that I want my pony, she has to be pink and I want to name her SeaMika. She is my own pony and we get to go wherever I want to go. I would like to go to Africa so we could be with all the other animals and I could be the one to be in charge of all the animals and I could be the one to be in charge of all the activities. I want us to go out and have fun in the field, where no one will bother us. Everything is pink; I don’t want any other colors. Pink is the color. Wow, we are going to have a fantastic time.

-LaToya W.

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