‘I Have Been in Your Shoes’: Annette’s Brigid’s Crossing Story
Staff Member Annette Namakula Pulls Strength from Past Experiences to Connect With Young Women at Brigid’s Crossing Young Parent Living Program
Before walking into work every morning, Annette Namakula, 34, bows her head and prays, “God, lead me. Please give me strength and patience.”
She uses the side door to enter the three-story Victorian home that is Brigid’s Crossing; though the building is different than the one she lived in as a 15-year-old resident, the organization’s mission to provide a safe and nurturing environment to pregnant and parenting teens in need remains the same. Now a part-time direct care staff member, Namakula believes the greatest service she can offer the young girls living at Brigid’s Crossing is her ability to look them in the eye and say, “’I have been in your shoes.”
Founded in 1997, Brigid’s Crossing in Lowell is one of Catholic Charities Boston’s five temporary housing programs, specializing in pregnant and parenting teenagers in need. In addition to providing shelter, food, and transportation, Brigid’s Crossing offers the residents educational placements, childcare vouchers, parenting support, life skills training, medical resources, mental health care, and assistance with the search for housing.
As a direct care staff member, Namakula serves as a readily available support system for residents, offering a shoulder to lean on in times of distress, ensuring the young women and their children are safe, and helping with everyday duties like grocery shopping, cooking, and job applications.
“When I look at these situations and I see some of these girls misbehaving or acting out, I am reminded that I have to be patient because that’s what the staff had to do with me,” she said.
Born in Uganda, Namakula moved to the United States with her mother when she was about two years old. Sometime after Namakula’s eleventh birthday, her mother was deported out of the country, leaving her and her siblings alone with their stepfather.
Two years later, before Namakula could complete the 8th grade, she became pregnant with her first child. The hospital staff who treated her, recognizing her youth and financial situation, quickly helped Namakula attain a childcare voucher to ensure her baby was cared for during the day, while she was homeschooled by a private tutor her high school had provided.
Shortly later, Namakula became pregnant again. Only then did her teachers’ confusion shift into serious concern, and they began reaching out to Namakula’s classmates to ask if she was dating anyone.
The answer was always no. When they pulled her aside to check in, or sent her to the school nurse, Namakula said she lied, again and again, as she had sworn to.
It was her sister’s black eye, however, which appeared a few months after the birth of Namakula’s second child, that solidified the school’s most feared suspicions, leading them to demand a child abuse investigation into Namakula’s stepfather.
The Department of Children and Families immediately took Namakula and her siblings into custody. Shortly later, Namakula found herself moving into Brigid’s Crossing, right around the time she found out she was pregnant with her third child.
“I look back now and wonder how I got through that time,” said Namakula. “I could not have done it alone.”
In retrospect, Namakula believes that she was not alone, and that God was with her in every moment—working through Brigid’s Crossing’s full-time staff, who connected Namakula to Catholic Charities’ food pantries, parenting resources, and wraparound services.
“At that time, I was fed up and I did a lot of fighting with God,” said Namakula. “I didn’t know how to approach Him at the time. Now, it’s different.”
Now, Namakula said she recognizes that her faith isn’t supposed to make things easy; instead, it makes her strong.
Among the direct care staff team that worked with Namakula as a resident was Johanna Ford-Hunt, who has worked for Brigid’s Crossing for twenty years and is now Program Manager.
“I remember her arriving with her children under the age of three and just being amazed at her strength and her level of energy caring for them,” said Ford-Hunt. “There is something special about her —it’s her determination, her grit. She has faced many obstacles, but she always continues on.”
Ford-Hunt described Namakula as a model client, who made the most of the resources at Brigid’s Crossing. In addition to earning a Certified Nursing Assistant degree from the local technical school, Namakula said she obtained housing and learned budgeting skills through working with Brigid’s Crossing’s staff.
Years later, living with her four children and working part-time as a nursing assistant at Lowell General, Namakula found herself haunted by a deep-seated intuition that her time at Brigid’s Crossing was not done.
“Something in me just touched my heart to feel like I need to come back here,” she said. “But this time to help others.”
When Namakula stopped by Brigid’s Crossing to inquire about volunteering, she left with an offer for a part-time job. Weeks later, she joined the direct care staff team.
Some days at work, she is on her feet all day, driving the girls to school, running errands, helping care for the babies. Other days are quiet and require simply sitting with the young women, sometimes offering advice and sometimes just listening.
“Many of these girls didn’t find that love and support from their family,” said Namakula. “But they will find it here.”
Brigid’s Crossing is a Young Parent Living Program located in Lowell, MA, serving young parents and families. During their stay young parents receive assistance with educational placements, securing daycare resources for their child or children, parenting support and instruction, life skills training, medical resources, mental health care, and housing search assistance. Clients are referred to this program through the Departments of Transitional Assistance and Children and Families. To support the mission of Brigid’s Crossing, please visit ccab.org/donate and select “Brigid’s Crossing” as the designation.