It’s been about two years since Christena Isaac decided that she’d had enough. Enough abuse. Enough self-loathing. Enough of losing loved ones to drugs.
It wasn’t a decision she came to for herself though.
After all, she’d adapted at an early age to the dysfunction of a broken home, foster care and the drug addiction of loved ones.
But seeing the fear on her young daughters’ faces after a relative lashed out at them changed everything.
“I committed that day that I was going to break the cycle – the chain of bondage – and that my girls were not going to grow up the way I did,” said Isaac. “I wasn’t going to see the same face that haunts me in the mirror every day on my daughters’ faces. I still remember seeing fear on their innocent faces and it did something powerful inside of me. Over the next month it became clear what I had to do even though I had never been more scared in my life.”
Isaac packed what she could fit into her car, grabbed her two girls and embarked on a journey that eventually lead her to Grace Place, a shelter in Hendersonville for homeless single mothers and their children.
Isaac, 30, was the keynote speaker last week at the local nonprofit group’s annual fundraiser.
A native of Washington, D.C., she told of a childhood that included foster care; losing her mother to a drug overdose at 19; abusive relationships; her brother’s death from an accidental drug overdose; a failed suicide attempt; and homelessness.
Evicted from her apartment shortly after moving to Hendersonville, Isaac found Grace Place by googling women shelters. She applied online and found out in July of 2018 that she had been accepted to the program.
Since opening in July of 2016, Grace Place has provided a home for 53 mothers and 119 children. The shelter serves five families at a time and provides everything families need to live while helping mothers get back on their feet emotionally, financially and spiritually.
Grace Place Executive Director Desneige VanCleve says Isaac’s story is one of courage, redemption and a mother’s love.
“She was a fighter. She was just very inspiring,” said VanCleve. “For her to break away, it took a lot of courage. She had to step out into the complete unknown and make frightening but courageous decisions for her daughters and for their futures.”
“I always wanted to get out,” said Isaac, “but I knew [then] that in order for my daughters to be the independent, strong women I wanted them to be, I needed to do something.”
VanCleve says that many of the moms who come to Grace Place – like Isaac - have experienced extreme pain and trauma.
“We all have our ideas of what a good mother is,” said Van Cleve. “I’ve never had a single Grace Place mom that isn’t a good mom. They all want what’s best for their children.”
The program is designed to give women a place where they can let their guard down and learn to receive support from relationships and community, VanCleve added.
“We can talk until we’re blue in the face, but if they are still in isolation it won’t mean anything,” she said.
“They helped me learn to trust,” she said. “There, I learned that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Isaac is currently living in Hendersonville, working full-time and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
She says that the time she spent at Grace Place helped her be a better mother to daughters M’Kenzie, 10, and seven-year-old Yvonne.
“To me it helped me and the girls become more of a family,” she said. “They love us moms and children wherever they meet us on our journey – and they stay the course.”
For more information about Grace Place, call 615-881-3976 or go to graceplaceministryinc.org.