My name is Sandra Roussel, and I founded Fresh Start Housing. This page will explain the programs founding in 2009 through various interwoven happenstance experiences reflecting my life story.
The inception of this housing program started when I was merely three years of age—piecing together family stories and my memories of having suffered from severe physical, mental, and sexual abuse into the age of fourteen. At 14, I took it upon myself to walk away from school one day and have never looked back. As you might imagine, I may have left my tortuous beginnings, but the abuse never ended. Instead, the damage became a different type of harrowing and tormenting experience, but it was manageable after I understood street survival rules. Survival on the streets is a method of understanding how to interact with people and the environment effectively, and these methods still influence my life to this day.
Survival consisted of not being inebriated to the point of unconsciousness, and drugs were out of the question to ensure constant awareness of my surrounding. This sober awareness confirmed my instincts for sensing possible danger, honing a ‘fight or flight” response, which often paralyzed others, and instead saved my life on many occasions. I understand the need to escape reality, but when someone chooses a drug or alcohol-addled mind to escape, the abuse they incur is often more damaging. Unscrupulous individuals took advantage of street people who passed out. Living in the streets is a horrific experience many, thankfully, are not privy to.
Barely into my 20s and having survived many unkind experiences without doing drugs or being arrested, a bored military recruiter saw me daily searching the streets for food. One day he asked my story, and after I explained, he said he could get me into the Army. He explained that the Army would house, cloth, feed, and educate me. I lacked any formal education past fourteen years of age and was severely emaciated from living on the streets without daily nutrition. To this day, I do not know how he got past my education requirements at the Military Entrance Processing Station, also known as MEPS, but I failed the weigh-in by 3 pounds. He was a gruff man, and without saying a word, he drove me to a hotel. Depositing me in a room and only said he would be back shortly. I was on edge, wondering what he would want of me, and when he came back, he was carrying a 6-pack of beer and a bunch of bananas. You may be thinking about what I was afraid to face. He wanted sexual payment for his effort. Instead, he threw the beer and bananas at me and said, “drink them all and eat the bananas, I will be back in the morning, and you had better not pee.” He returned at the crack of dawn, woke me rudely, and refused to let me pee. My bladder felt like it would burst, but I made the weigh-in, and my life forever changed. After Basic Training, I realized the many tales of glory this recruiter told were lies, but he did get me into the Army after much effort and into a life with a more positive outlook.
After a service-related injury, it was time to leave the military. I was at a loss about what to do with myself and still lacking the often-needed formal education to advance myself further, I started on a path of self-learning/teaching—dedicating ten years of my life to computer programming, writing, and development. Who knew? Apparently, I had a natural inclination toward programming languages. Since this type of work requires a shut-in kind of lifestyle, the friendships, mentors, and un-aggrandizing experiences in a virtual world allowed me to explore and work with now-famous innovators of the internet. Many of the skills learned from software and application programming have come in handy in this E-learning world.
In 2008, my family made a move to Indiana for employment opportunities. The move was a moment to consider shifting from a geeky shut-in lifestyle or seeking a different path through social interactions. When a chance to purchase a house as an investment property presented itself, my offer was passed over twice. Thinking this may not be my future, I received a call from the bank to make a third offer. Irritated by the process, my final offer was $5,000 cash. To this very day, I still feel bad for asking our realtor to take my absurdly low offer to the bank. Shockingly to all, my lowball offer was accepted, and a new path in my life had started. This house had hidden beauty. All it needed was some tender loving care (TLC). It was structurally sound; the electricity and plumbing were up-to-date. It needed painting and the dark paneling removed, including small remodeling projects to make it a viable investment.
While starting the renovations and standing on a ladder painting, I noticed many young people walking through the alley hurriedly. Climbing down from the ladder to inquire where everyone was going, they called out in unison; they were feeding at Rock-solid Ministries, the local soup kitchen. They yelled, “you had better hurry up if you want to get a seat.” Here is where my life came full circle, and this happenstance moment directly influenced my career choice and development. At that very moment, I decided to develop a housing program to help these young people get back on their feet, become self-sufficient, and not let life experiences create a victim mentality so they can thrive.
Starting this program, I initially used my old survival skills to teach better methods and tapped into my military skills to create structure. Finally, I realized I was unprepared to assist those with often-severe psychological needs. Knowing I needed more than the minimum primary education and learned compensations such as self-teaching, it was time to ask for help to further my education.
Nine years of education went by so fast, all in furtherance of this housing program, from the basics of psychology and sociology into master programs in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Adult and Community Education, and even Executive Development in Public Service. The increase in societal drug misuse required an additional study on Opioid Drug Treatment. A Doctor of Education is the final step toward instructing others to emulate the methodologies, curriculum, procedures, and policies to further its methods. A method unique to Fresh Start Housing is the ability to self-fund the program to prevent reliance on grants and donations, ensuring housing stability for its residents as they transition towards self-sufficiency.
This mini-biography may depict a life of overcoming often overwhelming struggles; none of these triumphs have been accomplished alone. Those rare individuals who gave me a coat in the winter, the few who fed me, and even the bored recruiter all played a role in my survival and advancement. I want to acknowledge my mentor Marla Mitrione, who happens to be my best and dearest friend. Having someone in your corner who can criticize and encourage you simultaneously to stay on task and focus is a blessing. I also want to acknowledge Stephanie Hill Alexander, the teacher who showed me kindness, grace, and a love of learning. Our friendship is a testament to learning and personal growth. I am eager to call her Dr. one day as she pursues her educational goals. My greatest champion and supporter is my husband, who, without his strength, love, and support, I could not have possibly traversed the struggles life initially placed upon me. His never-ending love uplifted me to an unknown level, and I can only hope everyone finds a love so pure, either from someone else or from within themselves, to help them through life’s struggles.
I hope you continue to follow us as this program grows, and each participant’s advancements are a testament to the power of determination.
2 thoughts on “History”
Your story is very inspiring and I would like to help in any way I can. Please let me know how I can assist.
Wow! I’m a little speechless right now but let me gather my thoughts and I’ll elaborate. Ok, so I’ve been a social worker in Wayne County for almost 15 years. I started out working community based, then went to school based, then therapeutic foster care (majority of my career was spent in this focus), then back to community based, then joined the addictions team in 2017. It only took me 2 years of working with probation and surrounding juvenile detention centers along side of the epidemic we have currently; so gracefully bow out of working with youth. I know I still have a passion for working with youth (I just know in my heart), but I am now a social service director in long term care. Any ways, long story short, your story is touching to say the least. I am amazed that I have not heard of your program as this would have DEFINATELY benefitted many of my youth that aged out in foster care and ended up with nothing but drugs to turn to. I’m glad I stumbled over this and thank you for sharing your story. Good luck to you and your mission and I cannot thank you enough for pushing through the many barriers that life faced you with and using those blocks to help our youth today! How amazing. Thank you!