My name is Sandra Roussel, the founder of Fresh Start Housing. This page will explain the programs founding in 2009 through an assortment of interwoven happenstance experiences reflective of my own 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 then sexual abuse into the age of fourteen. At the age of 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 torturous experience, but it was manageable after I understood street survival rules. Where survival on the streets is a method of understating how to effectively interact with people and the environment, and these methods still influences my life to this very 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 ensured my instincts for sensing possible danger, honing a ‘fight or flight’ response, which often paralyzed others, instead saved my life on many occasions. I understand the need to escape reality, but when someone chose a drug or alcohol addled mind as a method of escape, the abuse they incurred was often more damaging. Unscrupulous individuals took advantage of street people who were passed out. Living in the streets is a horrific experience many thankfully are not privy.
Barely into my 20’s and having survived many unkind experiences without doing drugs or being arrested, a bored military recruiter saw me daily walking the streets in search of food. One day he asked my story, and after I explained, he said he could get me in the Army. The Army would house, cloth, feed, and educate me. It was after Basic Training when I realized the many tales of glory this recruiter told were is lies, but he did get me into the Army after much effort. 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 saying 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.” At the crack of dawn, he returned, woke me rudely and refused to let me urinate. My bladder felt as though it would burst, but I made the weigh-in, and my life forever changed
Fourteen years later and a service-related injury, it was time to leave the military. I was at a loss in 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. While also learning how to better compensate for dyslexia. Since this type of work requires a shut-in kind of lifestyle, the friendships, mentors and un-aggrandizing experiences with now widely popular programs go into the annals of my personal history without much mention other than these learned skills have come in handy throughout life.
In 2008, my family made a move to Indiana for employment opportunities. The move was a moment to consider shifting from a shut-in lifestyle or seek a different life path. When a chance to purchase a house as investment property presented itself, and after making a couple offers on the property and being passed over by the bank, I received a call to make a third offer on the property. The home was beautiful inside but needed a little TLC (tender loving care). It was structurally sound, the electric and plumbing were up-to-date, it needed painting, and the dark paneling removed including small remodeling projects to make it a viable investment. To this very day, I still feel bad for asking our realtor to take my absurdly low offer to the bank. My final offer was $5,000 cash, and the proposal shockingly to all, was accepted, and a new path in my life had started.
Standing on a ladder painting while remodeling, I noticed a large group of young people walk through the alley with purpose. Climbing down from the ladder to inquire where everyone was going, and upon asking, they called out in unison, they are feeding at Rock-solid ministries, which is the local soup kitchen. They yelled, “you had better hurry up if I want to get a seat.” Here is where my life came full circle, and this happenstance moment had a direct influence on my career choice and development. It was this moment I decided to develop a housing program that will help these young lives get back on their feet, become self-sufficient, and not let life experiences create a victim mentality so they can thrive. Initially, I used my old survival skills to teach better methods, also taping into my military skills to create structure, and finally realizing I am nowhere near prepared to assist them with their often-severe psychological needs. Knowing I needed more than the bare minimum education and learned compensations such as self-teaching, it was time to ask someone else how to proceed in furthering my education.
Testing into the local community college, within two years graduating with an associate degree, including honors (Cum Laude) and then immediately transferring to Clarion University to work on a bachelor’s program for Sociology and Psychology. I added in an Opioid Specialty Certificate to understand better the opioid crises we are currently facing in America. In 2018, graduating from the bachelor’s program again with honors (Cum Laude) and determined to push forward towards a master’s degree. Today, June 2019 starts the summer semester in graduate school, towards a 3-year master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Therapy.
This mini-biography may depict a life of overcoming often unsurmountable 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, even the bored recruiter all played a role in my survival and advancement. My greatest champion and supporter is my husband who without his strength, love, and support, I could not possibly traversed the struggles life initially placed upon me. His never-ending love uplifted me to a level previously unknown, and I can only hope everyone in this program 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 the advancements each participant achieves is a testament to the power of determination.