Collette Desselles was a single mother struggling to live paycheck to paycheck when she first came up with the idea for Lean on Me, her nonprofit organization.
When she was going through her darkest times, she could have used a low-cost, safe transitional housing option for women.
Seated in the living room of the five-bedroom house that now serves as that transitional home, Desselles thinks back on how far she’s come. She still works a full-time job in addition to running her nonprofit, and though it keeps her busy — Desselles is constantly checking her phone for messages — she wouldn’t have it any other way.
But learning how to put together a nonprofit, no matter how much of a passion project it was, came with its own challenges and dark times.
Once she secured funding, found a suitable house to rent, got started on furnishing and obtaining the proper permits, Desselles realized she needed to install a second shower in order to comply with city regulations.
That’s when she went to The Red Shoes, another nonprofit organization, also focused on helping women.
Desselles applied for a micro loan through The Red Shoes’ Lifting Loans program, she said, and she was just the kind of candidate for which Lifting Loans were intended, said Wendy Herschman, executive director at Red Shoes.
“It’s a great program, and we have a great partnership with the Good Work Network,” Herschman said. The interest rate is below 5 percent, and is often a great option for those who may not be in a position to get traditional business loans.
Women show through the application process that they have put in their own investment of time and energy into a great idea, she said, and just need a boost of cash, up to $2,500, in order to get started or expand.
“Little things can add up — marketing costs, printing brochures and business cards or installing that one extra shower,” she said.
Desselles has since moved on to a new house, she said, but the loan was a big help just when she needed it.
The Red Shoes also provided Desselles with a business mentor and resources, including entrepreneurship classes, to make her home a success.
“It’s slow right now,” she said, “but that will change. There is always a need,” she said. Once she officially opened in May 2014, she said, she was at capacity in no time. Women living in the home pay modest rent, and may come and go as they please, as long as they follow a few house rules about outside visitors.
There is really no limit to how long women are allowed to stay, she said, but most women move on within a six-month period.
Sometimes she wishes she had a closer connection with the women in her house, she said, but knowing she’s providing a service she once needed — a judgement-free, safe, low-cost place to regroup — is enough reward.
“I was a teenage mom, I was a runaway, I was a victim of domestic violence,” Desselles said. “I’ve been through it, so I make no judgments of nobody because that’s what I needed at the time.”
One of Desselles’ new residents walks through the living room, and Christy Curley, house manager, greets her.
“She’s just getting her things moved in,” Curley, who lives at the house and handles day-to-day operations, said as the woman passed through with another armful of things.
Curley got the job after her time in the house as a client.
“God sent her to me,” Desselles said of Curley. Both women agree it was a perfect fit because they’ve all walked the same path and know the struggles, setbacks and distractions that come with living through challenging circumstances.
Desselles realizes how powerful women helping other women can be, she said, in part because of her own experiences with The Red Shoes.
To learn more about Lean on Me, visit www.leanonmebr.com. Donations to Lean On Me may also be made to P.O. Box 65334, Baton Rouge, LA 70896.
Donations to the Lifting Loan Program can be made through the Red Shoes’ website, www.theredshoes.org/lifting-loans, where there are also options for volunteering as a mentor.