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'My life has been changed:' Milwaukee non-profit works to get women off the streets

Posted at 11:30 AM, Dec 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-11 20:54:31-05

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee non-profit is changing lives. The Franciscan Peacemakers are growing, making it possible to get more women off the streets.

"When I was on the streets I was very unhappy with who I was as a person and I didn't want to live like that anymore," said Cynthia Perkins.

Cynthia Perkins is proof what the Franciscan Peacemakers do is working. She works at the non-profit's store at the corner of 34th Street and Lisbon Avenue. The Peacemakers hire women who want to get off the streets.

"They're women who've suffered some trauma and some sexual exploitation be it they were trafficked directly, directly forced or circumstances lead them to this," said Mary Leach-Sumlin, the associate director of the group.

For women who aren't ready to leave their life, Leach-Sumlin said the Franciscan Peacemakers offer a new, safe space they can visit.

"We just try and be a place where we can build relationships and show love to people who are at a bad point in their lives," she said.

Some don't seek out the help so the Peacemakers go to them.

"We go to different places on the north side and the south side," said Leach-Sumlin.

They bring food, hygiene products or warm clothes.

It wasn't long ago Perkins was the one standing outside the outreach van looking for help.

"It's been many years that I was getting food or some other type of item. Somebody gave me some food, somebody gave me some words of encouragement and showed me some love. It deeply impacted me," said Perkins.

The Peacemakers gave Perkins a job and a place to live. It's part of the non-profit's two-year program where women can heal rent-free and get connected with therapy and addiction treatments.

"I thought it was worth a shot and I wanted that shot really bad," said Perkins.

After a life on and off the streets for 14 years, Perkins is now on the path to becoming a peer mentor with the group who saved her.

"My life has been changed," she said. "It's good to show people that you can change your life and also not forget where you came from."

The community can help by shopping at the Franciscan Peacemakers store, which is located at 3333 West Lisbon Avenue in Milwaukee. It's open Tuesday-Saturday from 8:30 am-1:30 pm. The money made off the bath products goes to the women's salaries.

The non-profit is always looking for outreach donations like winter items, hygiene products, gas cards and food gift cards to places like McDonald's and Subway. They also need coffee, creamer and sugar to stock their hospitality room.

Click here for more information about how to help.