"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view." ― Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Morris Mendes recently was named one of the newest board members of Fairfield Commons, an affordable housing development run by the Mutual Housing Association (MHA) of Southwestern Connecticut. The Stamford development serves low-income people who, because of health challenges or substance abuse, require a supportive living environment.
What makes his story unique, however, is not Mendes' recent board appointment, but his journey to it. He also is a resident of the development.
Mendes worked as a drug and alcohol counselor for many years until three strokes left him with disabilities and without steady income. He lost his apartment and was living on his sister's couch before he got the opportunity to enter the independent-living program at Laurel House, MHA's partner organization in Stamford. Later, he moved into a one-bedroom apartment at Fairfield Commons.
"It made a big difference in my life," Mendes says. "The neighborhood is nice and quiet. It really helps the recovery process to be in an environment that is safe and secure."
Meanwhile, he continues to participate in programs at Laurel House.
"The 'thinking well' group helps me maintain my concentration, and work on my memory and speech processing," the 62-year-old says.
Mendes also is a part-time volunteer at Laurel House, assisting clients and counselors.
"I see it from both sides now. I am in the same position that they both are in," he says.
Mendes' healing process continues steadily. He started driving again last summer, and has become a spokesperson for MHA. He spoke movingly about the importance of housing for people like him at the organization's groundbreaking for Fairfield Commons II, which will add six new units to the complex—including supportive services geared to formerly homeless people.
"We can't build [the units] fast enough," says Rene Dobos, MHA's CEO. "The demand is great, especially in Fairfield County [because rents are high]."