Article written by Lisa Lerner
“From the minute I arrived at CHiPS, I felt it was a safe, warm, and welcoming place. So many beautiful and blessed things have happened.” Camaris Battle, 26, moved into the Frances Residence with her then 2-month-old son, Nehemiyah, in June.
Camaris’ hands never stop moving. She diapers Nehemiyah, fields a phone call from her mother, and gets the baby’s clothes ready for his doctor’s appointment. She gestures around her. “When I first got here, I couldn’t believe it. I have my own room with my own bathroom and my own kitchen. They give me diapers for the baby – that saves so much money! I was spending $45 a week on diapers before. But here I also get formula, bottles and soap for the baby, and cleaning supplies to keep my room clean. If I need to run to the store, Miss Sue, the baby nurse, will watch my baby. I thought, it doesn’t get any better than this!”
But it did. “I kept saying to Miss Denise, I need to get a job!” Camaris’ determined spirit paid off, and by early September, she had landed a job as a home health aide. She was thrilled – but also worried. She didn’t have the money for scrubs to wear to work. Denise, the executive director at CHiPS, told her that donations come in all the time, and she would keep Camaris in mind. “She did exactly what she said she would do,” Camaris says. “I got my scrubs!”
She holds Nehemiyah close. From the moment he was born, she wanted to give him every possible advantage, beginning with his name. Camaris explains: “I wanted his name to mean something, so I looked in the Bible. Nehemiyah is not spelled exactly the same way as in the Bible…I gave it my own twist,” she grins. “But when I saw that it meant he built Jerusalem, that spoke to me. Miss Sue told me that it means the baby will be powerful.” Already, the bright-eyed Nehemiyah is showing signs of that, crawling all around, eager to explore his brand new world. He’s a smiling, lively baby who is clearly loved. Camaris can’t stop touching and holding him.
After taking care of her son, the number one priority for Camaris is to find housing for the two of them when she must leave CHiPS. “But we get so much help here,” she says. “The other night at our Wednesday house meeting, Miss Tiara from the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library came. She told us about all these resources, and I can use the computer room at CHiPS to go online and research her suggestions.” Camaris leans in, looking serious. “Even though you want to give up sometimes, being in this place gives you that motivation and ambition not to give up, to keep striving to be the best, to keep doing what you’re doing. It might be a little struggle here and there, but as long as you keep doing it, everything’s gonna be all right.”
Recently, Camaris put this philosophy to the test when Miss Anne, the coordinator for the residents program, told her to take the exam to be a court reporter. Camaris felt very apprehensive. “I told her, no way. It’s too hard. I can’t do it. But Miss Anne looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Oh no. You can do anything you put your mind to.’ Her telling me that helped me get the drive to go for it. I took the exam and it was really hard! But the whole time, in the back of my mind I kept seeing Miss Anne’s face and kept hearing her say, ‘You can do it!’ And I did.”
Camaris’ long-term dream is to become a licensed practical nurse. “I’ve always been interested in the medical field,” she explains. “Even here, if someone needs help, Miss Denise or Miss Sue will come to me and ask me my opinion, what I think they should do. I try to give them the best advice I can. I like helping people.” At that, Nehemiyah gives a mischievous smile and tries to crawl off the bed. But Camaris is quick. She swoops him up for one more dose of motherly love. “Come on, Chunkie,” she says, calling him by his nickname. “Let’s get dressed and go see the world.”