HUDSON -- THE ANNE MARIE HOUSE isn't a place to go without reflecting on one's life. And if you aren't working yourself onto your feet once you arrive, this isn't the place for you.
Seven years into its mission, Anne Marie House is a shelter for families in transition. With 25 beds and seven bathrooms, it is on the Presentation of Mary Academy campus.
Laurie Skibba is the director of Anne Marie House. Without having to worry about food and shelter, she said, guests can focus on building credit and finding a job.
“What do you want to get out of this program?” Skibba asks prospective residents. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
A guest's progress is reviewed every 30 days. If you meet goals and the objective, you stay, Skibba said. “If it becomes apparent you're not, then we do exit you.”
That type of hard-nosed approach has allowed Anne Marie House to achieve a nearly 90 percent success rate — former residents who now have jobs and can support their families, she said.
Jairus Olocho is one of those people.
A Kenyan immigrant who came to the United States in 2008, Olocho lived with his wife and three children for two years at Anne Marie House.
He said he was unable to find a job when he first arrived, and support from his family was limited. When they got word of the Anne Marie House, it seemed like a light at the end of the tunnel.
“They provided housing so we had somewhere to call home,” said Olocho, 41. “It would have taken me longer to be where I am now if not for that two years that the Anne Marie House community helped me to be able to make some savings, which led to the down payment for my house.”
With its help, and with the help of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, Olocho was able to find a nursing job at Crestwood Care and Rehabilitation Center in Milford within seven months of his residency there.
“I had been looking for the job for several months,” he said, “and after you struggle it looks very elusive and finally you find it. So I felt great. I felt that God had finally remembered me.”
When they left the shelter, Olocho bought a four-bedroom house in Derry.
The 17,000-square-foot building that houses the shelter formerly served as a residence for women considering becoming a nun with the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. The founder of that order, Anne Marie Rivier, is the namesake of the Anne Marie House and Rivier University.
Skibba said the parents of the schoolchildren were divided over the decision to rent the building to the Greater Nashua Interfaith Hospitality Network, the organization that oversees the shelter. For a year, the sisters put the decision on hold. Finally, Anne Marie House was established in 2005, and it resulted in a drop in enrollment. Skibba said that has been reversed, with enrollment at its highest level.
The relationships forged at Anne Marie House “last long after they leave, because this is, in many cases, the most healthy family experience that many families have ever had,” Skibba said.
Another key element is the emphasis on sound financial practices.
“When you're in that situation of not having any money and not thinking you will, it doesn't bother you to spend it on fill-in-the-blank,” Skibba said.
Residents are required to save 75 percent of their salaries. Since they don't have to pay for room and board, this allows them to build credit and enough savings to pay the first and last months' rent and a security deposit when the time comes.
Skibba is the only full-time employee in addition to five part-time workers. Volunteers help in the day-to-day operations.
Olocho spoke fondly of the volunteers at Anne Marie. One 98-year-old volunteer “is my angel,” Olocho said. “She didn't care about her age. She didn't care about herself. But she cared that the guests had something to eat.”
Olocho added, “If everybody united that way, this country would really move forward in many ways.”
The organization is funded through grants and donations. It is considering opening a business that would use the guests' skills and finance the nonprofit with the proceeds.
More information about the Anne Marie House is available at annemariehouse.org, or by calling 603-883-7338.