Offering women, children a helping hand

Marla Sebreros and other volunteers were busy at work, sorting various clothing and toiletries in the back room of Colette's Children's Home.

The women were helping tidy up the 15-year-old nonprofit's new office on Prince Drive in Huntington Beach before its grand opening Wednesday.

The group recently moved its main office from Beach Boulevard to a larger and less pricey facility.

"We're here volunteering our time to get the donations all in order for the women that come in with their children and the things that they need," Sebreros said.

Sebreros, 38, of Anaheim, is one of those women who sought help at Colette's program, which helps homeless women and their children, as well as others in need, get back on their feet.

She has been with the program for a year. Before seeking help, Sebreros found herself homeless when the owner of the house she was renting sold the property and she was forced out.

Sebreros and her children moved in with her sister in Garden Grove, but the living situation was less than ideal. She said her sister was an alcoholic and "free with her sexuality."

"It just wasn't the kind of place for myself and my children to live in," she said.

Sebreros heard about Colette's from a friend of her sister's. After being evaluated and meeting with case workers, the program offered her a home in Anaheim and she found work as a hotel maid near Disneyland.

"They give us all the tools and the things that we need," Sebreros said. "If there's anything we need to talk about, we have our case managers. If we need counseling, if we need anything, they're there. From a roll of toilet paper to clothing for an interview, they're there."

The idea for the nonprofit began when founder and executive director Billy O'Connell and his daughter, Colette, were volunteering at a soup kitchen in Santa Ana.

He wanted to open a home for men, but when he realized there was a higher demand to start a program for women and children, he chose the latter route instead.

"We took 522 women and children off the streets," said O'Connell, referring to his 2012 statistics. "Of the 210 women that came into our program, we helped 173 find work and unified 29 mothers with 54 children."

The organization has 13 locations around Orange County, including Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Placentia and Fountain Valley, O'Connell said. It can help set the women up with emergency, transitional and permanent housing.

"We work with people that have substance abuse issues, alcohol issues, economic hardships, domestic violence and victims of human trafficking," he said.

Rosalinda Littlejohn is the intake coordinator for Colette's, the first point of contact for those who are seeking help. In 2007, however, she was a member of the program, struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.

"On my 30th birthday, I was in Hawaii celebrating," she said. "At the age of 31, I was in jail, so there's a huge, drastic change that happened and I just hit my bottom.

"I was in jail and I didn't have anywhere to go," Littlejohn said. "I didn't have my daughter full-time, I didn't have a lot of sobriety time and I didn't have a car. A lot of programs won't take you unless you have all these things."

With the help of the program, she found a job within 30 days of starting and began to deal with her various problems. She eventually found stable work and was reunited with her child.

Now Littlejohn has a different perspective. Instead of looking for help, she's there to help others.

"Being on the other side, I see the services and what we provide," she said. "It's huge, because you think you just come in and utilize what they have to offer, but it's so much more than that."

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