Aspiring Photographer Captures the Good in His Annex Experience

Ernest is aptly named. Seemingly serious and matter-of-fact, he gets a little teary-eyed when asked about his future. The recent past was problematic enough for him, his mom, and two sisters, to the extent they lost their housing and sought services at First Place Family Center.

Ernest at first place annex

“A lot of things happened that were just building up to us having to leave our apartment,” he said. At that time, the Annex was “definitely not in the picture.”

In a roundabout way, the COVID-19 situation has brought stability to Ernest’s family. When the shelter-in-place order was issued and the Annex opened to First Place families 24-7, they signed on as a family unit.

Had they not, they “would still be in the dust,” he said.

A brighter spot of late is Ernest’s graduation, announced via email from South Eugene High School. He completed his requirements online and is enrolled in a transitions program that guides graduates into the job market.

As evidenced by the hefty camera and flash unit he carries, Ernest’s dream is to be a freelance photographer.

He is emphatically appreciative of the Annex experience, which saw changes by the day as St. Vincent de Paul staff members scrambled to adapt homeless services to shelter-in-place orders, and homeschooling. Early on, guests could sign out and be off-site. Then off-site business was limited to one hour, and guests were required to wear masks in the common areas, all the while being mindful of distancing themselves from others.

Twice-monthly classes keep Ernest’s family focused and moving forward. He invests his spare time wisely, learning all he can about the First Place experience and taking the positive aspects for himself.

“Some people say this is a wall,” he said. “But it’s more like a stepping stool with the continuous meetings to keep us on track with what we’re doing. It’s like a giant support – just support in general.

“It has kept us together.”