Millie Johnson knew it was unlikely that the 10 women living in her Pikesville transitional housing complex had experienced therapeutic massage, acupuncture or Reiki, and that was exactly why she organized a wellness day for them.
“INNterim provides a home for women with children who otherwise would be homeless. People struggling to survive typically view holistic medicine as a luxury that they can’t afford,” said Johnson, executive director of INNterim. “I wanted them to experience something new. There was a lot of skepticism beforehand, yet they were intrigued.”
That skepticism was tempered by deep admiration for Johnson among the residents, whom they fondly referred to as Miss Millie. Clearly she had earned their trust. This was not the first time she had pushed them to broaden their horizons.
“Miss Millie brings people in for credit counseling, home buying lessons, entrepreneur mentorship – other shelters don’t give you the tools to help you stand on your own. She lets us know we can do anything you want to do,” said Deborah Fitzgerald, an INNterim resident.
“This is not charity without strings; it’s a pathway to independence,” said Johnson. “If you’re contented as a homeless beggar, this is not for you. I absolutely believe that a lot of the empowerment fluff is just that, fluff. I believe in education. I require them to adhere to an action plan that they must agree to and sign before they can move in. The action plan sets goals that they must achieve to remain here. We provide more resources but at the same time we require more from our residents,” explained Johnson.
Most of the women work outside of their homes and attend school. Residents are given up to three years to transition to permanent housing. Since INNterim was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1994, 90 percent of residents have gone on to live independently, according to Johnson.
And so, Sun., July 15, was set aside as Wellness Day at INNterim. Johnson called upon an old friend and colleague whom she met through Landmark Education, Jennifer Stukey, founder of Awaken Wellness in Columbia and asked her for help.
“As you know, Millie can be very convincing,” said Stukey, who recruited five fellow practitioners for the cause. “I thought what a great gift to give the women – a day of relaxation.”
“They were so receptive and grateful that we were there,” said Stukey. “The effects of our services were immediate and very dramatic. Several [residents] shared that everyday stressors threatened to overwhelm them; they really benefitted from some healing.”
“I’ve always wanted to get a massage. I had heard that it was good for the soul. It relieves you physically and mentally. I feel like I could jump off a building and fly, and conquer the rest of my week. I work and go to school Monday through Friday and I feel like I can do it now,” said Monyette Fitzgerald, Deborah Fitzgerald’s daughter. The Fitzgeralds share a townhouse with Monyette’s children.
“My favorite part was the Reiki; it was so calming. I felt a transfer of energy from the lady that was giving service to me,” said Monyette Fitzgerald. “The acupuncture was good too. The pins didn’t hurt. I really felt at peace. They should have holistic healing in the medical field. You can’t heal everything with medication.”
“Several of the women expressed an interest in complementary alternative medicine and asked about careers in it,” said Stukey.
“That’s exactly what I like to hear; it’s great that they are thinking that way,” said Johnson. “I am big on entrepreneurship. If they have their own businesses no man or anyone else is going to take it from them. They can create their own security. It can be anything – jewelry, a restaurant, holistic healing.”
Johnson, a native of Montserrat who earned a PhD in organizational leadership from Johns Hopkins University, has a bold vision for INNterim’s future. “I would like to build an economic initiative – probably in the cooking world – so that the residents and others can make a living right here. Perhaps a restaurant or bakery right on our property.”
“Miss Mille is God’s gift; she’s an angel,” said Deborah Fitzgerald with a tone of adoration and respect. “Everything she [does] is for the families. She builds up their self-esteem.”