A Place to Stay and a Place to Feel Loved

The ministry of Casa Tanya started with a woman in an alley

Erika Lobatos, I-58 Navs administrator, was walking her poodle on 25th Street in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood when she spotted her. The woman was in her early 20s, and she sat with her back against a brick wall. Above her, a man towered over her and yelled. The woman looked numb.

Erika could not shake the scene she had just witnessed. Something deep inside her told her to turn back. She thought it had to be a nudge from God.

So Erika turned around and walked back to the alley. After the man left, the details spilled out. The distraught woman told her the man was her boyfriend and had just broken up with her, kicking her out of their house. She had lost touch with her family. Her name was Paula (name changed), and she had nowhere to go.

“Come with me,” Erika told her. As they walked, Paula cried.

Erika took Paula back to her house, but she didn’t quite know what to do. She started with a practical step. She took a box of soul food leftovers and heated them up. She gave Paula a change of clothes.

“With the change of clothes, when she was covered up, she looked so innocent,” says Erika, her eyes brimming with tears as she recalls the scene from several years ago.

Erika invited Paula to stay with her for as long as she needed. Paula accepted, leaving her phone number and saying she would return. Though she texted a few times, she never came back.

Still, something surprising happened—others in need came. Woman after woman found Erika’s house, mostly through friends from her neighborhood church—single women, women in broken relationships, women with substance abuse issues, single moms and their kids. God brought them to Erika’s front door.

Those who had jobs helped with the rent. Those who didn’t stayed for free, for however long they needed. In the past five years, 17 women and 8 kids have streamed into Erika’s house.

“The last two years we’ve had many single mamas and their babies, which is really interesting because I’m not a mom,” Erika says. “I don’t have any kids. I have no training in child development or anything like that.”

Still, Erika and her roommates have been able to help women by simply opening their home. They help with bedtime routines and healthy eating habits for the kids. If they’re believers or open to faith, she’ll introduce the women to church and to mentors who walk alongside them.

It’s that intentional community that has led two fellow Navigators, Stephanie Hobold and Nan Miller, to join Erika in the ministry. Stephanie, who coordinates staff learning at I-58, moved into the house with Erika. Nan, a city leader and staff shepherd for I-58, moved into the Little Village neighborhood last summer.

Nan’s own story parallels those of the women staying at Casa Tanya. “At one time in my life, I was one of those women who needed a safe place, and I had a friend who opened up her home to me,” she says. “It meant so much to me,” Nan says, “because I felt clean. I felt so loved.”

The three leaders are formalizing a structure for the ministry, as well as pursuing a new house in the neighborhood equipped with six bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms (up from four bedrooms and two bathrooms) and better infrastructure. Erika estimates the operating costs will run about $17,000 each year.

They recently named the ministry Casa Tanya. Casa honors the house’s location in a Latino neighborhood. A house where every woman who has a need can feel loved, known, served, and valued.

To financially support the Navs Chicago ministry visit navgift.org/chicago

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