ELKHART — Cradling her newborn daughter in her arms, Skylla Hurt sifted through plastic grocery bags stuffed with winter clothes, diapers and baby blankets, a bundle of gifts that she didn’t expect to receive after having an unusual birth two weeks ago.
Hurt, 22, returned home from the hospital on Thanksgiving, just two days after giving birth to a baby girl on a trolley in front of the Elkhart County Courthouse in downtown Goshen. Since then, the Elkhart mom of two has been drawing a lot of attention.
“She’s a sweet girl,” said Jen Doty, director of the transitional housing program at Individuals and Families in Transition, or iFiT. “She’s had a very, very difficult life.”
Hurt, her 4-year-old daughter Bonnie Sue, and her newborn daughter, Autumn Dawn, are among a dozen families with children living in a transitional housing apartment building east of downtown Elkhart. The housing program aims to help families break through the barriers of poverty and homelessness by helping them become self sufficient and giving them a place to live. Hurt has been in the program since August, but before that she was at the Elkhart County Women’s Shelter with her oldest daughter, Doty explained.
Doty said other social service agencies that worked with Hurt were uncertain whether she would be able live independently. But Hurt has risen to the challenge by paying rent on time, learning to take care of her apartment and taking cooking lessons, Doty added.
“She’s sweet, simple and kind, and she’s got a funny side to her too,” Doty said. “She’s struggling, but she’s doing better than what people anticipated. I couldn’t be more happy with her. I wish I had more clients like Skylla.”
The phones at iFiT’s office started ringing off the hook after the news of Hurt’s experience on the trolley spread.
“People at the office have been helping out a lot,” Hurt said. “People have been calling the office asking if we need anything.”
One woman was so moved by Hurt’s story that she donated $2,000 so Hurt could buy a crib, a car seat, diapers and whatever else she needs for her two daughters.
“That donor wanted to remain anonymous, but I will say that she is one of the sweetest, kindest ladies I’ve ever met in my life and in all the years that I’ve been here,” Doty said.
Laura Yahya, iFiT executive assistant, said the nonprofit organization relies heavily on donors to help more than 700 families in Elkhart County every year. And for the first time in three years, the agency will be holding its Beyond the Mask fundraiser. The group hopes to raise $25,000 this weekend for its programs, including the women’s shelter, transitional housing and counseling among others.
“Without community support, we would probably have to serve less clients, a lot less,” Yahya said.
The fundraiser, starting at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, will feature a formal dinner and masquerade ball with music, a cash bar and a special award for a local community activist at Elcona Country Club, 56784 C.R. 21 in Bristol. Theresa Flores, an author and human trafficking survivor, will be the keynote speaker.
Call the iFit office at 295-6596 or visit www.ifitelkhart.org for tickets and sponsorship information by 6 p.m. Thursday.