“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is being done now, the saving of many lives.” – Genesis 50:20, the Bible verse on the website of the Divas for Hope
Two months ago, Sarah Trent’s boyfriend told her to get out of his apartment with her 5-month-old son.
She didn’t have a job, because he had wanted her to be a stay-at-home mom. She was 22 years old and didn’t have a car or any money.
The one thing she did have was the phone number of a woman whom she’d heard speak about her own tough past. Trent had approached the woman after her talk to a Christian group, and they had started talking on the phone and texting.
The woman was Melody Matulewic, 42, a wife, mother, and marketing director for Scholfield Auto Plaza in Wichita. She’s also a volunteer at the Treehouse, a ministry at First and Volutsia that serves 400 needy mothers a year with emotional and material support.
Matulewic runs a boot camp at the Treehouse — not one of those boot camps that promises muscular gain through pain. But a spiritual and practical strengthening of women learning to be better mothers.
The role fits her well: Matulewic talks fast and makes demands like a drill sergeant. Life is short, she says, and lives are at stake.
On that night in March, when Trent called her with nowhere to go, there had already been a desire in Matulewic to do more for women in trouble. She consulted her husband, then invited Trent and her son, Zayven, to their home in east Wichita.
The Matulewics asked Trent to accomplish four things if she was going to stay with them. They gave her 60 days.
• • •
There’s a reason for Melody Matulewic’s intensity.
At the Treehouse’s boot camp — before she asks young mothers who may be suffering from poverty, abuse, snatched parental rights, promiscuity or just plain bad luck to drop and give her their best effort — she tells them that, as a girl, she was sexually abused for nine years. That at age 18 she found herself alone with $24 in her pocket. That she had to drop out of college.
But that she went on, with good advice, to eventually start her own advertising agency. To get married and have children. To be in a position to help those sitting in front of her to follow her path up and out.
“I’ve always been trying to find out a way to help survivors of abuse and women who have hardships,” said Matulewic, who also runs Divas for Hope, a program of healing and prevention of abuse. “Failure’s not an option in my vocabulary.”
When Sarah Trent arrived at her home wearing a nose ring, three colors dyed into her hair and bright pink nail polish, “I said, ‘This all has to go.’ I said, ‘If you walked into my dealership I would not hire you.’ ”
Matulewic and her husband, Doug, gave Trent 60 days to accomplish four goals: find a car, affordable day care, a job and an apartment. While Trent was grateful — “I didn’t expect that, not her to open her home to me” — she had a lot to learn. She wanted to sleep in occasionally, for example, if the baby was still sleeping.
“Nobody’s told her, you don’t have time to sleep today,” Matulewic said. “You gotta be up and be a mom. Let’s go.”
Trent found it hard at times, but like a good boot-camper, she got up and got going.
“I was kind of like, OK, because I looked for jobs before,” she said. “It was difficult for me.
“They taught me from the ground up. We’d sit here at night and they’d practice interviewing with me. I’ve never been told what to do in a job interview. … To dress nicely just makes such a difference.”
Matulewic’s husband, IT manager for Wichita Surgical Specialists, had already become a volunteer at the Treehouse as its IT guy. He didn’t hesitate when Melody asked him to take Trent and her baby in.
“I said, ‘Whatever she wants to do we’re doing,’ ” he said of his wife.
“We saw ‘The Blind Side.’ If they could do it, so could we. Anything my wife wants to do, I support her. She helps everybody.”
• • •
At the Treehouse, executive director Renee Croitoru and administrative director Jaleen Claassen “have been my biggest cheerleaders,” said Melody Matulewic, who began volunteering there about two years ago.
The Treehouse is a mother-to-mother effort sponsored by Orthodox Christian Ministries that started 10 years ago. It offers mothers instruction in mothering, relationships and finances as well as spiritual and emotional support, diapers and other necessities. The women who go there come from a range of situations.
“Some are at the breaking point, and some just need someone to listen to them,” Croitoru said.
“The depth of support that we give them is really special. It allow us to take our time and work on developing relationships.”
Because of the high level of need, the Treehouse requires mothers to be referred from one of a handful of agencies, and it has run out of room to grow in its building at 151 N. Volutsia.
“We do turn people away,” Croitoru said, “and we’re always questioning quality versus quantity. But we keep coming back to quality.
“It’s so critical, that child’s first four years of life. If we can assist the mommy on focusing their lives in a positive direction, they’ll have a lasting effect on their children, and generations are changed.”
Croitoru can give you an earful about society and the problems women bring to the Treehouse. She wishes, for example, that women could walk into a club and see certain men marked — the ones who already have four children they have nothing to do with. But she doesn’t judge the woman in front of her.
In her boot camp at the Treehouse, Matulewic helps mothers “try to identify with what do they continue to keep doing, what do they need to do to see past hurts and soften their hearts and make some changes in themselves,” she said.
“What’s been cool is we pray for each one of their needs, and I cannot tell you how many prayers have been answered. It’s neat that the girls are stronger in their faith, too. It’s a safe place to talk. I set the tone at the beginning: We don’t judge, we don’t talk about each other, because we need to be sisters together.”
The Treehouse has also helped Trent, who sought it out before her baby was born.
“I wanted a boyfriend all the time,” she said. “It’s helped me prepare for the most important boyfriend in my life” — her son.
• • •
As Trent settled into a more regimented life at the Matulewic house, “it was just scary,” she said. “I thought some days, ‘I don’t want to go for an interview.’ ”
But Melody Matulewic had put out the word to friends, and more help started heading Trent’s way.
Within two weeks, she had a car through a donation from someone at the Treehouse. The Matulewics paid for needed repairs. Then a friend of Melody’s who babysits offered to watch Zayven for virtually nothing.
All the work on learning how to interview for a job paid off when Trent got an interview with Doug Matulewic’s company, Wichita Surgical Specialists, and then was offered a job as a medical records specialist. They love her, and she loves them.
Finally, last Wednesday, with her 60 days almost up, Trent put a deposit down on an apartment. Friday night, the garage door at the Matulewic home was raised to reveal donated furnishings. Trent bawled. She moved into her apartment Saturday, just in time for her first Mother’s Day with her baby.
“It’s been wonderful,” Trent said of the transformation. “I couldn’t have asked for better people to help.”
Even just watching Melody Matulewic’s interaction with her 6-year-old son has taught her a lot, she said.
Matulewic is thrilled to see Trent follow her advice for her own good.
“Now she’s getting up at 6, she’s working overtime, she’s putting the initiative in. We’re so proud of her,” Melody Matulewic said.
But it makes her cry, too, because even though the last two months have been tiring, she’s sad to see the Trents leave. The mother and child have been a good lesson and blessing for her own family.
“It’s an incredible blessing to be a mom,” Matulewic said.
“Hopefully women can look deep into themselves to see the gift they are … to realize the gift you have to share with others, especially your children, because we groom them whether we realize it or not.”
Trent acknowledges hard work ahead.
“It’s scary to raise a baby by yourself,” she said, “but it feels so good to be independent. I have my own place.”
Matulewic says that Trent “can soar from here.”
“You’re raising a man!” she tells her.
Trent gives her baby a squeeze and answers: “He’s going to be a good man.”