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Graduation day approaches for residents of special independent living program in metro

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- Graduation day is coming soon -- for families enrolled in a metro-based independent living program.

There are no handouts here. Hillcrest Transitional Housing offers a hand up to families in need​, especially those with single mothers. This non-profit temporary residence, which operates three locations in Jackson County, has 16 apartments in Lee's Summit. Residents are provided free housing and meals, but it's required they enroll in a 90-day program, meant to help them rebuild damaged lives and return to living on their own.

"It's almost like a sacred place," Laura Monteiro, who is set to graduate from the program, told FOX 4 News.

Monteiro, a mother of two, says she suffered great financial setbacks after a divorce and losing two jobs. She says she owes her well-being to Hillcrest, as she and her kids had no place to go.

"I wanted to do this on my own with help. That's what this place is for: assistance," Monteiro added.

Hillcrest's courses are designed to be demanding and life-changing. They teach basic life-sustaining skills, such as cooking and budget-building, as well as responsible family management.

"I needed someone to give me that little ummph. Just to get me over that hurdle so I could go on about my life," Monteiro said.

Each of the non-profit's apartments is sponsored by one of several churches in Lee's Summit. Church congregations often welcome new residents with hot meals, flowers and letters of support. The faith-based mission also provides resources such as internet connectivity, laundry facilities and a large playground for kids, meant to encourage families to grow together.

Hillcrest's new counseling center in Lee's Summit, which opened less than a month ago, adds classroom space, a tornado shelter and a large kitchen. In 30 years of operation, it's the first brand new building the group has ever called home. All of Hillcrest's other apartment buildings in Lee's Summit are built on concrete slabs, making the new storm shelter a vital addition.

"Our goal is to break the cycle of poverty one family at a time," Cotton Silvis, Hillcrest's director for Jackson County, said on Tuesday.

Silvis says he believes an at-risk family will often follow the director provided by its mother. That's why Hillcrest targets the betterment of single mothers. Silvis says 75 percent of its enrollees are single moms.

"If we get that mom stabilized, and get her into a place of her own, we've changed the lives of her kids forever. That's very real," Silvis said.

In three decades of operation, Hillcrest leaders say the program has served hundreds of enrollees with a 95 percent success rate in helping people turn bad choices or unfortunate circumstances into bright futures. Graduation from the program requires residents hold a full-time job, maintain housing where their families are comfortable, and live without financial assistance from the government.

Learn more about Hillcrest Transitional Housing by visiting the group's website here