Sisters Support Sisters at Serenity House

Top row, from left to right: Patricia VanHook, Sydney Thomas-Windham, Pamela Calhoun-Thompson; Middle row: Angela, Andrea, Renee, Laura Tahasha, Latrice, Lola, Teresa, Latrice; Bottom row: Lucille, Jacqueline, Tahasha, Lola; Tahasha, Renee. Photos by Patricia VanHook and collage by Adam L. Turner.

It was a day when smiles lit up the faces of some women who have experienced a lot of dark moments in their lives. But on this special day they were experiencing the pampering that they deserve.
The women are part of an Oakland program, Serenity House, which serves women who have been molested or raped as little girls, some as young as two years old, who are struggling to heal their inner wounds and find a new way of living life.
The special day, Dec. 15, was courtesy of Patricia VanHook,  Personal Assistant to actor and comedian A. J. Jamal, who volunteers at Serenity House. She had arranged with Pamela Calhoun-Thompson, Fashion Industry Executive and Sydney Thomas-Windham, Cosmetology Instructor, to give the women a morning of beauty treatments at Laney College’s School of Cosmetology.  
The women, who are as young as 20, were transformed into the beautiful ladies that they really are.  The smiles that covered their faces were like “Sunshine on a cloudy day.”
Many have walked through the doors of Serenity House, located on 25th and San Pablo Avenue, and turned away from prostitution and addictions to drugs or alcohol.  Others come by just to have a peaceful and beautiful place to spend a few hours away from the madness of the streets.  
A block party was held on 25th Street for the first time in October, and there was no criminal activity from 8 a.m. until after 5 p.m.  Clowns from Prescott School, Jazz Group and Tru Connection Praise Team from Bible Fellowship came to entertain the neighbors.  
The violence that is seemingly increasing in Oakland has intensified the need for us all to do our part to make a difference, according to the staff at Serenity House, which works hard to show a light to the ones in need. Each person connected with the program volunteers his or her time.  
One of the program’s clients had faced horrific violence in her life. She was raped by her stepfather from the age of two until she left home at the age of 13.  She became a successful jazz singer on the East Coast but when she was in her fifties, she found her husband dead by hanging.  She began drinking and lost everything: her home in Pebble Beach, cars, money and the relationship with her only child.  
She arrived at Serenity House in 2010 at the age of 66.  Staff found her difficult to work with at first because she was so angry. But in four months, she began to share her story with the other women, and the healing began.
The fifth month she was at the program she was diagnosed in the final stages of cancer and given two weeks to live. She passed away, cared for in her final days by the women of Serenity House, who banded together to give love and continual 24-hour care.  She died experiencing love and hearing the heart-felt singing of those who she had embraced as her sisters.
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