The Christmas I spent in Ohio with my aunts and uncle and eight cousins was a joy.

It would be the last one worth remembering for a long time.

Afterward, I flew to southern California where a surprise was waiting for me: an earthquake.

I was jolted awake and cowered on the floor with plaster falling around me, windows shattering, the television tumbling over. My mind would play back those sounds long after the shaking stopped.

I was unable to focus. I forgot things. I lost my business. Diagnosis: post traumatic stress and major depression. A few years later, I was living in my van.

Life on the street makes recovery from mental illness all but impossible. Christmas is just another day.

But two months before this Christmas, Homes With Hope found a home for me. Now, I'm rediscovering the simple joys of living in a home. When I wake in the morning, I'm warm. My clothes are hanging neatly in my closet. I brush my teeth at my bathroom sink in privacy. I open the blinds over my kitchen sink and let in the sun. I'm ready for a new day.

The people who donated to Homes With Hope made this change in my life possible. The best way I can thank them is to make full use of their gift. I never miss a therapy session. I volunteer at the Westport Community Theatre. I meet weekly with my mentor

This is my first Christmas in my home. There is no decorated tree. Maybe another year. But I put a strand of Christmas lights around my front door and went to the holiday party put on by Homes With Hope. I have friends. I feel hopeful. I can see possibilities.

Peg Fowler