A message wrapped in a gilded frame hangs on the living room wall of a home on West College Avenue in York:
"Faith makes things possible. Not easy."
The blunt wisdom -- overlooking a room filled with mismatched furniture salvaged from hotels and donors -- has played out in the story of Chandra Illarza's life more than once.
It took faith to keep her head up after getting pregnant at 16, only to have her son die at two months old.
It took faith to overcome a crack addiction. She went to rehab and has been off the drug, she said, since 1992.
Faith had a hand this August when the 54-year-old York woman left her job as a financial caseworker at Healthy York Network to pursue helping homeless men full time.
Without faith, she might not have found the courage to break into her retirement account for the $5,000 downpayment on the York house where her tribute to overcoming now hangs.
Inside those walls, she hopes to give needy-but-employed men a place to stay and put their lives on track through a faith-based program she decided to develop after attending Proverbs 31 Businesswoman, a seminar presented by pastor Joanna Brown of Lancaster-based In His Image Ministries.
The group, which met weekly at New Grounds Roasting Company in York, gave Illarza a chance to bounce her ideas off other women.
"Her project is really a helping project based on her own life situation," said Brown, who has been helping Illarza connect with resources.
Around the same time the 10-week program started, a good friend of Brown's was looking to sell a West College Avenue house. That's how the budding philanthropist found her headquarters.
"Chandra was at the right place at the right time," Brown said. "She seems to be meeting a need that's real in the city of York."
She's calling the project "Chandra Collette: The Next Chapter" -- a name she hasn't registered as a business entity just yet.
She plans to take the men to church on Sunday and to weekly prayer sessions on Thursday.
They will obey the rules: No alcohol. No drugs. No stealing or borrowing. If you have to smoke, go outside.
She isn't sure whether to become a nonprofit or try to join an established one. Without any status, it's difficult to get donations or grants.
She just knows she wants to help people.
"I wanted a chance in life. When I first started getting clean," Illarza said, "I wanted a chance. I didn't want someone to look at my background and say, 'We can't help you.'"
Tammi Morris, executive director of Bridge of Hope of York County, wasn't familiar with Illarza's project, but offered a bit of advice. She suggested Illarza partner with established programs instead of reinventing the wheel.
Little exists in the way of transitional housing specifically for single men, she said.
"I think the idea is a great idea and I think the York community could offer her a lot of experience-based advice," Morris said. "I certainly wish her the best of luck."
Bridge of Hope, she said, offers programs for struggling single mothers and their children.
Bell Family Shelter doesn't take single men either, said Jessica Mockabee, assistant director for human services for York County.
The Rev. Paul Gorog, executive director of the York Rescue Mission, said homeless people often need a program -- similar to what Illarza's trying to provide -- before they get a job. While the mission takes in York's homeless male population, there's need, he said, for affordable housing and room rentals post-shelter.
"I think this is a good thing to do," he said.
But Illarza admits she still has a long way to go.
Myra Latif, 54, is helping with the project, including the $600 payments on the rent-to-own property, listed at more than $40,000, she said.
The two women have been friends since seventh grade at Hannah Penn Middle School and followed similar paths.
Wright's drug of choice was heroin. She's been clean, she said, since 1989.
"I'm not here to judge you," Latif said. "I'm here to help you address your issues. As long as you're in denial of it, you're not going to do anything differently."
Two men are living in the home. Only one -- Latif's 69-year-old brother Murdis Wright -- is contributing to rent, Illarza said.
Wright was displaced from a senior apartment complex, Illarza said. The women found the other tenant, Paul Matthews, near the York Rescue Mission.
Eventually, Illarza hopes to fill the space with employed men who need affordable housing. Ideally, they would help pay the rent, bills and enough for her to survive and reinvest in the effort.
She said she stays afloat working a part-time job caring for her nephew, a double amputee.
Some of that money goes toward stocking the men's kitchen -- which is missing a stove -- with food. She provided a crock pot, a coffee maker and microwave.
"I never really met anyone like (Chandra) before. Really," Matthews said. "There are some people that are really good -- people that really do care."
He never imagined someone would do this for him --a 59-year-old man who grew up in the crime-ridden streets of Camden, N.J.
He recalls being sent to a juvenile detention center when he was 11 years old.
He's been "in the system" ever since, having done three stints in prison, he said.
After the latest -- a 15-month stay at SCI Pine Grove for retail theft -- he moved into a halfway house in Harrisburg. By this summer, he said, his probation was almost up.
When he moved out, the correctional program gave him one month's rent. After that, he had to find a job and stand on his own.
After 30 days, a part-time job -- the only work he could find -- wasn't paying the bills.
He has asthma. He can't do heavy lifting. The neuropathy in his legs makes it difficult to stand for long periods of time.
"I'm 59 years old now," he said. "Nobody's jumping to hire someone my age."
He packed his bags and moved to York, staying with his father -- his only living family, he said -- in an apartment building designated for senior citizens.
That building gave him a move-out date of Sept. 26.
Eight days before the deadline, Matthews was eating at the York Rescue Mission. As he left the West Market Street building, a woman flagged him down.
It was Illarza. She asked Matthews if he knew anyone who had issues with homelessness.
"As a matter of fact I do," he recalls saying. "Myself."
Illarza placed her prospective tenant in her son's home while she finalized the deal on the house.
Matthews couldn't believe what was happening.
"Most of my life I've experienced a lot of disappointments," he said. "It just seemed like something would go wrong."
He was accepted into a job, he said, pending a background check. Hopefully, he said, he'll be able to help Illarza with rent soon.
"I want to live the rest of my life doing the right thing," he said. "Things have been happening in my life that haven't before. If it wasn't for this, I could be back in prison or on the streets."
--- Chandra Illarza is looking for donations of items to set up her program to help homeless men. She still needs the following items:
To help: Email email@example.com or call 717-318-7838.