Just having someone listen, feeling like you are being heard, can make all the difference in the world to a struggling single mother. Leslie Davis knows. She is one. And she has dedicated her life’s work to listening.
As a licensed professional counselor, Davis understands the need for someone to feel that they are being heard. She not only provides empathy but has helped create a faith-based, nonprofit agency, Hearts in Faith, to provide more help to families and at-risk teens.
The mission is to empower single moms and youth by promoting healthy relationships as well as emotional, mental and spiritual health.
“I wanted to create a community of support for single moms,” she said.
She wanted them to hear from others that they shared similar situations or that one person had been through what the other person was currently going through and could offer advice.
“Often, they don’t have family support. They have to rely on each other,” she said.
Nearly 10 million single mothers live in the U.S. with children under age 18, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. Davis is concentrating on women and children in St. Clair and Madison counties through Hearts in Faith.
Currently, the service offers sessions for “Sweet Hearts,” the single moms, and “Heart Beats,” a violence prevention program for at-risk teenagers, age 12 to 17, who have been a victim or perpetrator of violence. They could have experienced trauma because of violence, addiction, poverty or homelessness.
The violence prevention program meets every Monday night. They had a waiting list, so they began a third session.
“We work on different things, like self-esteem, anger management, how to recognize triggers. We want them to feel safe. We want to prevent them from bad things happening before they are 18,” she said. “They sometimes do this because they are on probation and are court-ordered to see us.”
For the moms and kids together, they offer social events, too. They had a Lego-themed team effort where the kids also asked the parents specific questions – such as “What was your favorite subject in school?”
“Questions on topics they aren’t normally asked. They can learn from each other,” Davis said.
Hearts in Faith recently became a registered business in O’Fallon and a member of the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce, with a ribbon-cutting at their new home, 7 Eagle Center #1.
Davis was among the first class of graduates in the Chamber’s Leadership Institute.
Hearts in Faith is part of the Riverbend Family Ministries umbrella. The ministries began in Wood River about 10 years ago. Tammy Iskarous, the director, asked Davis to help.
As her steady day job, Davis is a family advocate for the Riverbend Head Start program.
She also has a private counseling practice. Besides LPC and MAPC credentials, Davis is working on her doctorate through Regent University in Virginia Beach, concentrating on marriage and family therapy. She hopes to complete the degree program in January.
She earned a bachelors in sociology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., a Chicago suburb, and a master’s degree in professional counseling from McKendree University in Lebanon.
She has been in social work, as a case worker and supervisor. She has worked with foster care agencies, court systems and health services. Counseling is what she has been drawn to her whole life. And she looks forward to opening more doors through Hearts in Faith.
“I have always wanted to help people,” she said.
Davis has lived in O’Fallon, Ill., since her single mother, DeVata Davis, moved here from Mascoutah. That’s where she grew up and graduated from high school.
Her mother worked at Scott Air Force Base for years. A civil service employee, she took a job in Washington, D.C. 10 years ago, but moved back and returned to Scott. Leslie is excited to have her mother near – as an only child, she and her mother are close.
Leslie and her 14-year-old son, Judah, also share a close relationship. He was born with a heart condition and had multiple surgeries.
“Basically, he has half a heart. They didn’t expect him to live. He is my miracle baby,” she said. “He is a very caring person, always tries to help.”
Judah is a freshman at O’Fallon Township High School and plays in the Marching Panthers band.
“His father was only in our lives a short time. It’s been me and him since he was about nine months old,” she said. They currently share their home with two dogs and a turtle.
As a single mom helping others, she couldn’t be happier.
“They are inspiring me. We really are reaching people. That’s the best part,” she said.
“Often, the kids in the juvenile program don’t want to come but it’s court ordered. Then they come to one session, and they find they like it. They get excited about it,” she said.
The greatest compliment, Leslie said, is when clients say: “I can always talk to you and you actually listen to me and you help.”
Davis said she looks at the work as growing seeds.
“It means a lot to fulfill this need. I love it. They energize me,” she said.
Plans for a Milk and Cookies Blessings for Santa program will take place in December, and they have a goal to help moms with Christmas shopping, but don’t want the women to feel like it’s a handout, she said. The program is a work in progress.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: I use our tagline, “Heal your heart in faith.”
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A: My mother, DeVata Davis. She was also a single mother, and she did a fantastic job. She is the smartest person I know. I know I can go to her, and she knows the answer to anything. And she’s a wonderful person.
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A: Maya Angelou.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: “The DSM 5 -- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition,” published by the American Psychiatric Association. I have to study for my second license test in Illinois.”
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: I don’t really have time for fun, because I’m so busy, but I like being with the people that I love, family and friends that I can laugh with and have fun with.
I like to relax with coffee. It gives me life. I enjoy a warm cup of coffee, it takes me to my happy place.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Very organized. I like things to be very linear, or else it crosses over to a distraction. I know where everything is. I wouldn’t say tidy, but organized.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals. But I didn’t like snakes, so that was a deterrent. From when I was in seventh grade on, friends came to me for help and asked me questions. At 13, I knew what I was going to do - become a counselor. I wanted to help people.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: I had a hard time with this. I asked a friend, because I was trying to stay humble. She said I had a “big heart.” I care so much about other people. You can tell right away how I feel about something - nothing is sugar-coated. I care about the lowest of the low, people who are ignored, misunderstood.
Q: What irritates you most?
A: People who are dishonest. It’s very irritating when people are dishonest and I know they are being dishonest.
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: My tastes are very eclectic. I like to listen to many different songs. I have a new appreciation for country music.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I love when people say that I understand them, that they feel like they’re being heard. That we understand each other. That’s the highlight of what I do, knowing that I am giving them my all, my best to help them.
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A: Still working at Hearts in Faith, doing what I can. Pay the bills. I want to contribute to my son and his future so he doesn’t have to worry about student loans.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: Jada Pinkett Smith.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: My insulin – can’t live without it; coffee, lip gloss and bottled water.