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Phoenix Forward magazine

Doctoral student inspires “Gimme Shelter” movie

Kathy DiFiore

Kathy DiFiore didn’t set out to start a ministry. “I just wanted to help homeless women,” says the University of Phoenix® School of Advanced Studies student. “If I could inspire people along the way, that would be good, too.”

DiFiore’s New Jersey-based Several Sources Shelters provides help for women in need: complimentary housing, counseling and what she calls “motherhood training” for pregnant clients. Her work was the basis for the 2013 movie “Gimme Shelter.” The film stars Vanessa Hudgens of “High School Musical” fame as a homeless, pregnant teenager who meets a woman who takes her in and changes her life.

“I know what it means to need help,” DiFiore says. “In my early 20s, I was married for seven years to a fellow who was abusive. When I left him in 1980, I took only the clothes on my back and my purse. I was homeless.”

DiFiore says her religious faith kept her strong and helped her persevere. “I slept on friends’ couches, and I looked for work. I found a good job, saved money, bought a small house and once I was back on my feet, I got busy giving back,” she says.

Once financially able to help others, DiFiore says, she drew a blank check on a piece of paper one day in 1981 and made it out to God in the full amount she had in the bank, which she notes wasn’t much. On the memo line she wrote, “Whatever you want me to do.”

I want people to know my story and then say, ‘I have to do more with my life.’

That same year, DiFiore was inspired by a passage she read in the Bible. “It was Matthew 25:36,” she recalls. “It says, ‘I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…’” So she turned her own home in New Jersey into a shelter for homeless women, which she funded herself.

“The first three years … I took in a pregnant teenager and then a woman who had leukemia,” DiFiore says. “I knew an elderly woman who had nowhere to live. Pretty soon, I had a houseful of women in need.”

DiFiore’s shelter evolved over the next 30 years into five shelters, including four six-person maternity homes. The fifth home is a daytime shelter where women can prepare for job interviews. “They take showers and get appropriate clothes and put their resumés together,” DiFiore says. “We see as many as 200 women each month there.”

The homes were donated and are funded by contributions from individuals and organizations. After 15 years of working without a salary, DiFiore now pays herself and a staff of six.

She received an MBA from New York University in 1979 and worked in human resources for American Express for four years. She later moved to a specialty chemical company and left in 1996 to run the shelters full time.

In 2005, she began taking online courses from University of Phoenix and hopes to complete her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership degree before the end of the year.

DiFiore says she’s pleased with the film based on her story but admits that she wasn’t keen on the idea of a movie at first. “I’m a mother hen,” she says. “I didn’t want my girls to be exploited in a movie.” Director Ron Krauss convinced her that his movie would be respectful and kind.

“He was true to his word,” says DiFiore, who is portrayed in the film by actress Ann Dowd. “The movie is inspirational to women in need.”

After the movie’s completion, DiFiore wrote and self-published “Gimme Love, Gimme Hope, Gimme Shelter,” a memoir she calls “the next step in getting my story out there. I want people to know my story and then say, ‘I have to do more with my life.’”

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