Story by Brennen DiMarzo | Photo by Clarissa Pompa
Samantha Sanchez has battled her whole life—through addiction, prostitution, the death of her father and prison. She turned these challenges into triumph when she recovered from her past and founded UMatter in 2011, a street ministry that provides shelter, the opportunity to be mentored and a sense of community and family.
“I wanted my ministry to be different from the norm. I didn’t want it to be a rehab or a halfway house. I wanted this to be a discipleship home, a place that is set apart because it has Christ in it,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez founded UMatter in response to her personal life experiences. She witnessed her father die while she was a child and later watched her mother become addicted to drugs to cope with the loss.
Sanchez, like her mother, would later turn to drugs. She was addicted to opioids for nine years, and eventually became a prostitute to pay for her addition. Toward the end of these experiences, she attempted suicide.
“I could not stand life any longer. I was so depressed—so strung out. I hated life,” Sanchez said. “I cried out from the core of my being asking this God if he really existed and if he really did love me. If He could love me like people said He did, He would save my life.”
After being arrested in 2007, Sanchez spent her time behind bars reading the Bible and learning more about Christian values. Sanchez said she truly developed a relationship with a Higher Power while in prison. When she completed her sentence in 2009, Sanchez said she felt like a new person. In 2011, she married Gilbert Sanchez, and the seeds of UMatter began to be sown.
Sanchez said the idea for UMatter came to her while riding in the car with her husband. “I would ride with Gilbert to his jobs,” Sanchez said. “I would take my Bible and just read and write. During one of those rides, I started hearing the Lord speak to me. Me and Gilbert had talked about having people in our house, but that lifestyle change scared me.”
Although Sanchez could relate to the experiences of those in need, she said inviting them into her home still intimidated her. Despite these fears, Sanchez would eventually open her doors to anyone looking for hope.
Many who came into the Sanchez’s home found community there. Dinners, worship and conversation were plentiful. UMatter’s vision was that visitors would begin to find hope, both in the discipleship and in Sanchez’s story.
Eric Smith has been a resident at UMatter for the past six months. Smith said he has great respect for the amount of faith Sanchez has placed in himself and his fellow UMatter residents. Although Smith said he was initially skeptical of UMatter and their mission, Sanchez’s faith in the residents inspired himself and others.
“Can you imagine going out into the streets and inviting someone into your house ‘cause you know you can help them? The amount of love and compassion they have to invite someone into their house, and not be scared of us, and instead trusting us—that’s amazing,” Smith said.
Although the residents of UMatter come from many different walks of life, they often relate to and bond with one another through shared struggles and hardships.
“A lot of us walked the same streets that she did. Seeing her, where she is now, gives us hope,” said UMatter resident Justin Vastine. Originally from Arlington, Vastine has been a resident at UMatter for a few weeks.
Multiple residents agreed that they admire her willpower and determination, especially since all odds were stacked against her.
“What inspires me most about [Sanchez] is the devastation that this woman stood in front of—her addiction, and seeing so much of her family die—and she was still able to get to where she is today from where she was,” said UMatter resident Cliff Humphries. “It gives me reassurance that I can do it, too.”
What started as an idea in the passenger seat of her husband’s truck has blossomed into an organization that daily serves those in need. Sanchez said those who stay in her home are family, and that she sees them as who they truly are and who they have potential to be.
“I’m dealing with drug addicts, cons, and thieves, but I don’t look at them that way. I look at them through the lens of God,” Sanchez said. “My biggest struggle is when it comes time for them to leave.”