You wouldn’t find it advertised in the wedding sections for the “absolute place to be” wedding venue and it’s a safe bet no one imagined that when it was the convent for St. Benedict’s Church or as the Rhode Island Family Shelter now.
However, for Mark Griffin and Mandi Golato, the shelter is the perfect place to be married. They don’t want to be anywhere else.
“They saved our lives and our family. They have been right there with us every step. This place is a very special place,” said Mandi. Mark nodded in agreement while bouncing their 7-month-old daughter, Destiny. Nearby, their 2-year-old, Tinna, played. Two more girls, from Mandi’s first marriage, Victoria and Aaliyah, round out the family.
All four are shelter residents. And naturally, all the girls will have a role in the wedding to be held March 23 at 3 p.m.
Mark and Mandi have been together for four years and engaged for much of the time. Theirs are stories of poor choices, failure and rejection.
Both were students at Warwick Vets High and neither graduated. Mandi was 16 when she delivered Victoria, but it was another four years before she and the father were married. The marriage lasted eight years.
It came to an end after she had open-heart surgery. Not long after she left the hospital, she said, he filed for a divorce.
Mandi thinks it was for the best.
But the going didn’t get any easier, even after entering a stable relationship with Mark.
The family was living at Mark’s father’s house, but that came to an end after a party got out of hand and a court battle. Mandi says they won the legal fight but chose to leave anyway. Meanwhile, Mark lost his job at Burger King after repeatedly failing to get to work on time because he lacked the transportation.
Things got even worse.
Without housing, they lost what financial assistance they had.
“We had no place to go,” said Mandi. They ended up at Crossroads in Providence and they faced chronic medical problems. Aaliyah has spina bifida. Destiny was born with a cleft palate. Yet they held the family together until an altercation with another resident at Crossroads. Mark claims the resident tried to push Mandi while she was holding Destiny to her chest. They were evicted from Crossroads and started “bouncing” between the homes of friends.
While Destiny was at Hasbro Hospital, where she was treated for her cleft palate, the Department of Children, Youth and Families took the two youngest girls.
Mandi can’t recall anything worse, even the surgery she underwent for her heart.
“I would rather go through that than to lose my kids,” she said.
“I was determined to get my kids back.”
It was at the lowest point, when everything seemed to be working against them that there was hope. Their pediatrician, Dr. Robert Burke, knew of the Rhode Island Family Shelter and its director Patti Macreading. As coincidence would have it, Mark and Mandi had called 211 seeking assistance for housing and their names were next on Macreading’s wait list.
Dr. Burke also stepped in to help at Family Court. Mandi believes his letter and the fact that they had a place at the shelter saved the family.
“He’s the main reason I got them back,” she said of Dr. Burke.
The judge ruled in their favor and they got their children back that day.
Since arriving at the shelter, Mark has enrolled at Dorcas Place to get his GED. He is also hopeful of being admitted to “weld to work,” a program that would give him a skill and the means to support the family.
Further brightening the future, one of the long-term apartments that are above the temporary shelter will soon become available. The family will move there.
For the moment, the wedding is the focus.
Mandi says she wants it to be an event that celebrates her family and their extended family at the shelter. The family social worker at the shelter, Patty Baxter, will be her maid of honor. Another shelter resident, Gary LaPointe, who has the authority to perform the service, will marry them. Mandi bought a white dress, but not a gown, at Style 21. Mark will wear a jean suit. They have selected their vows. She knows she wants the song “I Can’t Wait” to be playing when she walks down the aisle, but so far hasn’t been able to find the CD.
The shelter living room will be the site for the wedding, with the dining room for the reception. They’re thinking there will be a buffet, although those details haven’t been worked out. And they imagine there will be toasts and dancing, although there won’t be champagne or any other alcoholic beverages.
“Maybe we’ll have sparkling cider,” she said.
“Yes,” said Mark, “it’s going to be an unconventional wedding, but we’re happy. It’s going to be memorable anyway.”