Holding on to Hope: A Life Reclaimed


October 21, 2019 By: Tina Mortimer Category: Hunger Stories

When her friends were thinking about what to wear to homecoming or the colleges they’d apply to, Jenni was wondering which friend’s bedroom floor she would sleep on that night. While most kids were enjoying the hearty lunches their parents made them, or a hot school lunch, Jenni was counting the coins in her pocket, hoping she’d have enough to buy a candy bar from the vending machine. She worried she wouldn’t live to see her 18th birthday. 

It’s not that Jenni didn’t have a home, she did, but it wasn’t a safe place. She lived at friends’ houses as much as she could through middle and high school, but after high school, when those friends went off to college or moved away, Jenni had no place left to go.

Jenni dropped out of high school a few weeks before graduation. She lived with a friend in New Brighton, Minn., for a while before moving to St. Paul. There, she developed a drug habit that landed her in prison, where she had her first child. After her release, Jenni was hopeful. She found a home with her children and her partner, Phillip. They had a roof over their heads and food to eat. Then Phillip was diagnosed with lung cancer. When he passed away, Jenni was devastated and once again, homeless.   

“I slept in tents in parks, even when my youngest was a baby,” she said.

An All-too Familiar Story

Sadly, Jenni’s story is an all too familiar one. More than 5 million children are abused each year in the United States—and those are just the cases of abuse that are reported. Children who grow up in an abusive environment like Jenni did—whether that abuse is physical, emotional or sexual—are more likely to use drugs or alcohol, run away from home and struggle with depression.

But thanks to Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, and her strong desire to make a better life for her children, Jenni’s story has a happy ending.

She got herself into a drug and alcohol treatment program. After “graduating” from the Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, a Christian-based rehab and recovery center, Jenni found long-term housing—and the safe and supportive environment she’d never had as a child—at the Naomi Family Residence, a women’s program run by Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul.

“When Jenni first came to us, she didn’t use her voice,” said Sharon Powers, chemical dependency counselor and Jenni’s case manager. “Now she speaks up and says what’s on her mind. She sets boundaries for herself. I am excited about the changes she’s made in her life.”

At the Naomi Family Residence, Jenni and her children have a safe home and regular, nutritious meals. Jenni also has access to a variety of programs including mental health counseling and job training. 

Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities runs two kitchens, using paid and volunteer staff who work every day of the year to prepare thousands of meals for hungry and homeless men, women and children. Nearly 2,000 meals are prepared and served monthly to women and children at the Naomi Family Residence.

With the help of the program, Jenni has been sober for three years.

“I’ve reconnected with my faith in God and I’m looking forward to building a new life for me and my kids,” she said.

Give the Gift of Help

Hunger takes away hope for too many families, including 1 in 8 children who go hungry.

Second Harvest Heartland works with more than 1,000 partner food shelves, pantries and meal programs every day to reach the one in 11 Minnesotans like Jenni who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Learn more about our partnerships and how you can help.



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