Jennifer emerged from the trauma of abandonment, homelessness and teen motherhood with a remarkable determination to help others find their way out of poverty.
When Jennifer became pregnant at age 13, her father called her a disgrace and moved other family members across the country. She was all alone. Jennifer’s daughter, Breanna, was born three months prematurely, and the hospital alerted child welfare. Finding a foster home for a young teen with an infant was very difficult, so Jennifer and Breanna had to separate. Jennifer took parenting classes and received her high school degree at age 16 to prove that she could care for her child. These efforts earned Jennifer reunification with Breanna.
At age 17, Jennifer was studying at East Los Angeles College and living in a foster placement with Breanna when her family returned. Her parents reunified with Jennifer. But soon after, her parents separated and moved out of town. Jennifer was homeless. Knowing the streets were no place for a toddler, she persuaded Breanna’s paternal grandmother to care for the girl. But no one would take in Jennifer. While continuing to attend college, Jennifer lived in the trains at the end of the Red Line. “It was quiet there. I could read my books for school,” she says.
When social workers followed up with Jennifer after the reunification, they learned of her plight and referred her to St. Anne’s Transitional Housing Program. At first, Jennifer was scared about entering St. Anne’s, but seeing an apartment convinced her. “I thought, I could study here. I’ve got a case manager who can help me. I can have my daughter live with me again,” recalls Jennifer.
“St. Anne’s changed my life big time,” she says. She especially liked the Workforce Development Program. “The workshops were so awesome! They would do mock interviews, résumés, and teach you how to speak with an employer.” After a paid internship as a receptionist, Jennifer secured her dream internship as an outreach counselor at Homeless Health Care Los Angeles. “My major is social work, so I love the thought that I can help someone else,” she says. “I like helping. I want to see smiling faces and hear people say ‘I did it.’”
Jennifer certainly “did it” for herself and Breanna. Now age 22, Jennifer graduated from St. Anne’s and has her own apartment. She has a full-time job and soon she will transfer to Cal State Los Angeles to complete her degree in social work.
Breanna, who attended St. Anne’s Bogen Early Learning Center, is entering first grade and thriving. “My daughter went through so much,” says Jennifer. “She was so shy and didn’t talk much. Now, she is happy child, she talks a lot, she isn’t scared.”
“St. Anne’s is a life-changing program,” Jennifer says. “I would love to give back to other girls who went through what I did.”