“Being pregnant on the street was terrifying,” Donna says as she begins to share her story. “I wondered every day if I would lose the baby. I was constantly stressed. I even slept in my car for a few weeks before I was humbled enough to ask for help from anyone.”
Her family wasn’t able to help because they all lived in Chicago, and Donna didn’t tell them what was going on because she was too ashamed. She was on her own.
When she got pregnant, she was working as a bus driver, but had terrible morning sickness and was written up several times for stopping on her route because she was sick. Eventually, she lost her job and wasn’t able to pay her rent or her car payment.
She was living paycheck to paycheck, never really taking time to plan for the future, but it wasn’t until losing her job that she realized how much of a problem that was. “I got my good work ethic from my mom,” she says, “but growing up we never had conversations about budgeting and spending. Later, I realized that I didn’t take any initiative to learn how to manage my money either.”
Looking for help, she moved in with a friend in hopes of saving some money and getting back on her feet. It worked for a short time, but then her friend started doing drugs and kicked her out, taking most of her belongings in the process.
Donna lived at a homeless shelter downtown for three months before she finally discovered Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program at Champa House.
“When I came to Champa House for orientation, they sat a group of us down in the living room and explained the program,” she says. “I remember sitting there thinking, ‘This is not the place for me. There’s too many rules here. I’ve lived on my own, I’m an adult, and I don’t need anyone telling me what to do. I’ll be okay.’”
But the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she wasn’t okay, and she needed help. As a result, she joined the New Life Program in October 2009.
Donna had taken college courses and held a job for quite some time, so she was confident in her ability to succeed. But her life experience and independent strength often got in the way of her learning. “I’m so thankful for the people who put up with me during that time,” she continues. “I was stubborn, but I was learning. The seeds they were planting were still there.”
At Champa House, she learned how to manage her money, living on just $364 a month. She also worked with her case manager and chaplain, learning many things she needed to know about being a mother and building a strong spiritual foundation in her relationship with Jesus. “I learned how to put God first in my life at the Mission,” she says. “There were so many things I didn’t realize were taking the place of God in my life, and when they were gone, I was calling on Him for help.”
In January 2010, Donna and the staff and program participants at Champa House welcomed her baby boy, Bob, into the world. “As a new mom with no family around, the Mission staff became my family,” she says. “I was so scared. I read all the books, but he did everything different, so I would rely on other moms and Mission staff to help me. The Mission really filled that void in my life.”
Several months later, she graduated from the New Life Program, and those seeds the Mission planted in her life began to grow. “I got a job as a bus driver for Denver Public Schools, and I started to reflect on the things I learned in the program,” she says. For Donna, that’s when her New Life Program experience began to take root.
Soon, she was back at Champa House, but this time as a volunteer. “I wanted to give back and help mentor the women in the same way I was mentored when I was there,” she says. “I would cook dinner. I taught cooking classes and helped out in child care. I just wanted to stay connected.”
In 2013, she was hired as relief staff at Champa House and later became a facility assistant before becoming the overnight supervisor. Today, she works in the Mission’s STAR Transitional Program, helping families and individuals transition out of homelessness. “I really enjoy working for the Mission,” she says. “It’s such a unique opportunity to see where these families start and celebrate with them at the finish line. I love that I can pray with the people we serve.”
As a former program participant and now as a Mission staff member, Donna says she knows firsthand how important our community of supporters are. On behalf of her and all the other families and individuals we serve, thank you! You are helping change lives like Donna’s every day, bringing hope and stability to families and individuals lost in a cycle of poverty and homelessness. Thank you for being such an important part of this transformational work.
Letter from the CEO
As I write this, there are wildfires streaking across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Why do I mention this? Well, it is on my mind for two reasons. The first is that my parents had to flee their home in southwest Kansas. They drove their car through flames that were leaping across a two lane highway, and made their escape to safety. They are in their early eighties, and this was no small feat. Their home was somehow spared, but other friends in their ranching and farming community were not so fortunate.
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Donna's story was featured in the April 2017 issue of Changing Lives titled "First Things First"
Also in this issue:
- Volunteer Appreciation Week
- FREE Brochure: How to Avoid a Family Landmine
- Presidents’ Day Serving Event