Joella loves her family, but caring for them was making it impossible to move forward.
"For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you."
- Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)
If you asked her several years ago, Joella would have told you she didn’t want to change. “As a teenager, I hit the streets doing drugs and getting into trouble. The streets of Chicago and I had a love-affair like Romeo and Juliet,” she says. “I loved the streets, and they loved me, as long as I was doing the wrong things.”
But Romeo and Juliet doesn’t exactly end well. After all, it is a tragedy.
“My life then was a tragedy,” she continues, describing how at just seven years old, her mother and grandmother both passed away within weeks of each other. “I was looking at them in coffins back to back, and I had a nervous breakdown.” She also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at just 16 years old, and her depression led her down the dark road of drugs, gang involvement, several attempted suicides, and homelessness.
But her story with the Mission doesn’t start there. She did much of the hard work of overcoming addiction, healing and finding stability before she came to Denver. When she moved here, she lived with one of her sisters in a studio apartment and later in a townhome.
That’s where her trouble began.
Joella loves her family deeply. Even while she struggled on the streets of Chicago, family was always important to her. So when Joella's sister allowed her adult children to stay in their rented townhome, though it violated the terms of their lease, she was reluctant. When the landlord found out, they were both evicted.
Homeless, she ended up at a shelter downtown for one night. That’s where she learned about the STAR Transitional Program at Denver Rescue Mission. After applying, Joella had to wait three months for a room to be available at The Crossing. Thankfully, she was able to live with family and friends in the meantime, but sleeping on an air mattress in her niece’s living room got old fast.
Exactly three months later, Joella got a call from the Mission that she could come join the program. But she didn't. Instead, she moved in with another niece who said they needed her help. Joella says she didn't know how to say no.
For the next year, she was back and forth on the phone with the Mission. “Every time they'd call, I'd decide it wasn't a good time for me to go to the program,” she explains. “I loved my family so much. There was nothing I wouldn't do for them. So instead of looking out for myself, I decided to look out for them and not join the program.”
But living at her other niece’s house wasn’t working out either. “I was very overwhelmed,” she says. “There were things I wanted to do for myself, like I wanted to go to school.”
Finally, she decided to make a change and came to the Mission to join the STAR program. “I couldn’t take care of my family anymore,” she says. “I had to learn to take care of me, first. If I'm not taking care of myself, how can I take care of someone else? What love can I give if I don't love myself?”
After a year and a half of sleeping on an air mattress in someone else's house, she walked into her one-room unit at The Crossing and said “Thank you God!” She finally had a place to call her own, if only for a couple years in the program.
The STAR program is enabling Joella to focus on learning important skills like managing her finances, being prepared to rent an apartment when she graduates and building healthy boundaries in her relationships with family and friends. Her case manager, Donna, says she has come a long way since entering the program, and she looks forward to seeing her continue to grow.
Currently, Joella is a student at the Community College of Aurora taking classes to get her Certificate for Addiction Counseling. She wants to use her years of experience and her new education to help others who have struggled with addiction like she did. And she looks forward to giving back someday, helping others who enroll in programs at Denver Rescue Mission.
Joella’s life is completely different now than it was even just a year ago, and it’s all thanks to you. Because of donors like you, we’re able to offer these life-changing transitional programs to people who are experiencing homelessness. Thank you for helping Joella and so many more like her find hope and meaning through Denver Rescue Mission. “I just feel free, and I'm so grateful that God opened this door for me,” she says excitedly. “I'm going to make it now because of Denver Rescue Mission.”
Letter from the CEO
Levi Lusko, the author of Through the Eyes of a Lion, writes these words: “God is not scared of what you are scared of.” These words are a great encouragement to me. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about the challenges we face at the Mission or my own personal challenges, I think of these simple words.
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Joella's story was featured in the September 2017 issue of Changing Lives titled “I'm Going to Make It Now.”
Also in this issue:
- Volunteer Spotlight
- New Interactive Timeline
- Letter from the CEO