“From the beginning, I don’t think I had much stability,” said Jenika, reflecting on her childhood. “I didn’t have a foundation.” Jenika’s father was a 33-year-old musician who had moved to LA from Michigan when he met Jenika’s mom, 23 and a model. “She had a very horrible upbringing. They were both broken people. They didn’t have it all together themselves when they had me. From my mother’s perspective, he was abusive so she left. And from my father’s perspective, she didn’t want to give up the drugs.”
One day when Jenika’s father was at work, her mom took her to Las Vegas. “She ended up with a big-time drug dealer who was very abusive. I remember moving from place to place to place and he found us every single time. And he beat her to the ground every single time. There weren’t the resources there are now for women. She tried to commit suicide. I went into foster care. … I was also molested as a child.”
Eventually Jenika went back to her dad. “My father never really figured out how to be a father,” she said. And when Jenika’s mom resurfaced when she was 16, she wanted to give her another chance. “I wanted to see her, but my father didn’t want me to,” she said. “I wrote him a note and said I needed to know her. He said ‘Don’t come back.’ She treated me horrid. She wasn’t fit to be my mother.”
Jenika went off on her own and had her first child when she was 20. “I didn’t know what responsibility really was, but I took care of my son very well.” A few years later, Jenika met another man and their relationship was going well until she got pregnant. “It went downhill,” she said. “There was a lot of mental abuse. When someone has your mind, it’s very difficult. You start believing what they say, you feel trapped, you don’t know how you’re going to get out of certain situations. But I was strong in the way that I knew I had to get out. I knew there was something about it that wasn’t right or healthy.”
During her third pregnancy, Jenika lost her job. “The company I was working for went bankrupt. I wasn’t too scared at first, but then he came early,” she said, looking at her nearly 2-year-old son, Aries, with a smile.
Aries came into the world when Jenika was just 6-months pregnant. He was born at 25 weeks, a micro-preemie, weighing only 1 pound. They spent three months in the NICU. “We left with no machines, him breathing on his own, eating on his own. He is my miracle. It’s the hardest thing I’ve been through in my entire life.”
The job loss and Aries’ needs during his first year led the family to homelessness. Jenika got to the mission late last year with her two younger sons, now 8 and 2. “I struggle sometimes, but I’m so thankful for this program and what it provides for my children. It’s brought my kids a lot of peace. The stresses I feel every single day, my children don’t feel. I hope this program grows and continues to keep families together.”
Jenika enjoys the bible studies and classes throughout the week. “I started the parenting classes thinking,
‘I don’t need this. I’ve been doing this.’ But once I went, I realized how helpful it was. It reminds you of the things that you need to continue to do. In this state, being homeless and trying to figure everything out, you kind of get lost in that. You feel like you don’t have the room to sit down and play with your kids, talk to your kids. It reminds you to connect with your children.”
Jenika is also grateful that the program is biblically based. “I’m so thankful,” she said. “God is the only thing that keeps me going. I don’t know how anybody else gets through life. Being here, sometimes you don’t know what your next step is. The prices are so high for rent. You don’t know where your job is going to come from. There is a lot to face.
“There have been several times where I’ve broken down—I know a lot of us have—but God and prayer is the only thing that’s kept me afloat. I know God’s in control. I know he’s ordered my steps and that I’m going to be OK.”