Jennifer and her two siblings were raised in the Valley by a single mom who cleaned houses for a living. “My mom was verbally abusive to me and my siblings growing up,” Jennifer said. “We knew she loved us. She learned to be like that growing up with her family in El Salvador. She just didn’t know any difference. She was a disciplinarian.”
The family struggled. “I remember eating just rice for a whole month,” said Jennifer, who recalled how happy she was when they were approved for food stamps. “We could finally eat other stuff. I didn’t eat rice for a long time after that.”
The family of four lived in a small studio apartment. Jennifer went to Panorama High School where she was a good student and never got into trouble. “I had to keep my grades up so that I could keep cheerleading,” she said. “Cheer saved me in high school.”
She went to a trade school after graduating. “After high school I was a bit lost. I just didn't know myself and what to do. I was so doubtful about myself. I didn't know what I was capable of.”
Just one month before completing her pharmacy technician certificate, Jennifer dropped out. “I just started hanging around the wrong people,” she said. “They weren’t bad people. They were just unsure about themselves as well. We just started to party, smoke weed and get drunk.”
Jennifer met a man through mutual friends, and they’d hang out at the beach, smoke, and drink. She had their first son at 23. “He changed my life,” she said. “He made me more accountable and definitely stronger.”
But the relationship changed. “He turned out to be a totally different person from when we first met,” she said. “He started to get very verbally and emotionally abusive. He started with name calling. He ended up being an alcoholic. His personality started to show.
“After I gave birth my body started to change. I was tired all of the time from staying up all night with the baby. He wasn’t understanding of that.” He cheated on Jennifer, engaging with prostitutes even.
The couple ended up moving to Indiana for a fresh start and affordable living but things didn’t change. Jennifer kept forgiving his behavior, and with that forgiveness came more babies. When the abuse became physical, Jennifer left. “I couldn’t find the courage to leave him (at first) because we had three kids together, but I knew the abuse was going to keep happening and keep escalating.”
And it did. After the police were called, Child Protective Services got involved. “One of my biggest fears was having my children taken away from me,” Jennifer said. “So I had to make a choice between him and my children—I chose my children.”
Jennifer learned about the Mission, but was hesitant. “I didn’t know what to expect and was thinking the worst,” she said. “I was really scared.” Jennifer went to church and prayed to God, asking for the strength to make the right decision. “Walking out of that church, God had replaced my fear with courage.”
When Jennifer first arrived to the Mission, she felt alone, but soon a big weight felt lifted. “The staff was so good with me and my kids,” she said. “It didn’t feel like a shelter. It feels like a home.”
Jennifer’s children, now 5, 4, and 2 years old, love being at the Mission, playing with the other kids and getting close to the staff. “They’ve pushed me to be a better person and mother too,” said Jennifer, adding that they are patient and understanding. “They encourage you to be a better you. Having strangers that believed in me made me believe in myself. That’s makes a difference.”
She also enjoys the women’s empowerment classes, as well as hearing the testimonies of other residents. Jennifer’s goal is to have her own place by Thanksgiving and continue to follow God’s path. “I will definitely use this experience and grow from it,” she said. “This was the fuel I needed to succeed.”