Testimony of the Month
Editor's Note: This month we bring you another "where are they now?" edition to help paint a picture of the successes and struggles that the formerly homeless face as they transition away from the Rescue Mission and into everyday life. Hopefully, Jennifer Nielsen's story will bring a smile to your face and heart.
It’s been three years since I last shared my story in the Rescuer.
Back then, I was happy to have a just-above-minimum-wage job, as many of my legal issues, large debts and lack of education still hung over my head.
Today, I am a manager of a Café Zupas restaurant and am about a year away from becoming an operating partner. I have earned my GED from Salt Lake Community College, worked to get completely off probation and live in the same house as my three kids once again.
I can’t believe how much my life has changed since I came to the Rescue Mission’s Women’s Center, got sober and committed my life to Jesus. I thank God that He changed my life.
I came to the Rescue Mission after a life of addiction. I was using drugs and dealing them, just to stay alive. After I lost custody of my kids, I hit rock bottom, living along the bank of the Jordan River and in abandoned homes while shooting up heroin and meth with my boyfriend.
But after spending a year in the Rescue Mission’s recovery program, I felt I was ready to try again. Because of my criminal record, which included drug-related felonies, there weren’t many places willing to take a chance on me. Miraculously, I managed to get an entry-level job at Café Zupas. I am so glad for second chances.
At first, it was hard because pretty much everyone I knew had a better job than me and was making more money. But my counselor, Lisa Wolfe, told me to stick it out. She said God had a plan for me and would take care of me.
Over these past three years, my managers at Café Zupas have really supported me. They always tell me I have a great work ethic and a good attitude. They moved me into the catering side of the business, where I was managing and organizing $3,000 of daily catering orders. Next, they promoted me to assistant general manager, where I was in charge of training every employee in our restaurant. Finally, just three months ago, they promoted me to kitchen manager. If I do well, I should be able to become an operating partner, fully in charge of my own store. I will have managed all parts of the business— catering, front-end customer service and back-end kitchen.
I am really excited that God has blessed my career in the way He has. And as my responsibilities at work have grown, God has blessed me in other ways as well. In December of 2013, my mother invited me to move in with her and my dad.
When I lost custody of my kids, my mother and father legally adopted them and have been raising them for the past five years. So it was a big step for me to move back in with my kids, who are now 14, 11 and 8. My oldest son has been impacted by my drug use the most. The counselors I spoke with say he was “parentalized.” When he was 8, I was a mess on drugs. He would quiz me before I left home: “Mom, do you have your keys?” “Mom, did you remember your wallet?” He had to take care of me, instead of me taking care of him. He also felt like he had to take care of his little brothers, because I wasn’t doing it. He became the de-facto parent of our family.
This caused a lot of stress for him and I know it remains hard for him to totally trust in my recovery. So moving back in with my kids—even though my parents retain legal custody of them—was a major step. Being able to live with my children and be a positive role model in their lives has been amazing. I trust that God will continue to help us live together as a great big family.
We all go to church together. We drive up from our home in West Jordan to Capitol Church, where I started going when I was at the Rescue Mission. I even invited one of my coworkers to come to church with me and she agreed. Now we are best friends and she attends church every week.
It’s crazy how my life did a 180-degree turn from chaos to responsibility. Right now, I am saving money to buy a car. I pay rent to my parents, but want to grow more self-sufficient financially. I want to fully take care of my kids and relieve that burden from my parents. When I was in the midst of my addiction, I accumulated about $50,000 in legal debts. From overdraft fees to restitution to supervision fees, I owed a lot of money. I was able to get a lot of that debt forgiven because of my success in recovery, and then I paid off the rest. Today, I am completely debt-free.
I guess I shouldn’t say that I am completely debt-free. I still feel like I owe a huge debt to the Rescue Mission and all its supporters. Lisa Wolfe and I have remained in contact over the years and she has always been there for me through tough times. The support and prayers of donors helped change me from a homeless addict to the new person I am today. I am sober, debt-free and employed. I have a great place to live with my kids and an awesome church family. I feel like I have regained everything that addiction stole from me and I couldn’t be more thankful.
So I will be forever in debt to God and His people who support the Rescue Mission. That support saved my life and gave my kids their mother back. God is a changer of lives and He forgives our spiritual debt through Jesus. Thank you again for supporting the Rescue Mission—the place God used to save me and restore my family.
To learn more about what is happening at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake in July, check out our monthly newsletter, The Rescuer: