- Kelly: "I am forever grateful"
One day, she was on the cusp of homeownership.
The very next day, she was facing homelessness.
After her divorce, Kelly and her three kids—Maddie, Kyle and Becca—were grateful to be living with her brother at his house in Warrenville. Her family was in the process of getting back to normal; the kids were settled in their school; Kelly had even begun to date again, and became engaged.
Then, her brother was looking to sell his house, so Kelly and her fiancé planned to buy it from him, to keep the kids’ life as stable as possible. But, as it turned out, stability for their family would be a long way away.
“In February 2015, 10 days before the scheduled closing of the house, I found out that my fiancé had been unfaithful to me for over a year,” says Kelly. “I didn’t know where the truth stopped and lies began. But, I am grateful I found out before we bought the house or got married.”
Kelly ended her relationship, but her troubles weren’t over. Her brother still planned to sell his home—which meant Kelly would have to find an affordable home, and fast. For Kelly, this was easier said than done, and she soon found herself on the verge of homelessness.
A therapist recommended Kelly’s family look into Bridge Communities, so Kelly immediately applied. And a few months later, program partner Families Helping Families took her on. Kelly’s family landed in Naperville—close to her childcare and the College of DuPage Naperville campus, where she’d start taking prerequisite classes for nursing school.
Right away, Bridge’s employment team saw the potential for Kelly and her career, and plugged her into Bridge’s job readiness workshop. “I’d had the same waitressing job for nine years—I wasn’t big on change,” Kelly admits. “But, the class gave me great skills for interviewing, and I got a new job in January, which I absolutely love. I work as a CNA for Brightstar, and it’s a stepping stone for my goal of becoming a nurse.”
Much to her excitement, Kelly started nursing school full-time at College of DuPage in August. Her case manager, Molly, connected Kelly to Worknet DuPage, which provided Kelly with a grant to help pay for her expenses while attending school. “If it wasn’t for Bridge and all the resources they’ve helped me with, I would not be able to get my degree--definitely not now, while my kids are my sole responsibility.”
Some of the other resources that Kelly’s been connected to include tutoring and Covenant Harbor summer camp in Lake Geneva for her two older children. For herself, Kelly attended a class last fall on redirecting children’s behavior, and a recent class for clients on “how not to fall for a jerk (or jerkette).” Says Kelly, “This class has been interesting so far—it’s a great class, and I’ve learned a lot about healthy relationships!”
Kelly says another learning curve for her has been learning how to budget. “I’ve learned that it’s good to have a budget and pay attention to where your money is being spent, and how to plan for the unexpected,” she says. “My mentors have me go over receipts to make sure things are being spent where they’re supposed to be, and put money into savings. My mentors, Florence and Cheryl, are amazing—I love them! Families Helping Families is just an amazing organization, too.”
Says her mentor Florence, “From day one, Kelly has demonstrated her drive and determination to do what it takes to succeed in the program. She has tackled personal, educational and career goals with an open mind and open heart.”
Kelly says that she and her children have benefited from therapy, which they started attending after coming into the Bridge program. “When I started with Bridge, I was lost. I was lonely, I was confused, and I was scared,” she says. “At first, I fought starting therapy, but now I’m very glad that I did it—I’m really liking it,” she says. “I’m happy, and my kids are happy. I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
For her future goals, Kelly looks forward to completing her degree and buying her first home on her own one day. In the meantime, she’s appreciating the journey toward self-sufficiency.
“Without Bridge, I would not be able to get my degree in nursing. Because of you, I know I have a roof over my head; I know my kids are safe; I know I’m safe. We’ve met some amazing friends in the program, too. Bridge has definitely changed my life,” says Kelly. “Thank you for accepting me. This program is amazing and I am forever grateful.”
- Tony: "My whole life changed for the better"
Prior to 2012, Tony enjoyed joint custody of his four children; he had a steady job as a lead painter for a painting company; and he had a nice house in the northwest suburbs with his girlfriend. Then, life changed dramatically.
He was awarded full custody of his children once it was discovered that they had been neglected in an abusive home. His girlfriend moved out, leaving him with unaffordable rent. Then, his life continued to deteriorate quickly when he was laid off of work.
- The Salter Family: "Bridge allowed us to see that there is hope."
For years, the Salter family had been living the American dream. George was working as a corporate executive, Nina was home with their daughters, Simone and Daisha, and they were living comfortably in their own home.
Then, in 2012, everything changed. George was laid off from his job. Soon after, he was diagnosed with lung cancer—and didn’t find out that the diagnosis was wrong until already in debt from treatment. Nina and Simone then both had to undergo necessary surgeries, leading to more medical bills, and Nina lost her job after having to extend her medical leave.
Between the loss of income, the medical bills and no job prospects, it was a domino effect, and in less than a year, the family lost their home. They moved into a friend’s basement apartment until George found part-time work, then moved into a house. But, they soon found themselves five months behind on their rent, thousands of dollars in debt and facing eviction.
“We were drowning,” Nina remembers. “When our foundation fell, it was tough. We couldn’t make the right decisions on what to cut back on.” The Salters were about to become homeless once again.
George visited Bridge Communities when researching DuPage County nonprofit organizations, and decided to apply. They were soon accepted into Bridge’s transitional housing program.
“There were some trying times at first,” says Nina. “We had to adjust to doing things differently and change to a way of life that would allow us to get out of debt, learn to budget and live within our means.”
George adds, “What grabbed me most was the accountability. We’d never had weekly accountability and people watching our progress who wanted to help. If we weren’t meeting weekly, I can see how the program could be something totally different, or we could have fallen off the radar. This really put us all on the same page.”
Their mentors from Glen Ellyn Bible Church—Karen, Merri Jo and Joe—are lovingly referred to by the Salters as “The Shark Tank.” The mentors not only taught the family how to better manage their money and create a savings plan for the future, but they became like family to them as well. “Our mentors really cared about us and still do to this day,” says Nina. “We’ve built friendships that will last a lifetime.”
“And it’s crucial that we become our own ‘Shark Tank,’” adds George. “We’re making those habits that allow us to continue on the right track and provide stability for our family.”
Now that they’ve completed the Bridge program this summer, the family is definitely on the right track. George has now been at his job for more than two years, working with high-risk males at a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, and after completing Bridge’s job readiness classes, Nina found her dream job at a doctor’s office only seven minutes away from home, allowing her to be closer to their children.
The Salters have also become closer as a family throughout their time in Bridge, and experienced a lot of personal growth, too. “Every day was a struggle for me as a husband, father and provider,” George remembers. “Daily, I was telling myself what a failure I was. What Bridge taught was that it’s not only about the money, but about how I use my time. I’ve learned how to focus more on my job and my family.”
Being in her late teens throughout her time in Bridge, their older daughter, Simone, had felt isolated and upset during their time of homelessness. “It was challenging in the beginning to see my family struggle and it was hard not knowing what ultimately would happen to us,” she says. “When I switched schools, I didn’t open up to anyone at first, but by my senior year, I realized I was holding onto pain that I had to let go of. I had to let God work in my life. I am no longer ashamed of homelessness because it made me who I am today and it’s made me a better person. I don’t think I’d be as successful if I hadn’t gone through it.”
Throughout all the tribulations, some of Simone’s many achievements include excelling in school, participating in student council and cheerleading, and volunteering actively through her church and at a food pantry. She was accepted at Elmhurst College and, knowing her family wouldn’t have all the resources needed, she took it upon herself to apply for more than $40,000 worth of scholarships and grants, all of which were awarded to her. She was just $3,000 shy of covering her freshman year’s tuition, and Bridge saw her great potential and decided to increase her scholarship to cover the difference.
“The Salters are an amazing family. Through the hard work and tough sacrifices of learning new spending patterns, they were able to successfully complete the Bridge Transitional Housing Program,” says their case manager, Paul Matthews. “However, through this challenging process, they displayed a remarkable level of dedication and humility that carried them through. The Salters are certainly an inspiration to families that are striving to become independent.”
Nina concludes, “Bridge allowed us to see that there is hope. I wish there was a Bridge Communities in every county in every state, because it’s so needed. Learning how to change our way of thinking and way of life, and how to become stewards, will stay with us forever. Bridge built our family and made us who we are today.”