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Bridge gave me a new beginning

Family and loyalty mean everything to Theresa. When she was growing up, her uncle helped raise her and saw her through difficult times. When Theresa’s son Johnny was little, her uncle was their rock and provided childcare for him as well.

So, when her uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Theresa quit her job to care for him full-time, taking him to all his doctor appointments and treatments, and providing comfort and care for the last year of his life.

But, once he passed away, Theresa found herself in a new predicament. She’d exhausted all her savings and plunged into debt. She couldn’t find a permanent job that paid enough to keep a roof over her head. And before long, she and Johnny lost their home and were crashing with friends. And then they started bouncing from hotel to hotel.

“I couldn’t get a full-time job because employers would look at my address and ask why I was staying in a hotel, and end the interview,” Theresa remembers. “And it was hard on my son. He had so much potential but so much stress from living hotel to hotel, and he couldn’t excel in school. I knew I had to make a change to get our life back.”

And because of the loyalty of supporters like you, Theresa could begin to make that change in Bridge Communities.

Theresa says she’ll never forget the day she was accepted into the program. “When Molly [Howieson, Senior Case Manager] called me up and told me I was accepted, I cried! I knew someone was watching over us,” she said. “Molly told me where to meet them at the new apartment, and my mentors from Good Shepherd [Lutheran Church, Naperville] had set up everything inside for me already. It was so touching, I couldn’t believe it. I had been stuck in a rut, but when I was accepted into Bridge, I knew I would get my life back and my son would have the stability he needed.”

Theresa soon found that changing her old habits was easier said than done, though. “My first six months in the program were tough for me,” she admits. “I’d still take my son out to McDonald’s, and my mentors were not happy about me spending that money. After that, my budget was only $75 a week—for gas, groceries and laundry.” Soon, she and Johnny learned to cook budget-friendly meals through the help of Manager of Nutrition Services Megan DeAngelis, and began to use the mobile food pantry services as well. “I wanted to show I was trustworthy and could stick to my budget if I put my mind to it. And when I did, their budget program worked dramatically for me.”

Once she started to see her bills shrink and her savings grow, Theresa’s mindset began to transform, and she set her eyes on a future goal: homeownership.  And for that, she knew she needed a secure career. She’d entered the Bridge program working temp jobs at $12/hour, and soon found a permanent job paying slightly more. But, when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, her employer laid off the entire staff.

“When I lost my job, I was panicked about telling my mentors,” Theresa says. “But they were so understanding because a lot of people lost their jobs due to COVID. I kept looking for a job and worked closely with Dorothy [Douglas, Employment Counselor]. And I put all my unemployment and stimulus funds into savings because I knew what my goal was.”

Theresa also attended Bridge’s Job Readiness workshop series, and became more comfortable during the interview process. And before long, she secured a customer service position with a mortgage company, earning the highest salary she’d ever had, plus benefits. She recently celebrated her one-year anniversary on the job.

And, she has paid off all of her debts as well. “One of my mentors is like a walking calculator,” she says with a smile. “He helped me figure out how to first pay off my car. Then, I knocked down all my other bills, one at a time. As I saw my debt going away, I knew I would never get into that situation again. It is an amazing thing not to live paycheck to paycheck anymore.”

In addition to eliminating her debt, Theresa opened a savings account and an emergency fund—both of which she contributes to religiously. By the time she’d been in the Bridge program for two years, she was ready to accomplish her final goal. In June, she closed on her very own condo in Wheaton. She loves working from home, and has been promoted twice at work this year. Johnny’s in his sophomore year, now earns all As and Bs, and started honors classes this fall. Their family now has the security they’d dreamed of for so long.

“My mentors remind me that I worked hard for this, but I’m still shocked I did it all on my own,” she says. “And all the advice I got from my mentors and support from Bridge got me there. Bridge gave me a new beginning.”

To the new families in Bridge Communities, Theresa offers these words of wisdom: “Don’t get discouraged if your mentors seem hard on you, because they just want the best for you and for you to reach your goals at the end of the program. They care about you and want you to be successful. Don’t give up, participate, use everything Bridge has to offer—and it will be amazing what you can accomplish.” 

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