“Mommy, you’re rich!,” exclaimed 3-year-old Apple one day not too long ago.
Je’Ree thought about how they really didn’t have much money, and then Apple continued “because we’re happy.”
Not every day is easy, but yes, Je’Ree and her daughter are most definitely happy.
“I used to look in the mirror and see droopy eyes, low weight and no confidence,” Je’Ree, age 26 said. “Now I look in the mirror and know without the intervention of great people I wouldn’t be here. I love myself now.”
Just four years ago, Je’Ree was on the corner of Grand and Delmar. She’d learned she was pregnant and had no family, no support and an increasingly abusive boyfriend. She was addicted to opiates. She was homeless: “on the street, stealing.”
A bus drove by. On the side was a bright orange ad stating: Call 2-1-1 for help. She was at a crossroads. She knew it.
“It was life or death when I called 2-1-1,” Je’Ree recalled. “I chose life for Apple.”
“I’ll never forget that first phone call to 2-1-1,” she said. “I stayed on the phone for 1.5 hours with them. I wish I could remember the person’s name, she was so nice, I never felt like I was taking up too much of their time.”
United Way 2-1-1 put her in touch with several agencies, including treatment for her addiction.
“That call took a weight off my shoulders; it was the start of a new journey for me.”
The first place to help her was United Way supported Queen of Peace. They helped her early on with treatment and more through its nationally recognized program helping women with chemical dependency.
Another of the places along her new path included Guardian Angel Settlement Home, also a United Way partner agency.
“There was a waiting list to get in,” Je’Ree said of Guardian Angel. “I kept going back to check with them. And then I met Gloria.”
“When Je’Ree came in the door, I knew I couldn’t let her walk back out the door [without enrolling her in the program],” said Gloria Sewell, director of childcare services at Guardian Angel.
That was about two years ago.
“It was hard,” Je’Ree said. “I was working part time, living on $234 per month, trying to stay sober,” and trying to do the best for her daughter, who was now 16 months old. “It was all overwhelming. With the pressure and stress it would have been easy to relapse. But I didn’t. I haven’t.”
Je’Ree has received various support from Guardian Angel and, in turn United Way. Guardian Angel ensured Je’Ree had furniture, food, child care, books sent directly to Apple monthly through United Way’s Dolly Parton Imagination Library partnership, and more.
“It was hard to ask for help,” she said. “But Guardian Angel was like a family – is a family to me. When I come here I’m leaving my baby with family and friends, not a day care.”
Knowing her daughter is in good hands, Je’Ree is enrolled full time at Harris Stowe State University earning a degree in sociology and business. She carries a 3.8 GPA and is on the Dean’s List.
“I keep watching her – her step – the way she carries herself has improved over these years,” Gloria said. “I’m so proud of her.”
“Guardian Angel sets the standard for what should be and they set that bar very high,” Je’Ree said, continuing to praise them and United Way.
Je’Ree’s experience with United Way and Guardian Angel has given her strength to meet each day, beat the odds, and set a good example for Apple. She also now volunteers counseling girls.
“If I can impact one person like United Way impacted me, then I’m honored,” she continued with a hint of tears in her eyes. “United Way has been very instrumental. I don’t know how many thank you’s you get, but thank you.”
About Guardian Angel Settlement Association
Located in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood, Guardian Angel Settlement Association’s mission is to serve those living in poverty by helping them improve the quality of their lives and achieve economic independence. United Way of Greater St. Louis helps fund their family services and child care centers. They have received United Way funding since 1933.
About Queen of Peace Center
Queen of Peace Center is a family-centered behavioral healthcare provider for women with addiction, their children and families. The gender focused female recovery center provides a variety of treatment options to women with co-occurring disorders and those affected by trauma. They have received United Way funding since 1991.