Jennifer Pankey sat in her hospital room, reflecting on the nearly 30 years of life that led to this.
The busy maternity ward echoed outside the door, making the silence in her room feel suffocating. The cradle next to Jennifer was empty. Mere moments after her baby girl was born, Child Protective Services took her away. Doctors found meth in the baby’s system.
In the midst of her racing thoughts, Jennifer found a moment of clarity. She knew when she left the hospital, she had a choice.
“Either I could go home and start this cycle of drugs and pain all over again,” Jennifer said. “Or I could change.”
Growing up, Jennifer fought her way through a dysfunctional, isolating home life. Her parents were almost always absent—leaving her and her sister to raise themselves.
“When my dad did come home, he brought friends,” Jennifer said. “And those friends brought drugs.”
This erratic home environment normalized drug use as a way to cope with life’s problems. Jennifer first used meth at 11 years old.
“I was going down a pretty dark road. I never really got the chance to develop self-esteem, so drugs were the only way I knew how to feel good about myself,” said Jennifer.
For years, Jennifer tried to escape the grip drugs had on her life, but she kept falling back into the same cycle. Meth left her numb to life—so numb that she stayed in denial of a pregnancy and continued to use drugs.
When her youngest daughter was born and immediately taken away, however, she knew she had to change.
Jennifer went to rehab for nearly a year.
“As that year came to a close, I realized that I had no social skills. No education. I had never had a job before,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t have the skills to hit the ground running as a working parent right out of rehab, so I went to Solutions for Change.”
At Solutions for Change, Jennifer enrolled in Solutions Academy — a 700-day program that offers counseling services, parenting classes, employment training and work experience to help people permanently overcome homelessness and instability.
Solutions Academy provided Jennifer with daily structure and purpose she had never experienced before. Each day, she got her daughters ready for school, went to work at Solutions for Change, took classes and cooked dinner—everything she would one day do on her own, but with guidance and support.
“I can’t say it was totally smooth sailing after going to Solutions for Change,” Jennifer said. “But nothing changes overnight. Sticking with it is the key, and it was so worth it.”
Through her time in Solutions Academy, Jennifer worked with Solutions Farms. The 25,000-square-foot aquaponics farm grows fresh produce and requires hands-on technical training for workers.
The opportunity to learn useful skills and be productive at Solutions Farms was a pivotal moment for Jennifer.
“The most transformational thing Solutions for Change did for me was trust me. They trusted me to learn and work hard,” Jennifer said. “They saw value in me that I had never seen in myself. Being a productive adult built up my self-worth, which I didn’t even know I didn’t have.”
Jennifer graduated from Solutions Academy in 2013 and soon became a leader of Solutions Farms.
And now in 2020, Jennifer sits in her office at Solutions for Change, preparing Solutions Academy curriculum for those embarking on the same journey as hers. As Empowerment Services Director, she leads the charge in workforce development and the creation of uplifting programming. She looks forward to the evening, when she can go home and spend time with her two daughters.
“The pain you are experiencing now is nothing compared to the joy of your transformation. The moment your kids look at you and say you’re my hero, there is no drug that can ever compare” offers Jennifer to those stuck in the cycle of homelessness. “You can break through. All you need is the willingness to change.”
You can be part of the solution by joining our #WeAreOneUs movement and support journeys like Jennifer’s to bring hope to those trying to escape homelessness, by donating to Solutions for Change’s transformational programs or explore our volunteer opportunities.