When I first met Vanessa in 2019, what struck me most was her quiet confidence. She appeared calm when focusing on her five children (ages 2-9), composed when encountering customers at Plates Café, and projected an overall sense of being in total control.
Little did I know the true story behind Vanessa’s kind eyes. When asked what life was like before coming to Saint John’s, Vanessa replies with one word, “Chaotic.” While chaos might describe her world, inside she felt lost. “No matter the era in my life, I was a sheep in the desert feeling out of place. I didn’t even recognize myself which left me feeling hurt and empty. I lived a long life of being put down and feeling less than.”
Vanessa first came to Saint John’s after fleeing an abusive relationship. “I spent 10 years battling a possessive and manipulative man that I created a family with. I was tired of fighting. I wanted to LIVE, for my children,” she shares. Vanessa had no idea what to expect when she walked through the red doors at Saint John’s, five children in tow, in February of 2019. She remembers feeling battered and broken when arriving at Saint John’s. “Saint John’s took us in, all of us! The recovery began immediately with parenting classes. I had no idea what was happening, but I knew it was good. So I opened up and allowed my emancipation to begin.” She proudly remarked that Saint John’s would later build the confidence to not only live for her children, but for herself as well. According to Vanessa, learning “self-love” was a surprise gift from the program.
Vanessa’s experience at Saint John’s was not without challenges, however. She had to learn to believe in herself which was something that had always been a struggle. Undoing years of being put down and feeling less than have not been easy. “I had zero patience when it came to my children. We were in a tiny room together for 18 months. But I learned to really know each one of my children and how to best nurture them,” remembers Vanessa.
The program challenged her to think and feel deeper without fear of retribution. “I was challenged to grow, to dance and laugh with strangers, to grab a paint brush and be an artist for 60 minutes, to stand in front of other strong women and show my soul, too!” she exclaimed. At Saint John’s, she learned that she could either continue to be a door mat, or get up and turn the door knob herself!
When asked how her five children adjusted to Saint John’s, she praised the childcare staff and other women who nurtured her children as they all worked to rebuild their lives. For Vanessa, the most helpful aspect of Saint John’s was the mental health support and recovery classes where she learned to work through her pain and put together a better plan for her future.
Vanessa graduated from Saint John’s in August of 2020 and has since moved out to create a new home for her family. She says of life now, “It continues to be a journey full of growth and beauty. I’m knocking home runs with everything life throws at me. And, I’m just grateful!”
By Karen Edwards, Community Engagement Manager, Saint John’s Program for Real Change