Conquering fears: Pandemic doesn’t stop formerly homeless woman from achieving her dreams
Special to The Union
To hear more of Wendy’ story and learn about the work being done at Hospitality House, catch case manager Jennifer Thomas speaking on KVMR at 8:20 a.m this Friday, July 10.
She lost her family, her independence and her self-worth. Wendy Norman was once someone who struggled with substance use disorder and homelessness. She grew up in an abusive household and eventually ran away to escape the pain but ended up in a new home where she was introduced to drugs. At the age of 13, she became addicted.
“I dropped out of school, I got pregnant, I mixed with the wrong crowd,” recalled Norman. “I was even part of a gang at one point. I was a functioning addict until 24 when I started using needles and that took me out. At that point, I would do anything to get my next fix.”
Through her young adult years, Norman lacked guidance and continued to misstep. She shared how she married someone who’s behavior mirrored her upbringing and while the couple had two children, both were turned over to Child Protective Services.
“We lost our girls and while I am beyond grateful today that they ended up being adopted into loving homes, this was my undoing at the time,” said Norman. “I had lost everything, and I snapped. I made decisions I’m not proud of — decisions that resulted in a four-year prison term that I did in county.”
While she could have given up at this point in her life, instead, this sentencing ended up being one of the best things that could have happened to her. She became clean and sober for the first time in several years and was able to logically reflect on past decisions she had made and the pain she had caused not only herself but others. She began to heal in confinement and understand her self-worth.
“I joined bible study and found Jesus, and Jesus saved my life,” said Norman. “I had always felt broken, but God healed me.”
Making a complete 180, Norman became a role model inmate and began planning out her future. Upon her release, she secured housing with a friend and took small steps to rebuild her life. She enrolled at Epic High School-Field Institute to earn her high school diploma but was faced with homelessness soon after.
Through no fault of her own, she lost her housing after her friend’s parents moved into their home, following a house fire.
“There wasn’t enough room for me anymore,” she said. Fearful of street life and with no viable options, Norman turned to Hospitality House for help. “They were understanding of my mistakes. They too wanted me to have a better life and they knew I could do it. Janella (Kirkman), the shelter manager, was one of my biggest cheerleaders. I have known her for 10 years and she’s never stopped believing in me. Everyone working there is kind, compassionate and helpful.”
Norman continued to attend school while living in the homeless shelter and was helped back into housing soon thereafter. However, in time, she found herself in an unhealthy living environment and voluntarily returned to the shelter for further guidance and support.
Norman excelled with help from her case managers Jennifer Thomas and Nicole Lescher and a new plan for sustainable permanent housing was formalized. Norman overcame homelessness with the help of Hospitality House, Section 8, friends from church, and her teacher Ms. Kim Clouse, who opened her heart and her home to her. Because of this support system, Norman has been living in permanent housing with her teacher since October of last year.
In addition to maintaining her sobriety and housing, Norman helps other people struggling with homelessness through volunteerism opportunities with Hospitality House. She also continues to move forward in her education, but like the rest of the world, she felt the effects of the pandemic this spring.
“I think we can all agree nobody was expecting this or how bad it’s gotten,” she said, noting she had no choice but to transition her education from in-person to virtual teachings from home. “I know it’s hard to stay in the house weeks at a time and it can cause a little depression and cabin fever, so I go in my backyard and walk around, exercise a little and talk to the Lord about stuff.”
She feels fortunate to have a home at all and has been reflecting on how hard she knows it is for people currently experiencing homelessness, whether they are receiving shelter at Utah’s Place, motels or surviving on the streets.
“Being homeless myself a couple times, and now being housed, I know it’s a blessing,” she said. “So I have immense compassion and concern, and know personally what they’re going through, so I make sure when I can to help those in need like buying someone a coffee, or I pay for a meal, or I give them the money I have on me. I know what it feels like on the other end of the giving. I remember when I was homeless and people blessing me with things. One lady gave me a $20 gift card; someone paid for my meal. Little things like that make a world of difference to the homeless and makes an impression in their hearts, that someone actually cares about them.”
Norman cares a great deal about her family, friends and the homeless community at large. She also practices social distancing and has taken increased safety precautions to protect herself and her roommate, but most of all, the pandemic hasn’t deterred her of her dreams. She successfully graduated from high school this June, and even gave the commencement speech to her graduating class, saying in part, “I feel I can conquer my fears head on.”
“I’m so blessed,” she added. “I just had nine years clean on May 5, I graduated, and I’m officially enrolled in Sierra College next spring.”
Norman has come a long way in her recovery, and she continues to dream. “I want to become a drug and alcohol counselor so I can be there for someone else as Hospitality House has been there for me.”
Ashley Quadros is the development director at Foothill House of Hospitality.
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