With tears of joy in her eyes, Donna tells the story of her journey to homeownership, health, freedom and happiness as she became the first person in her family to ever purchase a home. Having battled cancer, substance abuse, incarceration, homelessness and surmounting debt, she put the phrase "Never give up!" into action. Today she stands tall as a confident, fulfilled woman who is using her success to inspire others through her work with Boaz and Ruth, a nonprofit in Richmond, Virginia.
Donna's past was riddled with challenges. Donna's mother passed away from cancer while living in public housing in North Carolina. Her father also lost his battle with cancer. Donna herself was diagnosed with bone cancer. She also battled homelessness and substance abuse. She was incarcerated and separated from her daughter. It was hard to find hope. She admits that during this time she never truly felt happy and was unsuccessfully trying to fill that void with material things, relationships or substance abuse. She would attain those things but never really feel much better.
She turned it all around. Donna won her fight with cancer and remains cancer free. She was released from prison and successfully completed the Boaz & Ruth program where she found steady employment. Donna became drug free and even reconnected with her daughter. She considers her relationship with God the driving force to her newfound happiness and fulfillment and treasures the support and life lessons she found along the way.
A turning point in her recovery was when she reconnected with her daughter. Her daughter made a promise to attend her graduation if Donna completed the Boaz & Ruth Rebuilding Lives program. Both kept their word when Donna graduated in 2008. This reunion came after being separated for over ten years. She was also reunited with two grandsons she had never met and her 12-year-old granddaughter who was 18 months old the last time she saw her. Donna anticipated tension and strain with her family and thought she would need to earn their trust but declares the relationship was immediately healed and she remains an active part of her daughter and grandchildren's lives.
One of Donna's most challenging obstacles was tackling the medical bills she gained while fighting cancer -- a list of debts over 25 pages long. With steady income from her work at Boaz and Ruth, little by little she paid off the debt until at one point she thought she had paid everything off only to find two more substantial debts added to her credit report. That briefly took the wind out of her sails. Her prayer to God asking how she was going to keep going was answered when she realized she needed to learn how not to be afraid to ask for help, something she had struggled with in the past. She took on this challenge by compiling a list of local organizations and individuals that may be able to help. She stepped out in faith and asked for support and was not turned down by a single organization or individual. Within seven days she was debt free, learned a valuable lesson and gained even more faith and hope.
Donna cites her participation in Boaz & Ruth's program as instrumental to her successful reentry into society after being incarcerated. Boaz & Ruth provided her with a place to live, a steady income, job training and experience, resume assistance, computer access, but most importantly hope and support. She states, "No matter what you have going on you can always stop someone at Boaz & Ruth and talk to them. They don't fix the problem for you or coddle you -- they give you resources and point you in the right direction." Boaz & Ruth operates six social enterprises that serve as "Life Labs" to provide on-the-job training for people who need a second chance. Donna currently works as the Boaz & Ruth Harvest Thrift Store Team Leader and is a trained facilitator of the Boaz & Ruth Beyond Dialog four-week seminar on racial issues and healing. As a change agent in her community, she continues to share her story and inspire current participants in the program.
Moving into her own home has been a driving force of her success. With the help of local housing organizations, Donna was able to obtain a matching grant for the down payment on her house as well as guidance on the home-buying process. She was surprised to find that even though it may seem impossible, owning a home is an attainable and worthwhile goal. Her dreams came true as she was handed over the keys to her new house.
When asked what she would tell others with similar struggles she exclaimed, "Never give up! Don't listen to others who tell you that you can't do something. Don't take no as an answer. Go around them and find a solution." Want to make a difference in the lives of others like Donna? Donate to Boaz and Ruth's JobRaising Challenge fundraiser and show the nation that change is possible and that programs like Boaz and Ruth are essential to the solution of the jobs crisis in our nation.
For more information on Boaz & Ruth, please visit www.boazandruth.com.