Qwanishia Jackson doesn’t think her first name is that hard to pronounce. But the single mom doesn’t mind when people request a nickname.
“You can call me ‘Nisha,’” she says with a ready smile. She knows the second half is easier.
She hopes that is true in life, too. Once homeless, the first half of life was unexpectedly hard, and so she is fighting for change, at least so the second half might be less difficult for her and her son.
A few years ago her job cut her hours, so she couldn’t afford the place where she and her now 8-year-old son, Izaiah, were staying. She moved them into her car—purchased by her son’s father and some of the only financial assistance she’s received from him.
She figured this temporary plan would allow her to save enough so she could get them back into more secure housing.
In Central Florida, a reported 1 in 17 children experience homelessness every year, according to a report from the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. That’s nearly twice the national average of 1 in 30.
Determined to stop her son from being a statistic and to make extra money, Qwanishia began buying things and reselling them online. Whenever she would make a good sale, she and her son moved into a hotel for a short stay.
But much too soon, the money would run out. Without money saved up for a deposit, they moved back and forth, from hotel to car to hotel.
Life always ended back in the car.
One afternoon Qwanishia was shopping for valuable resale items in a Winter Garden thrift store called New Beginnings. She had been there before and discovered some good finds but Qwanishia had not noticed the name.
Then she saw the brochure by the register, and discovered it was a homeless rehabilitation program. She called and was soon accepted as a resident.
“I need a new beginning,” she says. “I need a start over.”
For the first few weeks, she sent her son to finish the summer with his grandmother in South Florida. When Qwanishia felt it was safe, she sent for Izaiah to join her and live in the women’s house.
Even though the homeless rehabilitation program is in Clermont across county lines, the Orange County school where her son attended last year agreed to pick him up each day by bus. Stability for her son is important to her.
That help, from the school system and the community, surprises Qwanishia most. Living at New Beginnings, she receives a lot of help to accomplish her goal of real change.
For any resident in the rehabilitation program, a case manager helps clients to set personal goals, a licensed mental health counselor tackles personal struggles, and a volunteer community mentor meets weekly as a friend.
Clients also attend morning classes five days a week focused on practical application in life skills, such as writing resumes and creating a budget. Some classes focus on addiction prevention, and five weeks zone in on basic Christian principles.
Qwanishia loves it.
What really surprises her is that the first 15 weeks of the program are completely funded by New Beginnings, at no cost to the client. This is thanks to thrift store sales (where she first learned about the program) and because of generous financial donations from the community.
“It’s still unbelievable that there are people out there who care,” she says. “I didn’t have support when I was by myself. Now I have that support.”
When she finishes the program, Qwanishia plans to return to school to get a degree.
As the present becomes more and more manageable, Qwanishia has begun to discover that the future is less of an impossible thought. This is the second chance she had hoped for, an opportunity to make the second half a little easier.
“They’re setting me up so it’ll be hard for me to fail,” she says. “We’ve been really blessed since we’ve been here. Everything has fallen into place.”