The turning point for Jasmine Hayes was the birth of her twin boys. She was 22 years old and living in Muskegon. Before her sons came along, she really didn’t worry too much about the safety or stability of her living situation. And, to be honest, it wasn’t great. She knew she needed to find a safer environment for them to grow up in.
“They don’t deserve any of what I’m going through,” Jasmine says. “My drive was about them alone.”
She knew what she had to do: “Get my kids and get out.”
Back in Grand Rapids, Jasmine ended up living in a homeless shelter for a year, working temp jobs at factories and hotels. She wanted more for herself and her boys, but, in her situation, it was tough to find employers who would give her the time of day.
WMCAT was different. They saw her potential and helped her overcome the barriers, like transportation, that stood between her and a better job.
“I was like, I need help with this and, boom, boom, boom – ‘We got you. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable.’”
One barrier WMCAT removed for Jasmine was cost. An earlier attempt at getting a community college degree didn’t pan out, and Jasmine was left with a $400 bill to the school she had to pay before she could re-enroll. She simply didn’t have that money. But at WMCAT, the Adult Career Training program supported by Heart of West Michigan United Way is free to participants.
Jasmine graduated from WMCAT’s pharmacy technician program in 2013.
“WMCAT gave me a second chance at life when others could not. WMCAT didn’t judge me when others did,” Jasmine said in her graduation speech. She still feels that way today:
“I felt like I can now expand my horizons because I now have a support system, and now I know I can do anything. That’s what they made me see. I can do anything if I put my mind to it.”
After earning her certification, Jasmine began her pharmacy career, working at retail pharmacies and two area hospitals before getting hired by Spectrum Health. She was glad to be making progress in her career, but there was a downside too: As her income grew, the amount of support she received from the government decreased. She was no longer eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and when she missed a home inspection while she was at work, she lost her Section 8 voucher.
“I was literally living check to check,” Jasmine says. “I was like, ‘Oh, Lord, what am I gonna do?’”
That’s when Jasmine found Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, another United Way-funded agency. She enrolled in the homeownership program and started chipping away at her 275 “sweat-equity” hours. Taking shifts in the Habitat thrift store, helping to build her house, attending financial stewardship and gardening classes all while working and raising her boys was a challenge, but she relished it.
“It was so fun just working on my home,” she says, imagining every day what it would be like to finally have a place of her own.
“I’m smiling … and I’ve got tears in my eyes because Habitat was exactly like WMCAT. They give you the tools,” Jasmine says.
“They have the same kind of approach – you want to see people in careers and not jobs, and you want to see people in homes, owning, and not apartments.”
With Habitat’s guidance and a matching investment from Inner City Christian Federation, Jasmine pulled together her down-payment and closed on her house in July 2018. The ceremonial key to her house was handed to her by Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in a ceremony attended by all the Habitat volunteers and staff who’d walked alongside her.
When the home was officially hers, Jasmine walked through the door for the first time and sat down on the couch. “Wow,” she said, breathing in the smell of the new carpet. “I feel super-blessed.”
These days, Jasmine still has to stretch to make ends meet. She’s kept her membership at the Community Food Club, another United Way partner agency, so she can get fresh vegetables and other groceries. But she makes it work. She credits the progress she’s made to the agencies who’ve supported her and her church, which has provided prayer, acceptance, and a push when she most needed it. With their help, she’s been able to sustain her inner drive to keep moving forward.
She wants her sons, Khalshawn and Keiyon, who are nine years old now and whose college fund she’s already saving up, to discover that same drive.
“What I hope for them is for them to go up and beyond,” Jasmine says. “I want them to strive and work for it. I want to make sure that they know, no matter what, I’m always here to support them. I really want them to succeed in everything they do.”
Heart of West Michigan United Way supports local agencies that break down barriers for people like Jasmine. WMCAT, Habitat for Humanity, and the Community Food Club are among the 47 partner agencies receiving grants through our Community Grant Fund. By giving today, you can help more neighbors like Jasmine thrive.