When you look at Nina, you see a woman who has her life together. She’s a single mom to three thriving kids: Gemarion, Geniah and Gemir. She lives in a decent apartment in a quiet Chicago neighborhood. Her family always has food on the table, and her kids go to school. Moreover, she runs her own events planning business, fully incorporated and with its own office. And she has plans for the future of her business.
You wouldn’t think that a mere couple of years ago, Nina was jobless, near-homeless and desperate. She was so desperate that she found herself on the verge of placing all three of her kids for adoption.
Escaping a violent neighborhood
Having lived most of her life in one of Chicago’s inner-city neighborhoods, Nina was no stranger to violence. She lost a brother in a shooting incident. She herself was shot in the leg while just sitting in a parked car. Gun violence has become such a deep part of her life that she taught her kids a gun drill just in case a shooting happened.
Her turning point happened one morning a couple of years ago. Her cousin, who she considered more like a brother, was shot right on her porch. Inside the house, Nina was preparing breakfast for her babies. In that moment, she decided she couldn’t raise her family in a dangerous neighborhood. A short time after that, they moved to a neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs.
Hitting rock bottom
In moving to a quiet suburb, Nina and her children were safer. But in uprooting her family, she also pulled herself away from her source of income and her support system. She had been running a party planning business, and most of her clients came from the neighborhood she left behind. She was away from her family and friends, and she was pregnant with her third child.
Life for Nina became a struggle. She barely had the money to feed her family, much less pay her rent. She felt helpless and alone. Things got so bad that she couldn’t take care of herself, let alone the children who depended on her.
“After my third child was born,” Nina said, “I was in the hospital and I was talking to this nurse. I was telling her that, you know, ‘I’m kinda depressed. I’m feeling like I don’t want to do this, that I can’t do this. I don’t have nobody to help me.’”
Turning her life around
The nurse that took care of Nina at the hospital told her about Holt-Sunny Ridge. Holt-Sunny Ridge is a branch of Holt International and provides adoption services in Illinois and Wisconsin. Nina got in touch with the organization with a view towards placing her three children for adoption. What she didn’t know at the time was that Holt-Sunny Ridge had a new program in the works called “Empowering Women, Strengthening Families” (EWSF).
At Holt-Sunny Ridge, Nina was introduced to Loann Tan, one of Holt-Sunny Ridge’s case workers. Upon meeting Nina, Loann immediately saw that the bond between Nina and her kids was strong. She didn’t really want to place her kids for adoption.
“We have to do something about this,” Loann recalled thinking on the day she first met Nina. “I just feel you can have options, that you don’t have to feel that regret.”
With Loann’s help, Nina joined the EWSF program. Through the program, she received counseling and medical care, which helped her address her struggle with anxiety and depression. EWSF also gave her the tools she needed to get her life together. These included access to training on nutrition, personal finance, career development and many other areas that would help her build stronger life skills. She even received funds from the program to help with her rent, groceries and clothing for her kids. Loann was with her every step of the way.
From desperation to inspiration
Nina said that she enjoyed attending EWSF’s workshops and looked forward to them every month. She considered these meetings a much-needed break from the grind of everyday life. And she didn’t just receive training and resources at the workshop. She also got in touch with other women in similar situations as hers.
Soon enough, Nina regained her energy and drive through the program. She learned to manage her business, to set goals for herself and her kids, and to manage her day-to-day affairs by preparing ahead. Nina has restarted her business, formalizing it with incorporation papers, a physical office space, and employees. She has plans for expanding her business and having her own events venue. She also intends to go back to school and earn her business management degree. Most importantly, she is independently providing for her children, and able to give them the loving, devoted attention that all three of them deserve. She is a very hands-on mom.
“Nina has grown so much. It’s just amazing to see that. And I think that’s a blessing for me to feel that I’m a part of that,” Loann said.
Nina actively grows her business on Facebook. When she shares her story there, she often gets surprise reactions. People who heard her story couldn’t believe she was homeless, and people who know her couldn’t believe she’s running her own business.
“I’m not ashamed of my story, so I didn’t mind doing this,” said Nina. “I wanted to do it because I wanted people to see my strength, and I wanted people to know I’m not perfect.”
Nina also wants to inspire other women who find themselves in situations like hers. As a graduate of the EWSF program, she is now returning as a resource for other women in the program. She wants these women to see for themselves that, with support and tools, it’s possible for them to turn their lives around.
“I want them to remember to be strong,” Nina said. “And I want them to reach whatever it is in life that they’re trying to do. Don’t let anything hold you back from doing it and just step out on faith. And have a good support system if you can. Reach out to Holt-Sunny Ridge because they can definitely help.”
Learn more about Nina’s story in this video.
originally published by Linda Wilson, December 17, 2019