It was the week before Thanksgiving of 2010 and Jacquelyn Graham found herself unemployed with days to find a new place to live. Jacquelyn came to HOMECorp after a friend of a friend, who happened to be a HC applicant, gave her a list of apartments she had been provided. In tears, Jacquelyn walked into to the office, where she met with Gwen Battle.
She says, “Gwen’s warm and welcoming spirit let me know that God would make it alright.” Gwen called HC’s many partner agencies including the Salvation Army and Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN); reassuring her that there were churches in the area that would make her and her son feel safe.Some months before, Jacquelyn left her home in Orlando, Florida after performing for six years in the The Lion King production at Disney World. She heard about Montclair from a good friend who knew she wanted to relocate to the New York City area. After researching educational opportunities for her son, Jacquelyn decided it was time to move to pursue her dream of performing on Broadway. She packed all her belongings into her car and drove with her nine year old son, Jacob, from Orlando to Montclair.
Within weeks she found a job working as a nanny and settled with her son into a comfortable apartment on Lincoln Street in Montclair. She also began to pursue her dream; auditioning for Broadway shows including Rent and The Lion King. “My plan was to pursue acting while substitute teaching and working as a nanny.” says Jacquelyn. But her employer’s financial situation unexpectedly changed and she was let go with only days to find a new place to live.
Jacquelyn first went to St. Paul’s Baptist Church and asked them if they had a homeless ministry. As it turns out St. Paul was the host church that week for IHN. She moved into the church’s resident facility where we had our own room and bath facilities. It was like God was putting it all together for me. “Not until later did I discover that my son had been attending St. Paul’s Baptist Church aftercare program all along. Ironically, we ended up staying right down the street from where we had been living while I was working as a nanny. So my son was able to walk to the same school bus stop and we were in the same neighborhood.”
Shortly thereafter, Jacquelyn found an apartment on Elmwood Avenue. HOMECorp Property Manager, Barbara Brown, assisted Jacquelyn by meeting with her landlord to help facilitate her tenant application. Jacquelyn says, “I was surprised because I didn’t think HOMECorp would do that because it wouldn’t benefit HOMECorp to convince another landlord to take a potential tenant away. But she [Ms. Brown] did it - she went above and beyond.” Ultimately, the landlord opted not to lease the apartment to her.
IHN ultimately sent Jacquelyn to HOMECorp to see a vacant apartment. “Miss Battle showed it to me. When we got inside the apartment she prayed with me that God’s will be done and if it’s His will, that He would keep it available; she asked God to save that apartment for me. Now, I’d gotten reports about how [the rental assistance application process] works. People said I wouldn’t get rental assistance or that it takes too long to inspect and repair an apartment; etc. Everything everybody said could have had a negative outcome - but I knew God did not bring me here to have me on the street.”
“Well, the New Year came and I had all my paperwork. I called Miss Brown who confirmed that the apartment was still available. Miss Brown was shocked that my application was approved so fast. The day I got my keys to the HC apartment, I brought my oils with me and anointed all the door ways. I stepped out on so much faith.”
Jacquelyn continues to pursue her goal: singing and teaching. “I sub everywhere in Montclair, Bloomfield and Clifton - all subjects, mainly in elementary grades. I’m teaching an acting workshop at IHN on Wednesday; still auditioning for Rent, Memphis, The Lion King; singing with bands and doing concerts.” She also fulfills Work First NJ on-the-job training by volunteering at HOMECorp.
Despite the challenges she’s encountered along the way, Jacquelyn says, “There’s nothing that’s made me doubt my decision to come here. Every situation says to me to keep pushing; the spirit of the people I’ve met; how they’ve encouraged me has re-affirmed that I’m in the right place. I’m going in the right direction.”