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Breaking the Cycle

By Susie Steckner

The Wesley family isn't much different from any other.

Mom La Donna works in the medical field, a 35-year career spent caring for others, and volunteers when she can for a local charity. Her daughters Jerrica and Kimberly are focused on college with dreams of becoming a doctor and lawyer.

For sure, the family doesn't fit the homeless stereotype. But for more than a year, La Donna Wesley was one of the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Arizonans without a home.

Evicted from their apartment for taking in a tenant, La Donna Wesley and youngest daughter Kimberly moved into a homeless shelter run by UMOM New DayCenters, while Jerrica lived in Tucson.

"When I first got there, I thought I had hit rock bottom," said a teary-eyed Wesley. "I couldn't believe I was living in a homeless shelter I felt like I was a bad mother."

But UMOM quickly changed that.

The non-profit agency, near 32nd and Van Buren streets, provides emergency shelter and transitional housing, plus a range of support services for residents. It offers permanent housing for adults, and runs a facility for people with a mental illness.

Over the past decade, Season for Sharing has provided $313,000 to UMOM,including $15,000 last year.

In the Wesleys case, the agency gave the family a stable place to live, counseling, help with anti-depressants and other support."I started getting better and then there was no stopping me," Wesley said.

Today, Wesley still struggles financially and doesn't have health insurance.She also battles seasonal depression and goes without medication. But, she lives comfortably in a three-bedroom apartment filled with family photos.

Perhaps Wesley's greatest role is helping guide her girls. Jerrica,20, is at the University of Arizona and studies nursing, with plans to be an obstetrician. Kimberly, 18, a recent high school graduate, is attending a cosmetology college and will work in that field so she can support herself in college. She will apply to UA as a pre-law student.

Each year, UMOM helps approximately 5,000 people like the Wesleys,said Robin Dunn, UMOM's chief fund development officer. To do that, it relies on government funds and other sources, such as grants through The Arizona Republic's Season for Sharing campaign.

Jennifer Black, a UMOM housing case manager, sees the Wesleys as a success.

"When one person like La Donna stops and says, 'I want my daughters to go to college, to get jobs and not have to work as hard as I have had to,' it breaks the cycle," of poverty, Black said.

Copyright 2004, Used with permission from The Arizona Republic. Permission does not imply endorsement.

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