Mom credits continued success to Fellowship


Brenda* says going through the Fellowship Housing program completely changed her life. Five years after graduating, she continues to reach her goals and move forward, but is also eager to help others.

Brenda graduated from Fellowship in May 2012. While in the program, she completely paid off all her debt, built up a savings account and improved her credit, all while working the night shift as a health tech. The program was challenging, but life-changing.

Today, she works first shift as a health tech at a VA hospital. Her son, Harrison*, is 22 and attends University of Illinois at Champaign on a National Guard scholarship. He’s studying biology and African American studies, and hopes to join the military and become a physicians assistant after he graduates next May.

His scholarship covers all of his tuition, but not housing and other expenses. Brenda considered using the student loans that she and her son qualified for through FAFSA, but realized that would put them both in debt.

She decided when there were extra bills for college, she would work overtime to pay them right away, rather than incur debt.

“Of course that’s where I learned that,” she replied when asked if she learned that strategy from being in FH. “I’m going to work my buttons off to get those bills paid.”

Her Fellowship experience continues to impact her life today—and not just financially.

“One thing I learned is how to cook healthy, and eat healthy,” she said, proudly noting that she’s lost 32 pounds since leaving the program. “If you cook your own food and fix your own lunches, you save a ton of money.”

She has had to spend money recently on getting Harrison’s wisdom teeth out and some dental work of her own done. She’s paying off those debts but also making sure that when she puts any expenses like gas or groceries on her credit card, she pays it off each month.

She also learned how to shop wisely, not only for groceries but for clothing and household items at thrift shops. Hitting the thrift stores, she finds bargains on clothes, purses and more. She keeps what she needs, but then resells the rest, to make extra money. “I don’t buy retail anymore,” she said. “But I can find designer clothes at thrift stores.”

She loves finding bargains on things she can resell, or items she needs. She reports that she found a set of brand new scrubs, which she needed for work, for just $5 at a thrift store.

Now that she is on her feet and doing well, she wants to help other moms. She plans to offer to go grocery shopping or to food pantries for other moms in the program, since she has time after her early shift.

“Fellowship Housing is really—it’s the kind of thing where you gotta want it, you gotta be determined. You gotta have dreams,” she said. It wasn’t easy, she reports. “I wanted to get off the night shift, I wanted to put a roof over my son’s head, and I worked really hard. I had to have work done on my truck, I couldn’t afford it, but I paid half and Fellowship paid half. Oh wow, they really helped me out. But it’s for people who want a hand up, not a hand out.”

Her son was completely on board. She remembers he got the opportunity in high school to go to a summer program at U of I. The program included his food, but he still brought the receipts home to his mom, thinking she needed to put them in the budget.

She attributes his success in college in part to Fellowship, and the training and guidance he received while he and his mom were in the program. “He is determined,” she said of Harrison. “I’m so proud of him.”

Her experience in Fellowship taught her perseverance and determination, she said. “I would tell people, if you want more, it’s there, you got to want it.”

She also attributes her success to her “guardian angel,” a woman named Mary Anderson, who first connected her with Fellowship and is still a good friend who gives advice and encouragement.

She is working hard as a health tech, and hoping to get a promotion so that she can work in the cardiology unit at the VA hospital.

“I used to talk to people with my head down,” she said of the days when she was mired in debt and struggling. “I want to use yesterday as a tool for the future.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

events, newsKeri Wyatt Kent