When Terry Jensen lost her full-time job seven months ago, fear settled over the single mother of three.


When Terry Jensen lost her full-time job seven months ago, fear settled over the single mother of three.

Although she was working part-time at Sam’s Club in Independence, her income was not enough. With the rent payments backing up and bills started to form an ever-increasing pile, she admitted that stress was an every day occurrence in her life.

“I never imagined that I would lose a job I had been working at for five years,” she said. “You know when you hear about people having a huge weight on their shoulders? That is what it felt like for me. Every day, I worried about who was going to be on the other end of the phone or if someone would come and try to take my car away. I was so incredibly stressed and worried.”

But during a meeting with her youngest son’s teacher two months ago, Jensen said she started talking about some of her worries, including the fact that she would soon have to find another place to live. That is when she first heard about Hillcrest Ministries’ Transitional Housing Program.

“I was so thankful,” she said. “I went and met with them and found out I could get right in. I was relieved to say the least.”

Hillcrest Ministries

Hillcrest Ministries started in the early 1970s when Ben and Patsy Belzer found themselves taking huge losses in their once prosperous business. After 14 months of unemployment and through help from their own community, they once again became self-sufficient.

The original Hillcrest Ministries opened in 1976 in Liberty. In 1998, the Hillcrest program came to Independence. Another facility in Sugar Creek opened in 2006 and its newest Lee’s Summit facility opened only last year. Now the program can be found throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area including a housing site in Kansas.

The concept is simple. Qualified families can enter the Christian-based program, which focuses on long-term solutions. The goal is to move families from homelessness to self-sufficiency within 90 days. The apartments that Hillcrest residents live in are sponsored by area churches and are completely furnished with everything needed from bedding to groceries.

In exchange for free rent and utilities, residents work full-time while attending classes in areas such as life skills, employment, community living and budgeting. Through community support, Hillcrest not only provides the housing, but also food, GED classes, school clothes, dental work and haircuts for residents.

Cotton Sivils, director of the Eastern Jackson County Hillcrest Ministries said 95 percent of graduates successfully transition to self-sufficiency. Of those, 80-percent remain self-sufficient after five years.

“We provide a critical service that allows single moms with kids to achieve their dream of self-sufficiency,” Sivils said. “We are literally changing lives for generations to come.”

Jensen is honest. She said when she first learned of Hillcrest, she thought it was like a typical shelter where she would have to call every day to see what was available. Her opinion, however, quickly changed when she learned exactly what Hillcrest offered.

“Excitement is the best way I can describe it,” she said. “They work with you to pay off your bills. Without having to worry about rent or anything else, it takes a tremendous load off. Who wouldn’t want that kind of opportunity?”

New living space

Jensen said she never imagined having to rely on someone else for assistance. A single mother of three for almost 14 years, she said she never had to worry about budgeting. If the money was there, Jensen said, she would pay the bills. It was when an unexpected bill came, that she said she would become worried.

“We did pretty well for ourselves for a long time,” she said. “But I think the economy has taken its toll on our family like it has for so many others.”

Before coming to Hillcrest Ministries, she and her children, from 15 to 19-years-old, lived in a large three bedroom house. Now, the four of them share a studio apartment.

“It’s interesting,” she said with a laugh. “But if I am total honest with myself, I think it has made us a closer family.”

Jensen said no longer can her children “hide” in their bedrooms, doing separate things from the rest of the family. Instead, she said, they must communicate with each other.

“We have definitely improved our communication with each other,” she said. “I am an in your face kind of mother, so I like to know what they are up to. They can’t run away now. I think everyone has really done surprisingly well with this transition. I think they are looking forward to getting out on our own though.”

The biggest disadvantage to living at Hillcrest - not being able to have her three cats.

“They are also part of the family, so we do miss them,” she said. “But we have some great friends who are helping out right now. That is nice to know.”

Sivils said Jensen is doing well in the program. An added benefit, he said, is the help her sons are providing at the Hillcrest Ministries building.

“Terry just needed a chance to get back on her feet,” he said. “She is appreciative of the Hillcrest program and is doing great. Maybe the best thing is her boys have been helping with the snow shoveling.”

Preparing for the future

Jensen said she would be lying if she said she was not nervous about life after she completes the Hillcrest program next month.

“I am ready to get back to real life, but sure, I feel nervous,” she said. “It feels awesome, though, to know that these kinds of resources are out there. Normal shelters only take care of the immediate, day-to-day needs. Hillcrest helps you prepare for the future.”

Jensen said she has learned so much through the classes that Hillcrest Ministries provides, especially when it comes to budgeting. In addition, she started a brand-new full-time job only two weeks ago - something, she said, she really enjoys. After filling out almost 100 applications, she said she is eager for a fresh start.

“I honestly never had to budget before. But Hillcrest makes you sit down every week and look at the money coming in and what is going out. I have learned so much in the last two months,” she said. “It just feels like a new start for us all. I have a new job, which is awesome and have really gotten my feet back on the ground. I feel so relieved to what has been given to me and my family.”

Sivils said what he enjoys most about his job is seeing success stories such as Jensen’s.

“I get to see God’s little miracles on a regular basis,” he said. “Today it’s three little girls under the age of three, whose Mom got a job today, and we have volunteers babysitting them. They are reading and coloring and just finished a mid morning snack. They are smiling.”

Once she completes the program, Jensen said she has a couple of options including entering Hillcrest’s Aftercare program for an additional three to six months or striking out on her own. She said she is unsure right now what she will do, but knows that there are brighter days ahead.

“I am excited about the future and of course am grateful,” she said. “But I think we have truly become a stronger family through this experience. WE are definitely on the right path.”

Breakout Box

For more information on Hillcrest Ministries, visit its Web site at www.hillcresttransitionalhousing.org.