When Toni Ross-Webber became homeless for the first time at 56, she couldn’t stop crying. From the time she was a college basketball player at the University of Denver to her twenty-plus years as a registered nurse and mother of four, she had always been independent. Then came unexpected retirement due to an injury, and the disability and child support checks she was counting on never came.
With no means to pay rent, Toni was suddenly homeless with a 17 year-old son to provide for. After graduating from the Denver Rescue Mission’s Transitional Housing Program in September, Toni turned to the Family and Senior Homeless Initiative (FSHI) for help. She knew that FSHI, part of Mayor Hickenlooper’s ten-year plan to end homelessness, would provide her with a deposit and the first month’s rent for housing, while a mentor team would be assigned to help both her and her son with issues such as budgeting and education.
“I looked to FSHI for help, and they haven’t let me down,” Toni says. “I’ve never been in this situation before, and it was hard to ask for help at first, but this is truly an amazing program.”
Toni’s pairing with mentors Betty Johnson and Rev. Anne Rice-Jones of Colorado Christian Fellowship Church was a great fit from the beginning. Betty, once a single-mom struggling to make ends meet, was able to give Toni much needed practical and budgeting advice, while both women helped nurture Toni’s growing relationship with God.
“I just told Toni you have to pick yourself up and not drown in your own sorrows. Everyone has something to offer, and my faith helps me to see people for who they are, not what their situation is,” Betty recounts.
After several eye-opening meetings with her mentor team, Toni says she wishes she had been using a budget her whole working life and has gotten more out of the program than she ever expected. Besides giving their support and encouragement, Betty and Anne found ways to get Toni and her son Jѐkylis a computer, a furniture voucher and access to a clinic for medical and dental needs.
“I can’t tell you how awesome it was for [Jѐkylis] to get that computer,” Toni says. “My mentors go above and beyond whether it’s just checking in to see how we’re doing or giving us different resources to use.”
Betty says Jѐkylis is a “very motivated and positive” young man, and has already received letters of inquiry from the University of Colorado and Louisiana State University about his interest in playing Division I basketball. Having put herself through school, Betty was able to show Jѐkylis the steps to apply for financial aid and is impressed that the high school senior took it upon himself to get into a tutoring group to help with his studies.
The success of mentees like Toni and Jѐkylis would not be possible without impassioned volunteers like Betty and Anne, who graciously share their lives. As always, thank you to all our Family and Senior Homeless Initiative mentors who bring hope to the homeless!