I am Wanda Jenkins. I am now 62 years old. Born in Milwaukee, I was raised on the city's northside. I attended West Division High School, but earned an Adult High School Diploma at MATC. Then I moved to California, where my sister lived, to participate in Job Corp for 2 years. My time there was cut short by a California earthquake, the first and last one I ever wanted to experience!
Here in Milwaukee, I worked as a dietitian's assistant and food service worker at a variety of places. When my mother--to whom I was very close-- developed dementia, I became her daily caregiver, which led to my having to give up my job.
I did the best I could until, finally, I felt I had no choice but to find a nursing home placement for her.
In a short amount of time I lost my mother, I lost my employment, and my home. I became homeless and went from shelter to shelter for 3 years. Eventually, I got help at the Salvation Army. They found me more permanent housing.
I heard about Grand Avenue Club in 2010 when I was still dealing with my mother's death, searching for a remedy for my trauma and my intense anxiety, and was involved in psychotherapy at the Mental Health Complex. I also developed a sleeping disorder. When I called 211, they told me about GAC.
I came for the tour. When I saw the kitchen and met Susie Katz and Rhonda Gatlin-Hayes, the Culinary Unit staff people, I knew that this place was right for me.
Although I'd worked in food service for a long time, in the Culinary Unit I learned so much. I loved the meetings at which we talked about how to serve wholesome food to GAC members and staff. I loved working with colleagues and making friends. My experience at GAC also made me want to learn how to use the computer. Susie and Rhonda encouraged me all the way. Rhonda encouraged me to pursue employment. I found a position working concessions at the Bradley Center. My schedule did not allow me to come to GAC.
I was still dealing with trauma and the most intense anxiety you can imagine. What helped me, aside from my work and friends at GAC, were things like...the GAC art shows in our gallery, our summer softball game in Juneau Park, our picnic, and the holiday and evening programming. Because of these things, I not only slept better, but reduced my dependence on meds.
Last year, the pandemic really impacted me. Everything was closed. I couldn't get together with friends. There were no visitors allowed where I live. I really suffered. I was depressed and once again jobless. I called GAC in early June...and it was open! Since June 2020, I have found refuge at GAC.
Right away GAC helped me write my resume and search for a job. I am proud to say that I found a cafeteria position at a food service company. I work 18 hours a week--on Sunday, Tuesdays, and Thursdays-- and I love the work.
I am not certain that I will have this job during the summer. If I am not, I have already been offered a GAC Transitional Employment position at Renaissance Child Development Center. The job involves preparing and serving lunch to hungry pre-schoolers at this wonderful day care center with which GAC has had a long and good relationship.
When I think about what GAC means to me, I think about how GAC always raises my self-esteem and keeps me motivated. I think about how much I learn and how much I love to reconnect with members from my early days and meet newcomers as well. Now, many people are returning, just as I did. They inspire me and so do many of our staff. It's a grand place.