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A Place of Peace and Rebuilding

Jennifer Lewis describes her life as “a collection of moments” that God has used to bring her to where she is and shape her into who he wants her to be.

Growing up in New Orleans as one of nine children, Jennifer remembers her birth mom instilling in her a love for God by teaching her to pray and teaching her who she was according to the Bible. It was a foundation that she carried with her through every circumstance life brought her way.

When Jennifer’s father abandoned the family, Jennifer’s mom was forced to surrender her children to the foster care system because she lacked the financial means to care for them.

At 8 years old, Jennifer entered foster care and would experience various forms of abuse over the next 10 years. But she never felt alone.

“I remember feeling a covering of protection over me during that time,” she said.  “While God did not remove me from that pain, I know he was there, walking that path with me the entire time.”

Despite many road blocks in her path, Jennifer went off to college after aging out of foster care when she was 18. She successfully completed her degree in political science from the University of the District of Columbia.

Back in New Orleans, Jennifer began her career at a public relations firm. She worked long hours and primarily kept to herself, something she attributed to her harsh upbringing.

“With everything I went through as a child, I just never developed the social skills needed to form healthy relationships,” said Jennifer.

Although she found a church in New Orleans and was allowing God to heal her from the past, she still made the choice to enter into a relationship with someone to whom she was not married.

“I knew I was sinning in this particular relationship, but I thought I was smart enough to walk away from it before I could experience any consequences,” said Jennifer.

Shortly after ending the relationship, Jennifer found out she was pregnant.

“I took full responsibility for my actions; from then on I dedicated my life to seeking the Lord and providing for my son, Jonah,” she said.

But in the fall of 2005, not long after Jonah turned 5, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Thinking they were evacuating only for a weekend, Jennifer and Jonah took just the bare essentials with them.

They never went home.

After losing virtually everything, Jennifer and Jonah were permanently relocated to Houston.

They spent six months living in a hotel in Houston before FEMA began trying to find permanent housing solutions for Katrina evacuees. However, Jennifer’s application was repeatedly denied based on FEMA’s failure to verify that she was in fact a New Orleans resident.

“I couldn’t understand the problem when I spent most of my life in New Orleans, rented an apartment there and was an employee of a company within the city,” said Jennifer.  “But, I remember hearing God whisper to me, ‘Is FEMA your God or am I your God?’”

It was then that Jennifer was referred to Gracewood and she and five-year-old Jonah spent the next eight months there.

“Gracewood was really a place of peace and rebuilding for us,” she said. “It was a very loving environment for Jonah and became a safe place to start over."

During this time of transition, Jennifer landed a job as a financial aid advisor at Texas Women’s University, a job she still has today.

“God used Gracewood to provide exactly what we needed when we needed it,” she explained. “I just want to use my resources to give back to this wonderful ministry.”

Jennifer continues to be involved with Gracewood’s Aftercare program and loves to be part of the annual Gracewood Christmas party. Jennifer was also recently honored for her accomplishments as a single mom at the fifth annual Diamonds & Pearls Gala, benefiting Gracewood.

“We are so thankful to have Jennifer and Jonah in our Aftercare program,” said Debbie Rippstein, Executive Director of Gracewood. “It is a blessing for her to return to Gracewood and offer hope to other moms through her amazing testimony.”