How one single mom took control of her life
“You can sit there and wallow ‘oh woe is me,’ or you can take control of your life.”
These are the words of Laurie Jeselon, on the topic of creating a new path in life. The 44-year-old single mom has made the best of opportunities given to her and has worked hard to change her life for the better. Once a client of the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank, she has now been employed with the organization for the past eight years. She also has a place to call home and provides for her three children.
Dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt, Jeselon looks right at home as she sits at one of the many empty tables in the lunchroom at the food bank. She is at ease as she starts describing the story of the last 13 years of her life.
Things got off to a rocky start. Jeselon moved to Calgary in Sept. 2000 with four suitcases — one for her and each of her three young boys. She had followed her then partner from Abbotsford, B.C., and just a month after moving to Calgary, she found herself with little money and no food.
Her boys, Jacob and Jason, were just eight and five years old, while Jesse was only a 10-month-old baby.
“We were living with my partner, his brother and his dysfunctional family with no food. I had no food to give my kids for lunch or dinner. Just no food,” Jeselon said.
Turning to the food bank for help
That’s when she was directed to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank. There, she not only received an overflowing cart of groceries, but was directed to other services.
“It was an overwhelming experience,” she said. “In Abbotsford it was once in a blue moon I would get milk or meat, but here we pretty much received a full-balanced meal.”
Jeselon’s story is a great example of the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank at work. The food bank is all about ‘giving a hand up, not just a hand out.’
Jeselon could have taken that cart of groceries, fed her family and continued the cycle of bad partners and bad living situations. But instead she said she used the help offered, worked hard and changed her life.
As is the norm for all food bank clients, Jeselon was directed to other services to help her and her family. One of these services was Calgary Urban Project Society or as it’s more commonly referred to — CUPS.
CUPS is a non-profit organization committed to helping people get out of poverty. They have a variety of programs to help people overcome their situations, including integrated healthcare, housing and housing services.
“CUPS became a part of my life,” Jeselon said. “I started taking parenting courses and hanging out with other moms.”
Where it all started
Jeselon moved around a lot growing up. She was born in Edmonton, Alta., moved to St. Albert, and then Nanaimo, B.C. She is the eldest of two children; her sister Brandie is two and a half years younger. When she was 13, her parents divorced and she moved to Victoria to live with her mom.
She graduated high school in 1987, and moved back to Nanaimo where she attended college but dropped out and worked a few different nanny jobs.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Jeselon
She then moved to Vancouver where she enrolled in an auto body technician program, which she eventually had to drop out of due to circumstances regarding her safety in Vancouver. After this, she went back to Nanaimo to stay with her dad.
Jeselon married the father of her two oldest sons in 1993 and was married to him for four years. She then spent 10 years in an on-and-off relationship with the father of her youngest son.
The rough times
In April 2001, less than a year after moving to Calgary, Jeselon and her family were evicted from the home they shared with her partner and his family. She said they ended up living in what they later found out used to be a “crack shack.”
“We spent the next 10 months in shelters,” Jeselon said, noting that at the time they were working with Calgary Housing Company to get a more permanent home. “Jesse and I were at Inn from the Cold and they would find a bed for my middle son every other Saturday night so we could spend some time together.”
Her youngest son Jesse (now 13) has few memories from their time at Inn from the Cold since he was only two.
“I remember two things: I blew my first bubble with gum and there was a room with a TV and we watched movies,” he said. “It was fun.”
Eventually Jeselon’s application was advanced to the top of the list, and Calgary Housing Company found a home for her and Jesse. At this time, Jason and Jacob were staying with their father.
Things picked back up when she started working for CUPS as an intake worker, signing everyone in upon their arrival.
“After I was there for three months, their cook quit and they asked me if I could cook and I said yes,” she said. “Their response was ‘oh good, do you want a job? We really like you and want to keep you.’”
Jeselon spent three and a half years working as the kitchen manager at CUPS. But it was only part-time work, she was on her own supporting her three boys, finding balancing all of her responsibilities to be very difficult. Part of her job entailed going to the Calgary Inter-Faith Food Bank regularly to pick up food for the kitchen at CUPS.
“What would happen is I would take the bus there in the morning and be there for 8 a.m., but my ride to CUPS wouldn’t show up until 11 or 11:30 a.m., so in the meantime I would putt around,” Jeselon said.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Jeselon Her definition of ‘putt around’ was to clean up, organize and help people who were coming in. She said she enjoyed the people at the food bank and loved helping out.
“After an X amount of time, the lady who worked there just said, ‘you should work here, you fit here, you need to try,’” Jeselon said.
“That’s how I ended up at the food bank, and that is where life really took a big change.”
Thelma Henry, the operations manager at the food bank, said, “We knew before she even started that she was transitioning from living on the streets, and couch-surfing, but we saw qualities in her and knew she would be the type of person that would work well here.”
Jeselon said the big change in her life was the stability the food bank gave her. It was a full-time position, which gave her much needed financial support. It also provided a supportive environment, which gave her mental stability.
“We’ve been blessed to have her here, she is gentle but not a pushover,” Henry said. “She has such a caring and loving attitude.”
An “adopted family” at the food bank
Jeselon said even though she has no family in Calgary, her co-workers and the volunteers at the food bank have become her extended family.
“There is one gentleman here, a volunteer, who said ‘Well, you don’t have a dad here, and I have a daughter,’ so now he’s adopted me as his ‘other’ daughter,” Jeselon said.
That volunteer’s name is Art Dobson and he has been volunteering with the food bank for three years.
“It is a pleasure working with Laurie, she is a great lady,” Dobson said. “She has the right attitude about life.”
Dobson drives Jeselon home twice a week and is always full of advice for her, truly acting as a father figure. “I try and keep her on the right path,” he said.
Chuckling, he continued, “I give her hell about everything really.”
After all the years of instability with her oldest sons moving in and out, having friends of her boys, or friends of hers, staying with her periodically, and living in less than desirable situations, she finally has all three boys living at home with her.
Photo courtesy of Laurie Jeselon
They all just moved into a house in the N.E. community of Abbeydale in July of this year. They have family dinners where friends who feel more like family come over, and she manages to get out of the house about once a week for some alone time.
“I am not the richest person in the world financially, but I am rich because I have good friends and good people involved in my life,” she said. “I may not have family here, (other than my boys) but I have chosen family and community.”
Jeselon said she hopes to continue working at the food bank for the foreseeable future since she loves what she does and the people she gets to work with. As for her personal life, she has no set plans for a future significant other and is firm on the idea that life just happens.
“I had plans, and life decided that wasn’t my plan. I never meant to meet Jesse’s dad, didn’t mean to have Jesse,” she said.
“Life happens right? I never planned on moving to Calgary and as much as it’s been a rollercoaster, it’s been the best thing that has ever happened.”