“The only way this happened was with God,” Connie Perez shares, eyes shining. She’s referring to her brand new, three-bedroom, handicap-accessible home located a mere twenty- second walk to her job at City Impact. She's happy and comfortable now, but her path to this cozy home is nothing short of amazing.
Born and raised in Lincoln, Perez has been a lifelong lover of the earth. She began working for Lincoln Parks and Recreation three years ago as a gardener at Peter Pan Park. Her job brought her past City Impact often, and day by day, she watched City Impact Homes taking shape and saw a chance to have her own home again.
On a whim, she stopped into City Impact one day and simply asked, "How does somebody move into one of these houses?" After providing them with her contact information, Perez waited. A few months later, a postcard showed up in the mail declaring that a three-bedroom, handicap-accessible, ranch-style house was available. "I thought there was no way," she exclaims. No way would she be approved for such a large home as only a single resident. But, with her sister egging her on, she filled out the application honestly (single, not handicapped, no young children) anyway and was called in for an interview.
Living on a limited income, Perez had no idea how she would pay for the deposit and first month's payment even if she did get the house. But with God, all things are possible, and that's the promise that Perez held onto as she waited.
For four years, Connie Perez worked for a company that cleans up buildings that have had severe fire or water damage. Over the years, Perez came to count the owner and his wife as friends and found herself excitedly sharing the possibility of this new place to call her own. "I've just got to come up with the deposit, probably pinch some pennies, but hopefully it’ll all work out," she shared with her boss' wife, who was just as excited as Perez.
The following week, Perez went to work and was immediately called into the owner’s office. Thinking something was wrong, she entered nervously. But instead of being reprimanded, Perez found herself the recipient of an amazing gift; a check for $500, which would cover not only her deposit, but also the cost of moving into a new home.
Tearfully, Perez accepted the check. "You don't have to pay it back," her boss said, "we just want to help you."
Perez was approved for the home, and had the keys to the front door within two weeks. "Even thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes," she says. "When I look back and think about everything that happened for me to be where I am right now, it was really a blessing."
After moving into her new home, Connie Perez watched as City Impact's new building on 33rd began to take shape and decided she wanted to volunteer to clean the building up. "All the drywall dust, all the debris, all the sawdust in the drawers from cabinets being installed, cleaning the windows—I did that for a living, at my main job, so I wanted to do that here.”
She got to know her neighbors and the staff at City Impact, was voted president of the tenant association, and was soon asked if she'd be interested in applying for a part-time position as a Site Coordinator for City Impact’s youth development programs. "I wasn't looking for another job at the time," she explains, "I remember thinking, they want to pay me to come over here? Sure!"
She interviewed, got the job, and now spends every Sunday and Tuesday night at the Impact Faith Academy and Impact Leadership Academy corralling children, setting up chairs, preparing for worship, coordinating supper, and making sure things run smoothly for the kids. "I would probably be coming over here anyway to help out, so I feel incredibly blessed to get paid to do it," she says through a huge smile.
With Perez’ garden plot next to City Impact, she has been able to provide fresh vegetables for supper during the warm summer months, and this year has a Community Crops garden plot specifically to teach City Impact kids how to grow their own food. "What I like the best about gardening is that we have so many people from so many different countries,” Perez explains. “Some people don't even speak English. But it's amazing when you go into a garden, everybody speaks the same language; it's like music." This is what she wants to help City Impact kids experience.
Connie Perez has been in her new home for two years now, and is a vital part of City Impact. Her face comes alive with joy when she shares how she joined the City Impact team and felt God moving so clearly in her life.
“I could literally feel God in me-- with me. I got really close to Him and I’ve never felt anything like that before.”
Jurnee has been attending City Impact programs since she was in kindergarten—about 13 years. During that time, so much has happened and, through it all, City Impact has been a constant throughout. It’s where she feels safe, she can be herself, and she knows she won’t be turned away.
Growing up, Jurnee went to church with her family, and she enjoyed it. But when their church disbanded, her family went less and less at their new church. Needing a spiritual home, Jurnee found that at City Impact. “We’re all in community and all have fun loving and learning about God together.”
The summer of her freshman year of high school, Jurnee was told she was moving to Mississippi. Scrambling to find a way to stay in the town she knew, her aunt agreed to let her stay with her for the summer, so she could attend camp at Kids Across America. Once camp was over, she had no choice but to head to Mississippi.
Mississippi wasn’t home to Jurnee, and she couldn’t help but feel her life was a bit upside down. Two months later, Jurnee made it back to Lincoln and stayed first with a friend, and then again with her aunt. Back at school and at City Impact, she passed her time working, going to school, and spending time with her friends. For two years she stayed in Lincoln until her junior year, when she returned to Mississippi and spent her time watching her siblings and going to school.
With no friends and no community, Jurnee found the deepest relationship with God she’s ever had. With such few distractions, she learned how to love God and find faith in Him in a way stronger than ever. She wasn’t happy to be in Mississippi, but she was happy at the changes inside. Then, in the summer before her senior year she convinced her mom to move their whole family back to Nebraska.
After coming back, Jurnee noticed a change. “I did things differently. I think I involve myself in conversations more and when I got back from Mississippi, people looked at me differently and said ‘Wow, this isn’t the same Jurnee.’“ I feel like I owe everyone an apology for when I was younger,” begins Jurnee. “I wasn’t the bad kid, but I would just do what I want. Thinking about it now, it was so unnecessary--I did things for no reason.”
One thing Jurnee wasn’t expecting when she started attending City Impact was gaining a second family. A staff member, Ashley Larsen, became her “all-time favorite. “Growing up, she would always pick me up and take me places, I'd hang out at her house. To this day I can still go to her if I need something. She's just a really good person; always helping if I need something, and always there if I need to talk or vent. she's there. I'm friends with her sister, her husband—all of them.” Jurnee still sees Ashley about once a week, and considers the Larsens a second family.
Even though Jurnee doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do next in life, and she admits that her relationship with God is much harder to maintain back in the midst of so many distractions, she knows that she has many cheerleaders along the way. She takes pride in making sure she takes care of herself, so she can take care of the people around she loves.
Junee stays at City Impact now because she has friends and a community here. “They are changing so many people’s lives, including families” she says. “If you need anything, City Impact will help you get it. When I go to City Impact, we are all a family and there are multiple people there that can help me if I need something." And that’s what City Impact is here for; to make a safe space to encourage a lasting change.