Jessica’s volunteer work with young mothers opens her eyes—and her heart

Service-learning assignment becomes genuine connection

Jessica Yeager had never heard of the Aston-Bleck Apartments. But a class she was taking at Washington State University required her to volunteer as part of a service-learning project. With the help of the staff, Jessica decided to do a book club for the residents—five young mothers transitioning out of homelessness—and their children. 

It wasn’t until her first night volunteering that Jessica started to understand what the Aston-Bleck Apartments are all about.

“After my initial meeting with the staff, I was so excited to get going,” recalls Jessica. It was a crisp October day and she went home with a sense of purpose and “gathered up a bunch of the books my kids didn’t read anymore, stuffed them in my bag and put them in the car for when I was going to start the next Monday.”

Jessica walked up to an apartment complex with her bag of books. She set up in a common living room located near the office. But no one came. No one except Ginny, a member of the staff. The two women talked about the program and the struggles the residents face—trying to balance parenting, school and work, often alone, all while climbing out of homelessness.

“When none of the girls had come over I was kind of sad because I was so looking forward to meeting them and doing anything I could to help brighten their day. But when I left, was really appreciative of the time I got to spend talking with Ginny. It was powerful.”

Over the next few weeks, the girls slowly began to come to the book club. And Jessica slowly began to see more clearly.

“I was a young mother myself,” admits Jessica. “I was 19 when I had my son.”

In a way she related to these young mothers. “But I was in college while I was pregnant. It took me five years to finally finish my associates. But I am raising my family with a wonderful husband. And now, with my son 12 years old, I am graduating May 4th with my Bachelors in Social Sciences and a minor in Psychology and I am applying to grad school.”

Jessica started to see that while she had experienced the difficulty of being a young mother, these women had faced were on an entirely different plane. All of women who live in Aston-Bleck apartments, scattered in various complexes throughout Spokane, are between the ages of 18 and 21. They are all raising their young children as single parents. Most are living there are a stepping stone between living in a shelter or maternity home while they work toward self-sufficiency and greater independence.

“There were nights I would leave in tears because of the things that I listened to and the stories that they would tell me,” recalls Jessica. “I never knew about this whole other world of homelessness and how it affected people. As I learned how they became homeless and all they had to do to survive, I came to realize how loving, intelligent and determined these women are.”

It started as an assignment. But something changed. “I soon came to realize that these young women that were quickly creeping into my heart. They taught me so much about life, friendship and how the human spirit can continue to grow even in the worst of times,” says Jessica.

“One night I was talking to one of the girls and she was telling me about her life,” says Jessica. “She told me she hadn’t had a single Christmas gift in five years.” It shocked and saddened Jessica to realize that this young mother, who worked so hard to give everything she could to her young daughter hadn’t had anyone giving to her. 

“In that moment, I made it my mission to spoil them rotten as much as I could. I got permission to plan the Christmas party for the apartments and knew that my family and friends would be excited about donating to make their Christmas special—like the ones I had as a kid growing up.”

Jessica raised more than $1,600. She shopped for gifts on her lunch breaks and on the weekends in between trying to keep up with her own school and house work. 

“I was thrilled,” she says. “I loved seeing my basement filling up with gifts. It just made me want to buy more. My mom helped me wrap all the gifts and they were beautiful.” Jessica brought all the gifts to a magical party complete with decorations and catering from Azteca so that the young mothers could have a night to relax and celebrate without having to worry about anything.
“The women who live at Aston-Bleck deserve the best of everything and I tried to give them a moment of feeling like a kid again, hope for the future and to show them that the community does care and that there are people out there willing to help them,” says Jessica.

What did she learn through her service-learning experience?

“I am so impressed with these young women, all of them! In the course of just a few months I watched them develop into beautiful, loving and nurturing mothers who loved their babies so very much, it was amazing to watch this transformation.”

But Jessica was transformed as well. “This  experience has filled my heart,” she says. “And it has shown me where the real joy in life is, that is in giving of yourself, your time, and your resources to make someone else's day brighter, the return on your investment is priceless.”