When young men and women graduate high school, they instantly feel a wave of freedom sweep them away. They enjoy its warmth and possibility. Jerri fought hard to complete the credits she needed to graduate from high school in 3 months. She felt accomplished and looked forward to her future—one that just a few short months before had seemed intangible.
Read part 1 of Jerri's story here.
During high school, Jerri had lost sight of her future and had fallen into drug and alcohol abuse. However, she eventually found the strength to tell her friends about her deepest secret: she had been sexually molested.
This event had haunted her. She blamed herself, and she felt ashamed. She wanted to end her life.
Looking back, Jerri now realizes that her confession enabled her to move forward. Finding her voice helped her obtain peace and pursue her future career.
Today, Jerri serves as the director of the Family Violence Services at the Sacred Heart Center, and she helps assist victims of domestic abuse. From personal experience, she knows that the women who come to the center need support and empathy for their situations.
Riding the wave of freedom
Even though Jerri had conquered high school, she still had other dreams to fulfill. She didn’t know that her wave of freedom would bring new obstacles to overcome.
After her high school graduation, she attended Si Tanka University in Huron, SD, where she opted to take general courses. Her pursuit of a college degree soon came to a halt, though, when she became pregnant at 20 years old.
Jerri remembers thinking, I am not worthy of being a mom.
She initially planned to give the baby up for adoption, but as her unborn child grew, so did Jerri’s bond and love for the baby.
“When I had my son, I became dedicated.” She smiles and says, “That’s when my life began. To make everything right for him, I didn’t drink. I focused on getting a roof over our head.”
Like many young mothers, she worked two jobs: one as a file clerk and another in a video store at night. Her son’s dad worked during the week, but he spent his paychecks on his addiction: drugs and alcohol. He, too, dealt with untreated childhood trauma.
Jerri carried the burden of providing for their baby.
Looking for a fresh start
In search of making a better life for her family, Jerri decided to move to Mobridge, SD, a reservation border town. She took a job at the Aberdeen Area Youth Regional Treatment Center-the Chief Gall Treatment Center-located in Wakpala, SD which is just a few miles from Mobridge.
Jerri jokes that during her time at the center she was a social service assistant, human resource person, part-time cook, and anything else they needed. While she was working there, Jerri listened to the stories of young addicts and learned that her story could help others find strength.
She started sharing her story with those in the treatment center, and she soon realized that it helped the at-risk youth cope. When Jerri told them that her life changed for the better once she started sharing her experience with others, it seemed to make a big impact on them.
“That’s when I knew there was no turning back for me…working with those who have been through trauma, helping them realize they deserve to be happy, and influencing them to live their lives to the fullest is my idea of success. I want them to know there is hope!”
Realizing a purpose
Jerri’s realization of her ability to relate to the young people at the treatment center created an outlet for her. She accepted the responsibility of being an advocate for her people, and she embraced the role of encouraging them to carry on through adversity.
It is widely known that the Native American people face the challenges of poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence. However, there are many men and women, like Jerri, who are working to encourage the next generation through sharing their own experiences. Tirelessly, she and her staff strive to make families stronger through education, counseling, and outreach.
Native Hope joins forces with Jerri and the Sacred Heart Center. Together, we work to assist the women and children who are seeking refuge and the promise of a fresh start.
Help us empower Native women and children with hope.