Four years ago, James Ponder and Pamela St. John were both unemployed, homeless and living in a shelter with their children. Today, amidst a bitterly cold winter, they are employed full time, enjoying the warmth and security of their new home and feeling so grateful that they worked diligently to get through what seemed like insurmountable adversity.
On Dec. 16, the couple, their two sons, 15-years old Jaaron and 9-year-old Josiah, and their 4-year-old granddaughter Ra-nyah walked through the door of their new home in Kansas City’s Ivanhoe Neighborhood, thanks to a Jackson County government program and the couple’s strong determination
James, now a full-time maintenance worker with MoDOT’s Kansas City District, said the journey home was one step at a time. He credits reStart, a Kansas City interfaith ministry that works with homeless persons transition to a more stable and productive life, for helping him and his family. At first, reStart provided temporary shelter for Ponder’s family, eventually getting them a rent-assisted apartment and teaching him and St. John valuable life skills.
ReStart guided Ponder toward MoDOT through part-time employment for two summers, then encouraged him to apply for a seasonal position in late 2012 through MoDOT’s Boots On The Ground recruitment program. He came on board MoDOT as a part-time worker in late October 2012, and was hired full time by April 2013. By then, St. John also had gotten a full-time job at Truman Medical Center. Life was improving.
And then their life got even better.
“A case worker from reStart put us in the drawing” for the Constructing Futures program, Ponder said.
Jackson County acquires abandoned or forfeited properties, works with groups like Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate the houses, and then donates them to needy families. The recipients must pay property taxes and keep it insured for seven years, then it becomes theirs free and clear.
Ponder’s new home came with new appliances, play equipment in the yard and other donated materials. A Christmas tree was waiting in the living room when Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders handed Ponder and St. John the house keys.
“I don’t cry, but I cried. It was overwhelming,” he said when he learned they would get their new home. “It’s great to be in our own place, pay our own bills, stay afloat,” Ponder said.
He looks back on where he was, and where he has come, thankful for so much.
“Without reStart, I never would have known about MoDOT's temporary hiring,” he said. “ReStart classes helped me learn how to be a productive citizen.”
MoDOT is more than a job to him. He sees the opportunity for a career. “I’m learning so many new things,” Ponder said. “That’s my favorite part of the job. My advice is, never give up. Keep on trying. Life’s getting better.”
Read more about Ponder's new home and the contest on Kansas City Star