Jennifer Safriet, our residential supervisor, shares an inside look at the tough but rewarding work of shepherding young mothers out of homelessness into lives of hope-filled independence.
A combination of compassion, tough love, and great expectations has been the recipe for success for Room At The Inn’s residential supervisor Jennifer Safriet. Jennifer joined the team three years ago and has been a transformative force at the agency and in the lives of young mothers and their children ever since.
What makes her so effective is her deep, personal understanding of the challenges young women face when they find themselves homeless and pregnant. For her, it’s not just a job; it’s a calling. She was made for this role.
Jennifer recently slowed down for a few minutes to share how she spends her days and what it all means to her.
What are your responsibilities at Room At The Inn?
I make sure the clients are following the program the way it’s designed. I provide resources to the clients, an ear to listen, and a shoulder to cry on. I’m there to push them when they need to be pushed to accomplish the goals of establishing their own housing, healthy pregnancies, and healthy babies.
What do you find fulfilling about your work?
I see the girls come in when they’re at the lowest point they can possibly in their lives. First of all, it’s gratifying to see they’ve chosen to bring a life into the world. Then, as I help them along the way to accomplish their goals, I get to see how far they’ve come from when they first arrived to when they left. It’s wonderful to see the ones who do sustain their own housing and do exactly what the program sets out for them to do. It’s like a complete 180.
Can you describe the way you approach your work with the mothers in the program?
I just do what I would want done for me. I tell all the girls: Everybody who comes here has a story. Sometimes I share mine with them. I wish I had known there was a place like Room At The Inn back when I was going through my own difficult pregnancy situation. When they come back and thank me for what I would have wanted somebody to do for me, it means a lot. So I don’t look at what I’m doing like a job. I’m just doing what I would want someone to do for me or my child if she ever found herself in that position. It can be overwhelming sometimes when the moms say, “Jenn, you did this, and you did that.” Sometimes I don’t realize the impact I have on the clients until they come back. Then I’m just like, “Wow.”
How else has your personal story helped you in your job?
A lot of the young women who come to us are not going to adjust or respond well to someone who has never experienced anything they’re going through. Having the experiences I did can be good and bad because it makes me harder on them. I’m sitting in this position now not because someone gave it to me; it’s because I worked. So when I push the girls, it’s not because I’m passing judgment on them. It’s because I know what they can do and the potential that can be effected from it.
I tell them all the time. I’m no poster child for anything. But if I can do it from the age of 14 to now and accomplish more goals than I could possibly set out, then there’s no excuse for why they can’t. They’ve got an advantage because they don’t have as many barriers to work through as I did. I feel like I have a good rapport with the clients because they don’t feel like they’re being judged. It’s not my place to kick you while you’re down; it’s my job to reach down and help you up. The only time I’ll look down on someone is when I’m reaching down to pick them up out of the trenches.
What do you find challenging about your job?
The different personalities in the house at any given time. Sometimes, with everyone being an adult here, it’s hard to get them to do what they’re supposed to do, and it’s a little frustrating when you see the potential a client has, but they don’t strive to reach it. Why? Often, it’s the first time they’ve ever been shown any type of compassion, support, or stability. Some of them adapt well, and some of them do not. Sometimes you get a little pushback, but you know they can do it. They’ve just been told their whole lives they can’t. Right as they’re about to accomplish their goals, they set themselves up for failure, so that’s frustrating.
When the clients leave, it’s kind of like a mama bird that pushes their kids out of the nest for the first time. Hopefully, you see them take flight and go on about their business. But it’s very disheartening to see some of the clients that you had so much faith in and put so much effort into helping accomplish their goals just fall on their face. That’s hard.
Can you share a story about a mom you’ve helped?
There was a mom who came to us who was very, very dependent on drugs. Throughout her time here, I watched the process of her taking the initiative from being so selfish and seeing that turn into wanting to nurture and do what’s best for her child. Sometimes, throughout that process, I saw her suffer while making sure the steps she was taking were in the best interest of her child. In the end, she was able to bring the baby home, and she’s doing great.
What else inspires you to do this work?
Any time you turn on the Internet or the news, you see so many pro-abortion messages. They’re going up everywhere like wildfire, and it’s just very disheartening as a Christian. As long as I’m here and helping save babies, that’s what I like. I’m doing my part in saving as many as I can. Quite often the only thing that’s swaying the moms’ decisions is having support, compassion, and a stable house, and I try to provide that. I think that’s why I’ve been effective here. I don’t run it like’s it’s an institutionalized house. I run it as if it were my own home, where we can sit down and talk. I can say, “Okay, you’re angry. We have a right way and a wrong way to deal with that.” It’s a way to show the young women a different way in life.
What is your educational background?
I have a GED and some college. I have a certificate in early childhood development and was working toward a four-year degree in social work. I chose not to complete the program in order to spend more time setting our clients on the right path. Before that, I dropped out of school in 9th grade because I was pregnant with Autumn at 14.
I didn’t necessarily plan the outcome of what happened. The way I took it was that it was my responsibility to be the best mom that I could be, and I knew the life I wanted for Autumn. I didn’t want her to make the same mistakes, but without labeling her a mistake.
In my eyes, it was my duty to be the very best mom I could be, and I knew what I was going to expect from her and her educational path. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so the day I enrolled her in kindergarten, I enrolled in Randolph County Community College.
She actually got to see me walk and receive my diploma, and I could say, “Hey look, Mommy did it.” I believe that if you can’t walk the walk, then you can’t talk the talk, and I couldn’t force education down Autumn’s throat when I had never had education myself. It’s similar to the importance of a good work ethic. I try to do the best job I can no matter what position I’m in as a fulfillment to myself. A lot of what I do here you can’t find in a textbook.
How is Autumn doing today?
Autumn is 23. She works at Room At The Inn and another job, and is currently taking time off from schooling; she has taken a few different avenues. I couldn’t be prouder of her as a parent because she’s very responsible and respectful. Her work ethic is very good. There are things some parents may have to worry about with a 23-year-old. The only thing I have to worry about is her working too hard.