Jenny at Home in Big Family of 15—and in the Kitchen

By Shaunessy Jones, Director of Community Engagement

Jenny, a 17-year-old Treehouse Graduation Success participant, met her Education Specialist, Dani Erickson, back in October. Dani beams when she says that Jenny’s growth from then to now has been phenomenal.

Having bounced around multiple placements, Jenny recently moved in with Heather. Their family is big—15 people to be exact—and she’s relishing this new home environment.

“Stable, positive placements make all the difference for youth experiencing foster care,” Dani said. “I can see how living with Heather has been a game changer for Jenny.”

Described as a comedian with a dry wit who provides clever commentary, Jenny is also the one who takes care of everyone. It makes perfect sense that she aspires to become a nurse. A compassionate young woman, she wants to help people who are sick. If she doesn’t go into nursing, she thinks teaching will be another option.

Jenny just started in earnest with NEXT, a Vancouver, Wash., organization that supports youth with completing their GED. Dani and Jenny only got to work together in person about a month before the holidays and then COVID-19 happened.

Now they keep in touch through text, email and video chats. Treehouse made sure she had a cell phone and laptop to keep up with schoolwork and her support system. Together, Jenny and Dani are navigating what learning looks like in this new reality, as Jenny endeavors to receive her high school equivalency.

They have been working steadily down Jenny’s incentive checklist—a tool Treehouse Education Specialists use to support youth in exploring opportunities such as volunteering or writing a cover letter. As students check off tasks from the list, they can earn gift cards. The checklist is another way Treehouse engages students as they work to accomplish bigger goals and prepare for life after high school.

When Washington went into shelter in place, Jenny channeled her boredom at being stuck at home into cooking. As a diabetic, it’s imperative for Jenny to learn how to control her sugar intake. She loves to make teriyaki chicken and brown rice, and her favorites are dishes that include peanut sauce.

If the other 14 members of the house don’t like what she’s cooking, they can have a peanut butter sandwich. Don’t question the chef! She often has to increase the recipe portion by six times the amount just to feed all those hungry mouths. She’s dabbled in desserts, too, making angel food cake and strawberry shortcake using monkfruit.

When she isn’t tackling school work and new recipes, Jenny likes to play basketball. She’s learning the ukulele and enjoys listening to chuki, Indonesian reggae.

Jenny’s foster mom Heather is grateful for Treehouse: “It’s really amazing to have Treehouse in our kids’ lives, especially with so many teenagers playing sports. The ‘extras’ Treehouse pays for make a difference and give them opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”

Jenny has learned that there are people, like Dani, who want to support her as she works toward reaching her goals. She hopes other youth experiencing the foster care system will see that and take advantage of it.

“Don’t be ashamed if you are in foster care,” Jenny said. “There are people who are on your side.”

Interested in supporting Treehouse and youth in foster care? Make a gift at treehouseforkids.org/donate.

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About the Author

Shaunessy Jones is the Director of Community Engagement at Treehouse. In her role, she leads a team that connects the community to the mission through volunteering, hosting donation drives, fundraising and cultivation events, and outreach. She coaches youth to authentically share their personal stories of resilience and is the staff liaison to the Treehouse Ambassador Board, a group who raise awareness and funds on behalf of Treehouse.

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