From Hardship to Scholarship, Metro State Student Realizes Biggest Step Still Ahead

Jennine Jeffries is a woman with an engaging smile, a firm handshake and an articulate yet unvarnished way of telling her own story: Broken and abusive childhood home, a frequent runaway and juvenile delinquent, alcohol and drug addictions as she grew up pretty and was in demand as a bartender, a stint in jail.

Jennine Jeffries listens during a recent town hall meeting with ÊU.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver on Thursday, May 30, 2013. A single mother and honors college student, Jeffries attended as part of her volunteer efforts at Project WISE, as she makes plans to move her family off public work supports. Jeffries faces the potential of the "cliff effect," in which she could get a full-time job and salary, but still be worse off financially with the elimination of benefits. Project WISE offers counseling and others services to women striving for self-sufficiency. Joe Mahoney/The I-News Network at Rocky Mountain PBS)

Jennine Jeffries listens during a recent town hall meeting with ÊU.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver on Thursday, May 30, 2013. A single mother and honors college student, Jeffries attended as part of her volunteer efforts at Project WISE, as she makes plans to move her family off public work supports. Jeffries faces the potential of the “cliff effect,” in which she could get a full-time job and salary, but still be worse off financially with the elimination of benefits. Project WISE offers counseling and others services to women striving for self-sufficiency. Joe Mahoney/The I-News Network at Rocky Mountain PBS)

But her story doesn’t stop there.

With determination and hard work, with help from those who believe in her, with an unfading desire to be something more for her four children, she has her life back on course. She’s carrying a shiny 3.97 grade point average at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is a leader in an academic honor society and is a sought after speaker on how perseverance can overcome almost any obstacle.

“Given the pain I have put my family through, given the pain I have put myself through, given the struggles I have been through, I want a career where I can help those who are like me, women in transition, women who feel that maybe they’re not worthy, or that they have no hope,” Jeffries, 39, said. “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

For all this, she knows that the coming step to economic sufficiency may be the hardest yet.

As she prepares for that day to arrive, making the long bus ride each day into Denver from her apartment near Parker, working low wage jobs, volunteering, keeping up with her family life and her studies, she wonders how she will do it.

Can she possibly make, as a new college graduate, the $40,000 or more it will take for her family to minimally survive the loss of the work support benefits she receives, housing assistance, food stamps and Medicaid? The loss of such benefits can plummet families into far worse economic circumstances, even though they’re making minimally more money,  a phenomena called the “cliff effect.”

“I’m terrified that once I graduate I won’t be self-sufficient,” Jeffries said, but there’s no turning back now. “What do I next? I want to be the hell off assistance.”

Jeffries’ story is featured on the Rocky Mountain PBS documentary “Losing Ground: The Cliff Effect,” which can be viewed here.

The Cliff Effect report by I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS is also available on the Web.

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