Keala Jones not only found a fresh start in Rock Island, but now her life is beginning to turn around.
A year ago, Jones was living on the south side of Chicago with her baby boy Kayden Peterson when she decided to escape the violence of her neighborhood. In search of a safe environment to raise now 2-year-old Kayden, she took the advice of her best friend and moved to the Quad-Cities.
"It was my first time away from my family. I was kind of scared," said Jones, who now lives in Rock Island's Century Woods. "But I wanted to get away from the negativity."
Sitting in her tidy apartment with inspirational sayings hanging on her living room walls, the 23-year-old single mom spoke of her life-changing decision.
"There was so much violence," she said describing the sense of fear they constantly faced. "Every time you'd hear gunshots, you've got to get down because you don't know where they're coming from."
After moving into Century Woods, she found a helping hand in the neighborhood Skip-a-Long Child Care Center. With reliable day care for Kayden, Jones went to work at X-Pac in Milan. "They helped me keep a job," she said of the day care.
But not long after, the packaging job became too much physically demanding for her to handle. "I was not able to keep up with the work," she said.
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Unemployed, she applied for various retail jobs in close vicinity of her home and just a few weeks ago landed a part-time job in the kitchen at Rock Island's Hy-Vee grocery store. "It's my first food job," she said.
The same day Hy-Vee called to say she was hired, she was selected for the Quad-City Times Wish List program. "All my blessings are just coming at one time," Jones said as Kayden played at her side with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy.
Very much settled into Century Woods, Jones said she is surrounded by new friends and a network of social services and resources she needs to help raise Kayden. "There is so much help, it's just a better place," she said, adding that her neighborhood is made up of many other single parents.
Jones was nominated for Wish List by Tanisha Harris, family service provider at Skip-a-Long. "I see she works hard and strives to get her baby what he needs," said Harris, who constantly listens for clues about the other needs of the day care families. In fact, she said, it was an earlier conversation with Jones that made her realize Kayden and his mom were still sharing a bed because he did not have his own bed.
"He's got to get out of mine," Jones said. "He sleeps wild. He's all over the place."
For Jones, the budget never stretched far enough. "I'd try (to save) but the money always ends up getting spent on something more important," she said, adding that a new bed kept slipping down the list of priorities. "I knew we could always share a bed."
In Skip-a-Long, Jones has found "another family" and a sense of security that her son is in good hands when she is at work. "I know he's safe and being taken care of," she said.
Harris, who tries every day to do something extra to help one of her Skip-a-Long families, said Jones stood out. "She was one of the ones struggling the most, but trying the hardest," Harris said. "When you can do a little extra for someone, that's what fills your heart."