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Leslie and son Jade

N.D. mom gets second chance, runs with it (video)

Added on Thursday, March 24, 2016

(Watch video) – Single mother Leslie Penass is a new person thanks to an innovative Salvation Army program that teaches families how to be self-sufficient.

Outskirts of Williston, North DakotaSeveral years ago, before North Dakota’s oil downturn, Penass moved from Wisconsin to Williston, N.D. in search of work and a better life for her son, Jade, now 7 years old. She found employment and housing immediately.

“Things were going really good,” said Penass, 27. “I had two jobs. I bought a car. I was taking my son to school.”

Then, things started going not so good.

“I was making bad choices and things happened,” Penass said.

The bad choices were drug-related. Police altercations ensued. Eventually, she landed in jail and her son was placed into foster care.

“I kind of just lost it after that,” Penass said. “I didn’t trust people – it was their fault (my son was gone). I lost motivation. It took me a long time to get out of it.”


Penass spent a year playing the blame game and refusing to be accountable. Thankfully, she had an epiphany: “It all pointed back to me,” she said. “It sunk in that that I can’t do it by myself.”

Williston Salvation Army exteriorAfter Penass was released from jail, she began researching ways she could get help. Soon, she discovered the Williston Salvation Army (pictured). She went there and received groceries, along with financial assistance that allowed her to move into affordable housing.

She also received a pamphlet about Pathway of Hope, a Salvation Army program that provides long-term, one-on-on support for struggling families that want to start thriving (read success story). Each family meets with a Salvation Army caseworker regularly to formulate a game plan, set goals and track progress. Goals include things like finding employment, securing housing, managing finances, starting college, obtaining a driver’s license, and more.

“That’s what I need,” she remembers thinking when she read the pamphlet.

Eating an elephant

Penass enrolled in Pathway of Hope last November. Since then, she’s been meeting with Williston Salvation Army social worker Tammy Tescher (pictured) two to four times per month.

Salvation Army caseworker Tammy TescherWhen they first started meeting, Penass felt overwhelmed.

“I had a big to-do list and I didn’t know where to get started,” she said. “Tammy said I just have to start somewhere, start small. She said, ‘You know the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’”

To illustrate that fact, Tescher asked Penass to draw a picture of an elephant. Penass then listed her biggest goals near the top of the elephant and her easiest goals toward the bottom.

Ever since, she’s been accomplishing the goals left and right. She now has a full-time job, stable housing and – most importantly – custody of her son.

“Now the elephant is almost full – I’m almost done,” Penass said proudly.

Through all her accomplishments, Penass has also developed a strong faith in Jesus Christ. She attends church and Bible studies regularly.

“Leslie is on fire for the Lord,” Tescher said. “She’s hungry. She’s doing so fantastic.”

Penass’s next goals include getting her driver’s license back and attending college. She has also contacted local schools about speaking to students about the dangers of drugs.

“I’m making the right decisions,” Penass said. “There’s nothing that can mess me up now. It feels good. I’m on a pathway to hope.”

Pathway of Hope is offered at all Salvation Army Worship and Service Centers in the Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota and North Dakota.


Penass’s full-time job is at the Salvation Army Store in Williston. In the following video she explains more about her job, what she’s been through, and the good things to come.

Please join The Salvation Army by volunteering or making a donation to support your local community.