Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Jill Zimmer receives help from Salvation Army staff

From a mountain of burden to a ‘Pathway of Hope’

Added on Thursday, May 5, 2016

(Watch video) – “I started dating him when I was 16,” said Jill Zimmer, now 34 of Willmar, Minn. “I thought that we were always going to be together.”

As a teenager, Zimmer dreamed that her high school sweetheart would become her husband and provide her with a “happily ever after.” But over the next 18 years, what she got was very different.

She recently found a note from him that was written a decade ago — but, she says  it could have been written yesterday. The letter is filled with apologies for his behavior, promises to not do it again, and how this time — things will be different.

She welcomed him back again and again after he served time for theft, drug convictions, and domestic assault. She’s had plenty of reasons to leave, but in her mind, the reasons to stay outweighed them all.

In spite of the abuse, Zimmer convinced herself that because they share three children that they were meant to be together. She held out hope that one day he would “get it,” and settle down.

Enough is Enough

But in November of 2015, she’d finally had enough.

The family was evicted from their home and Zimmer landed at the Willmar Salvation Army with no place else to go.

Willmar Salvation ArmyFearing that she would be forced to live on the street with her children and grandchild, she felt hopeless. She was in poor health, behind on her bills, and at her breaking point.

“When someone is so overwhelmed and so stretched like Jill they have this huge mountain to overcome and we helped her to break that mountain down into little baby steps,” explained Captain Linda Faye Jones, Willmar Salvation Army administrator. “Our whole objective is to be there for people in their time of need.”

When Zimmer walked through the doors, Capt. Jones remembers how her smile had disappeared. Jill couldn’t look at anybody in the eye. When she talked, her head was down and faced the floor. “She was lost,” explained Capt. Jones. “She was lost.”

Stressed, depressed, broke and worried — that wasn’t even the worst of it for Zimmer.

“I was even contemplating giving my kids up for adoption,” she tearfully explained. “Because I couldn’t even take care of them, I didn’t know where to even start to turn things around.”

A Turn Toward Hope

That’s where The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope program came in. It’s a national Salvation Army initiative that provides long-term, one-on-one support for struggling families with children under 18. Each family meets with a Salvation Army caseworker at least once a week to formulate a game plan, set goals and track their progress. Learn more about the program.

Jill Zimmer Willmar Salvation Army The program gave Zimmer the support she needed. Not only did she qualify for housing assistance, but she also received a tremendous amount of emotional support and encouragement.

“The Salvation Army has helped me to connect with other resources in the community too, if I need help with something, somebody is there,” Zimmer said.

She’s now back to work, providing for herself and her children–living a healthier life, without her boyfriend adding to her stress.

“He was just another child for me to take care of,” she now understands. Breaking up with him and breaking the cycle of abuse was key to getting back on her feet.

A Brighter Future

Zimmer says she is still recovering and growing, but with support, she’s no longer overwhelmed. She credits the Pathway of Hope with helping her create a network of people to lean on, when she needs them.  One piece of advice she lives by?

“Stick to the list of things I need to do each week, which helps me take action when I need to,” she smiled. “And take it one day at a time.”


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