Jessiann Hodges had already survived the crack epidemic, five years in prison and the murder of her sister. She was raising her own daughter and her sister’s son, working as a restaurant manager, and going to school.
“My story started with me getting in trouble and going to prison,” Hodges tells Madison365. “I’ve come back home and I’ve excelled.”
And then … cancer.
She’s had four surgeries in the last year. She’s now cancer-free, but she couldn’t work for six months and the medical bills were too much. She lost her home, and all she could afford was a 2-bedroom apartment back in her old neighborhood on West Broadway.
“We had two beds for three people,” she tells Madison365, meaning she and her 13-year-old daughter were sharing a bed. The windows were drafty, the walls drab and dark. “Everything I had worked for, to give the kids, was lost.”
So when she saw that the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County was looking for a family in need of a home makeover, to be done and paid for by Fiskars, she thought she’d take a shot.
The Boys and Girls Club had decided to work with Fiskars to give one local family a holiday home makeover, but had some conditions: the housing had to be stable — meaning stable employment was also required — and had to be occupied by a family with children.
Hodges took the shot and submitted the 500-word essay as required.
“This holiday makeover would be a blessing to help reignite the light that was beginning to shine so bright in (my kids’) lives,” she wrote. “It would make the battle of rebuilding much easier on me, the fight is getting old. I am cancer free now and have gained a position as a special education aide here in Madison. We’re starting over from the beginning. We share a barely up to code, two-bedroom apartment in the same neighborhood I grew up in. We’re making it work. A home makeover would give this place life, providing a more motivating space for the kids to live in. A blessing to add to our family’s testimony of survival and continuing life’s constant fight.”
So last Thursday, she and the kids moved into a hotel for a couple of days while more than two dozen Fiskars employees got to work.
“The windows were pretty windy,” says Fiskars Director of Product Management and Innovation Tom Maskel. He says Hodges is a “great lady. She’s got a lot on her plate and is overcoming a lot. It’s a great opportunity to get the team together to give back to the community.”
The work took two full days. The crew replaced floors, countertops, windows and furniture, repainted the entire apartment and stocked the cabinets and fridge with food.
“I am completely ecstatic,” Hodges says. “I can use my kitchen now, I feel comfortable in my bathroom now. It’s just brighter.”
Sleeping arrangements are better, too, since the new furniture includes bunk beds.
“The kids love it. They love the bedroom,” she says. “(My daughter is) ecstatic to have her own bed. I’m elated to be back in my own room.”
Her bills will be easier to pay, as well, thanks to the new windows.
“We don’t even have to run the heat anymore because of what they did,” she says. “My electric bill will be way better.”
“The aura of the unit is more homey, more structured, more stable,” she says. “When we get up in the morning, the energy’s going to be better, everybody’s attitude will be in a better place.”