“All the security we have, all the therapy they have helped with, this beautiful and safe place to live, everything is due to Illumination Foundation.” –Cheyenne Easter
It’s a familiar refrain among Illumination Foundation clients: “We wouldn’t be here without Illumination Foundation.” For Cheyenne and Jeremy, they know this from personal experience. When making this statement in the living room of her new Buena Park apartment, Cheyenne adds, “I would be dead and Jeremy would be in prison. We were both living on the streets; we’ve both been addicted and in jail. We know what it’s like out there. Illumination Foundation gave us the tools to get our lives back, and they helped us get our children back. We are so grateful.”
Cheyenne didn’t grow up on the streets. Until she was 27, she says, “my life was together. I had a good job as an animal nurse. I was engaged to be married. I was ready to move out of my parents house and start my life. And then it all went wrong. My brother died of cancer and then my fiancé dumped me a month after that. I had everything taken away from me.”
To cope with the pain of losing so much all at once, Cheyenne began drinking for the first time. She got a DUI, was arrested for not paying the DUI, and because she couldn’t pay for that, she was thrown in jail. Immediately after getting out of jail, she was raped, and that was the beginning of a terrible downward spiral. Her parents kicked her out for drinking and she wound up living on the Santa Ana Riverbed. She started taking meth to stay awake so she wouldn’t be raped again. It was a terrible way to live.
Blessings sometimes come in small packages, and while living under the 22 Freeway, Cheyenne first met and fell in love with Jeremy’s pit bull.” She laughs and admits, “I loved the dog first and then came to love Jeremy. He was so loving and protective. Jeremy, that is. Well, both of them!”
Things Start To Look Up
When Cheyenne found out she was pregnant, she immediately stopped using and got sober. Jeremy tried to become sober too, but it was harder for him. “Illumination Foundation would come out and bring us supplies and dog food,” Cheyenne explains, “and when they learned I was pregnant, they took me to my prenatal appointments. When I was close to the time I was about to give birth, I knew I didn’t want to give birth in the riverbed. I called Illumination Foundation and asked if they could help me because I was tired of living like this.
“Illumination Foundation told me that there was an opening at their [Theriault Family Emergency House] shelter. I was really scared, but I went. You hear “shelter,” and you think “jail.” I had no idea that a shelter could be like that. It is beautiful. And we had our own room! Sebastian came a week later. I was so grateful to be able to give birth while I was living there.”
After Sebastian was born, Cheyenne and Jeremy got their own place to live: “Our case worker from Illumination Foundation called us into the office and told us they had a surprise for us! They said, “you’re getting an apartment! Oh my God, when they told us that I just started crying. I thought I had won the lottery. I knew what they were offering—security! It was going to be scary, but the relief of having our own home was amazing. The stress just flew away.”
Things weren’t always easy. It was a big change for the two of them and they had a lot of struggles. At one point, Jeremy wound up back on the streets and Cheyenne lost custody of Sebastian. Through it all, though, Illumination Foundation never gave up on them. They made sure she got the counseling she needed, and when Cheyenne discovered she was pregnant with Charlotte, Jeremy realized that more than anything else he wanted to be a dad and have his family back.
Through the Street2Home program and the diligence of their Illumination Foundation case worker, by the time Charlotte was born, Jeremy and Cheyenne were back together in their apartment, sober, going to regular counseling, and last October, they got their son back. At the final custody award hearing in July 2019, “all of the Illumination Foundation case workers were there,” Cheyenne explains with awe and gratitude. “I must have thanked them all like a thousand times. It was there that they told us that they had another surprise for us and that we got this apartment. We’ve only been here for three weeks!
“This place is a dream come true. We even have a yard! Illumination Foundation sponsored my kids for Christmas. They furnished this whole apartment, and our case worker even bought Charlotte a pair of princess shoes!”
Jeremy now has a job through the Welfare to Work program, and although Cheyenne is staying at home with the kids now, she plans to go back to work as soon as Charlotte is old enough for preschool next year. “It feels good to be a good mom and a good wife,” Cheyenne continues as she holds Charlotte on her lap, “I’m teaching myself to cook, and everyone is eating my meals! That feels awesome.
“We’re doing great—the best we’ve ever done. We owe it all to Illumination Foundation. They took a chance on a drug-addicted homeless felon. They took a chance on a homeless pregnant woman. They gave us the opportunity to turn our lives around. We owe them everything.”