Even two concerted efforts to retire with her husband unraveled when Chris Jensen returned to help young women in need of help
After 20 years of working with unwed mothers, Chris Jensen admits, 'Sometimes I wonder if I get through to them.'
Then comes Mother's Day.
This year Jensen was again overwhelmed by calls from young women that she has helped in the past.
'They say, 'I love you,' 'Thank you,' 'I'm parenting my child because of you,' ' Jensen said.
Those calls aren't an official part of Jensen's resumé, but they are probably the best reason of all why she was chosen to be the first program director of the Community House of Lake Oswego, a place dedicated to giving women and their babies a chance to live; not desperately but successfully.
Jensen has plenty of experience, of course. But her main experience is in loving hundreds of young women who have found themselves in a most difficult situation. That made Jorie Kincaid, founder and director of Community House, believe Jensen was just the right person for the job.
'Jorie's vision is to see this place full,' Johnson said. 'She wants to get a transitional house going, she wants to get a daycare going. Young women are usually here 3 to 6 months, and that isn't long enough. They need more time to become independent yet still have a strong safety net beneath them.
'The daycare would help our girls as well as the community. The girls could look for a job and have a safe place for their babies. Also, even when they're still pregnant they can help out with daycare.'
It was 20 years ago that Jensen helped her first unwed mother and first baby. One Sunday she and her husband Dan simply mentioned in church that their home would be open to help an unwed mother. Two weeks later their pastor called them about a young woman in a domestic violence situation.
Not long after that there were 11 people living in the Jensen home, along with their own three children. Suddenly, Jensen found herself with a new career, but it was no surprise.
'My heart has always been for young girls,' Jensen said. 'I was always the mom that all the kids congregated to, especially teenage girls.'
There was something else, too. Jensen had been a single mother herself for several years.
'I know how hard it is,' she said.
Jensen has worked in shepherding and maternity homes in Vancouver and Portland, and she has many stories to tell. One is about a 14-year-old girl who was literally thrown away by her family. Jensen was able to not only help the girl become reconciled with her own family but become part of the family that adopted her baby. Jensen got to attend that girl's high school graduation ceremony, making her the first person from her family to graduate with a high school diploma.
'It's the little things, not the major things that are so important,' Jensen said. 'You're the person they call. You're the mom.'
She has also observed some disturbing trends about unwed mothers over two decades.
'Now there is a big meth problem, which is why I went back to school,' Jensen said. 'Today you see those mental health issues of girls who have been on the streets, which we didn't see in the past. Their pain is so bad, and they turn to meth to make the pain stop.
'It doesn't matter what their race or income is. Meth addiction goes across the board.'
Twice Jensen was ready to retire. She and her husband had even purchased their retirement home in Vancouver. Still, she chose to continue in her work.
The chance to come to Community House came when interim house director Connie Clemens suggested that Jensen provide a proposal about the program directing position.
'I submitted it to Jorie, and she was very excited about it,' Jensen said. 'I met with the board, and they decided I was a very good fit.'
Retirement? Jensen and her husband have sold their retirement home.
And since she is not retiring, Jensen can build upon a very impressive statistic.
'I recently had my 454th baby,' she said. 'That is how many babies who have been brought into homes that I've overseen.'
For more information about Community House, call 503-699-6167.