It was getting harder for Andrew and his wife – with a blended family of 12 – to find a landlord who was willing to rent to them. They had been kicked out of their latest home in Georgia when the owner discovered the family’s size. Homes with room enough for a dozen people at once were not only difficult to come by, they were too expensive on the family’s income.

Andrew suggested they venture west to Arizona. His wife, however, had enough of moving around, and instead went to Wisconsin with seven of the kids to live with family. Andrew moved to Phoenix with his twin daughters and son, doing their best to try to find a place to live. With little success and their money now gone, they got onto the waiting list for UMOM’s family emergency shelter, and within a short period, got a room.

Reeling from the separation, Andrew and his kids settled into their unit, taking life one day at a time while he tried to decide next steps. The family was well supported by their case manager, who made sure they got clothing and other services so they could work on a case plan that could lead them to stability.

Then, one afternoon, Andrew saw something that gave him an idea: a flier for UMOM’s Homegrown program, a course that teaches students marketable kitchen skills to prepare them for jobs in the food service industry.

“I was doing laundry one day and I saw a poster. My passion is food. I thought, ‘A six-week program; that won’t be too bad.’ So, I applied and I was able to get in.”

Andrew loved Homegrown and the freedom to go to class while his kids attended online school, then spent their afternoons at UMOM’s on-site Boys and Girls Club. He enjoyed the camaraderie between his fellow classmates and said he never realized how much he enjoyed doing prep work, such as cutting vegetables, with the right kitchen tools.

Right before Homegrown graduation, Andrew and his kids were placed in an affordable apartment. Most of his classmates immediately found jobs in local restaurants; Andrew impressed UMOM kitchen staff so much that he was invited to stay on as a paid intern. It’s the beginning of his career in the food world, and he wants to take his time improving his craft, then offer his own creations to hungry diners. He plans to start small and offer healthy breakfast options, such as smoothies, and eventually move on to operating a food truck. Maybe one day, he says, he’ll open a restaurant.

For now, though, Andrew and his three teenagers are happy to take in the culture of the west, which he says is very different from where he grew up in the Midwest. Andrew just recently contacted his aunt, saying he wanted to wait to call her until they were settled in their own place. He credits UMOM’s dedicated staff for providing encouragement and the resources to help them get situated.

“To be here and see staff not judging you – that’s a plus; it’s confidence-building. UMOM helped me get through all of this. You are definitely helping others.”