S.A. woman planned to live in her car. A nonprofit gave her hope

Jhonelle Bean was a 24-year-old college graduate when she decided she could no longer live in the San Antonio home where she had suffered abuse. Though she had a contract job helping deaf children communicate in school, she could not immediately afford an apartment of her own. So she turned to another option.

“I had come up with a plan to live in my car,” she said. “It was a good plan … I just said ‘This will be okay for a while.’”

Money that would normally be spent on rent would instead be used to pay for food and a 24-hour gym membership, she decided. She would shower and work out at the gym, while she planned to use its parking lot to sleep in her car, since the business was always open and had security camera surveillance.

But Bean soon found a better option through a friend — a transitional living program at Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services, a nonprofit near San Antonio’s medical center.

Bean, now 27 and living in her own apartment, said the program saved her from being homeless. After clearing an application, interview and assessment process, she moved into the nonprofit’s transitional living facility in April 2019 and stayed until January 2021.

“That was all God, for sure,” she said of her good fortune. “I didn’t know transitional living programs existed.”

Jhonelle Bean, left, introduces herself to Maryanne Menge at a recent ceremony celebrating a $5.2 million expansion of Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services’ San Antonio campus, which includes a new transitional living facility for single women without children and new duplexes for single parents with children. Bean lived at the nonprofit’s San Antonio campus from 2019 to 2021. Menge is currently living there with her daughter.

Jessica Phelps

The Presbyterian Children’s facility — near the medical center on 20-plus wooded acres, a quiet spot marked with live oaks and deer — provides temporary housing and other services to single women 18 to 24 years old who are homeless and have aged out of foster care or are trying to escape abusive or domestic violence situations. The goal is to help those women become self sufficient.

The nonprofit also runs a single-parent family program, providing temporary housing and other services to single parents at least 18 years old who have joint or sole custody of at least one child. It recently began accepting applications from single fathers in the same circumstances. Similarly, the goal is to help those parents become financially stable.

Presbyterian Children’s San Antonio campus, at 6355 Whitby Road, is wrapping up a $5.2 million expansion and upgrade of its facilities. Those changes were funded entirely by donations from individuals, churches and foundations.

The expansion will provide individual, private living spaces for up to 16 single parents and their children, as well as up to five single women with no children. Instead of paying rent, these clients will be asked to put a portion of their income into an individual savings account, then will take that money with them when they leave to live on their own.

Every week Jhonelle Bean, 27, teaches her friend’s young daughter, Justice James, how to communicate through sign language. Bean is fluent in American Sign Language. She also works at Disability Rights Texas as an advocate for people with disabilities in San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

Every week Jhonelle Bean, 27, teaches her friend’s young daughter, Justice James, how to communicate through sign language. Bean is fluent in American Sign Language. She also works at Disability Rights Texas as an advocate for people with disabilities in San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

Jessica Phelps

Bean is one of the nonprofit’s success stories. She went from needing somewhere to stay to ultimately living in her own apartment and financially supporting herself while enjoying a full and busy life.

The lifelong San Antonio resident and Schreiner University graduate works for a nonprofit, Disability Rights Texas, as an advocate for people with disabilities. She recently adopted an emotional support dog, an affectionate poodle mix named Tux.

Bean is also a songwriter, self-taught guitarist and singer who performs as part of a worship team for church events. She’s fluent in American Sign Language and is currently teaching a friend’s 1-year-old daughter how to sign. She’s a team member with M.A.D. House Domain, a nonprofit ministry group that produces a TV program known as Remnant TV, featuring interviews with Christians in different work occupations and showcasing artistic talents.

It might not be apparent on the surface, but Bean is also a survivor. She suffered abuse as preteen, but requested the details of that trauma not be published. She eventually reported the abuse to her youth pastor. She was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder as an adult.

One day, Bean decided she could no longer continue living at the home where the abuse occurred. She packed her essential items, clothes and guitar, then left.

She’d tried to leave before, but couldn’t find roommates or didn’t have enough money to pay for her own place to live.

Jhonelle Bean, left, leads worship with music at an outdoor church service in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park. Playing music and attending church have helped Bean cope with trauma from her past.

Jhonelle Bean, left, leads worship with music at an outdoor church service in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park. Playing music and attending church have helped Bean cope with trauma from her past.

Jessica Phelps

When she learned about Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services, she applied online for a spot in their transitional living program, then was brought in for an interview and approved. Four days later, she moved into her own room in the nonprofit’s transitional living house, which at the time had room for up to seven women and was equipped with a shared kitchen and a common laundry space.

Because Bean was accustomed to isolating herself in her bedroom at her previous home or constantly making plans so she was always gone, it took her some time to relax and feel safe in her new surroundings and around her new housemates.

She eventually formed friendships with some of her housemates. The transitional living center had two living rooms where they could watch movies and play TV video games such as Rock Band. She also enjoyed the porches outside, a basketball court, a tree swing and the two cats that live on the campus.

Living at Presbyterian Children’s “was definitely helpful because I was able to kind of learn how to relax or sit on the couch, eat at the table,” Bean said.

“I still, a long time, would not close doors normally,” she recalled, noting that she used to take great care to close doors without a sound. “It was a habit for many, many years.

Jhonelle Bean, left, hugs Asher Gaines, 6, at an outdoor church service in Brackenridge Park. Bean, 27, and Gaines became close through church services at his parents’ home.

Jhonelle Bean, left, hugs Asher Gaines, 6, at an outdoor church service in Brackenridge Park. Bean, 27, and Gaines became close through church services at his parents’ home.

Jessica Phelps

“Just learning about myself and how to feel safe … Just kind of learning to breathe — like it’s okay to chill at home. Now it’s safe to do that.”

Clients aren’t required to be employed when they first come into Presbyterian Children’s single parent or transitional living programs. Some don’t have cars or can’t afford day care for their children when they first arrive or had been previously living in temporary shelters. But once they’re living at the nonprofit’s facilities in San Antonio, they’re expected to look for a job or go to school.

Bean and her housemates learned necessary life skills through financial planning classes and conflict resolution lessons. She also learned how to run a dishwasher for the first time at the transitional living center. And she still receives free counseling services today through the nonprofit’s child and family program.

Bean’s success has been “tremendously” impressive, said Mari Molina, senior coordinator for the transitional living and single parents programs at Presbyterian Children’s San Antonio campus.

Jhonelle Bean, 27, is shown freshly constructed efficiency apartments in the newly built transitional living center at Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services’ San Antonio campus. Mari Molina, left, is senior coordinator for the transitional living program. Bean lived at the nonprofit’s previous transitional housing building from 2019 to 2021 after she left a home where she had previously suffered abuse.

Jhonelle Bean, 27, is shown freshly constructed efficiency apartments in the newly built transitional living center at Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services’ San Antonio campus. Mari Molina, left, is senior coordinator for the transitional living program. Bean lived at the nonprofit’s previous transitional housing building from 2019 to 2021 after she left a home where she had previously suffered abuse.

Jessica Phelps

“She already had some accomplishments on her own,” Molina said. “She had graduated college already, which was huge … She was just ready to do whatever needed to be done. She had the ambition. She had the drive. She just needed, as with most of our clients, to have a place to settle down and be at peace and have those basic needs met so that they can focus on healing.

“For Jhonelle, she’s a very kind and compassionate individual. And I think that those qualities have definitely made a difference in her ability to really heal and move on and build her life the way she wants it. That’s true of all our residents that we’ve had.”

Presbyterian Children’s clients aren’t required to believe in God or attend church services if they’re admitted to one of the nonprofit’s programs.

“We believe that the spiritual component is important,” Molina said. “However, we’re going to meet the clients where they are.”

But Bean always had a strong faith in God and said that belief sustained her through the trials in her life.

She believes Jesus Christ understands what it’s like to be abused or abandoned because of what he suffered before his crucifixion and death.

“Maybe you feel like your family members or friends or whatever turned their backs on you, weren’t there for you, didn’t support you,” Bean said. “He experienced that in his rock-bottom time, being arrested for things that people were lying (about) and saying that he did that he didn’t do. It’s the same thing – he understands what that’s like.”

Jhonelle Bean, center, wearing a blue shirt, enjoys a night of games with her friends. Bean has created a tight-knit group of friends that play music and worship together. Nearly three years ago, Bean moved out of the San Antonio home where she had previously suffered abuse.

Jhonelle Bean, center, wearing a blue shirt, enjoys a night of games with her friends. Bean has created a tight-knit group of friends that play music and worship together. Nearly three years ago, Bean moved out of the San Antonio home where she had previously suffered abuse.

Jessica Phelps

Jesus Christ “literally has experienced every single type of abuse that we go through,” she said. “You may feel like nobody understands, but he does. He knows what that feels like. So he’s able to help you through it.”

Faith and spirituality are key components of Presbyterian Children’s mission, even if some clients don’t embrace them. At a recent ceremony celebrating the new additions to the San Antonio campus, the nonprofit’s officials noted a wooden hitching post that once stood outside a barn when the land was purchased in the 1990s has since been fashioned into a large cross that now stands at an outdoor memorial prayer garden.

One of the new additions are eight freshly constructed, fully furnished duplexes containing 16 two-bedroom, two-bathroom living units for single parents and their children. Each unit contains a full kitchen, a washing machine and a dryer and a large porch. This will expand the single parent program’s maximum capacity from 12 to 16 families.

Because the new duplexes offer individual living spaces with no shared areas, the nonprofit is now accepting applications from single fathers with shared or sole custody of one or more children.

A farmhouse that stood on the land has also been converted into a brand new transitional living center, which will accommodate up to five single women without children — women who don’t have their own place to live and are trying to become self-sufficient after leaving an abusive or domestic violence situation or after aging out of foster care.

Each woman will have her own efficiency apartment equipped with a small kitchen and full bathroom. The only shared space will be a laundry room with two washing machines and two dryers.

Clients accepted into the single parent or transitional living program can stay for up to 18 months.

Other additions at the San Antonio campus include an enrichment center, which will have counseling rooms, a training center, a computer lab and a full kitchen for community meals. Two new playgrounds also have been built on the nonprofit’s land.

Presbyterian Children’s relies entirely on community support because it doesn’t receive any government funding for its programs for single-parent families, transitional living or child and family services.

The nonprofit — which started in 1903 as an orphanage in Dallas — runs other campuses in the North Texas cities of Waxahachie and Itasca, the latter location serving as a “foster care village.” The organization offers services through numerous other offices around the state.

It also has campuses and provides services in Louisiana and Missouri.

As a survivor, Bean has words of encouragement for anyone feeling stuck in an abusive situation.

“I would say even though things may seem really bad right now, don’t think it will be like that forever,” she said. “I can’t say it’s going to get better in a year or three years or five years. But … things ebb and flow.

“I would definitely say God has a good plan for your life — to help you and not hurt you. Even though others may have hurt you, just know that it’s not always going to be this way … Just know that there are people out there to help you. Try, if you can, to look into resources for domestic violence … Take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.

“Don’t feel like you’re above help.”

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