By Sarah Ford
Ten years ago, Raelene Johnson could never dream that she might be a homeowner someday, that she would have a car or a stable job. She was just trying to survive, sleeping under bridges and behind bushes in Boulder, scraping together enough to survive until the next day.
Then, ten years ago this month, Raelene found the Denver VOICE and without her realizing it, the whole trajectory of her life changed.
“It’s the very first time in my life I’ve had the opportunity to hold a job that long,” Raelene says. “In the past I’ve never made it three, four months. Never a year’s time.”
In January of 2007 Raelene walked into what is now Bridge House in Boulder looking for help. When she saw an advertisement for vending jobs with the VOICE, she signed up without many expectations.
“That was the beginning of self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self respect” she says.
She struggled the first few months, but as Raelene began to succeed at selling the VOICE she began to find traction in other parts of her life. She went from selling a couple hundred papers in her first four months to a part of the 300 club, successfully vending 300 or more papers in every month and becoming the top-selling female vendor.
“I love people so much today; I care about everybody,” Raelene explains as the secret to her success. “And (customers) can see in my face the love I have for this paper.”
Along with the benchmarks in sold papers came benchmarks in Raelene’s personal life. She was able to break her addictions to drugs and alcohol, and this March will celebrate being eight years clean. She got off the streets, buying her first home and her first car. It’s the VOICE she credits with giving her the hand up she needed to start transforming her life.
“When you’re broken out there in the streets and you have no education, you have no GED, you have mental diseases or drug addictions … who’s going to give you the opportunity?” Raelene says.
A disability put her behind from early on in her education, and kept her from graduating high school. Now, Raelene also proudly tells people that she is a published author after teaching herself to write and read at age 28.
Her writing is one of many ways Raelene seeks connection with those going through the same struggles she did years ago. Now that she has built a stable life for herself, she refuses to leave anyone else behind.
“When you go through all your struggles and tribulations, it’s what you do with it after you come out of it that matters,” she says. That’s what I love about the VOICE. It empowers, it impacts us, it puts us in a position to tell our stories.”
Raelene is still experiencing many firsts. She was just approved for her first credit card this year and is celebrated the holidays by driving across the country to Virginia and North Carolina to visit family she hadn’t seen in over a decade, including meeting four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
It’s the trip of a lifetime for Raelene, and it may have never happened if she hadn’t walked into seen that flyer for the VOICE hanging on the wall 10 years ago.
“I could have never been as emotionally, mentally, spiritually, as happy as I am now if it wasn’t for the VOICE,” she says. “I think if I hadn’t found the VOICE 10 years ago I would have still been sleeping under a bridge or behind a bush.”
She especially credits the loyal readers of the VOICE for being the force behind the change in her life.
“I could not be where I’m at if it wasn’t for all our loyal readers. If this paper went under this year, I would be back out in my circumstances because I wouldn’t be able to continue to have my car or continue to live where I’m living,” she says. “I see myself at 100 years old out here selling the paper.” ■