Overcoming homelessness while a full-time college student and working 20 hours a week is not an easy feat, but for Shimaya Jones, one of six children living with her mother and grandmother, it was the catalyst that would start her on the path to becoming the 2022 YWCA Women of Achievement Empowerment Award recipient. This award recognizes a woman who, with the help of a YWCA program, becomes empowered and enabled to pursue and achieve economic, education and professional goals.
Ms. Jones was born and raised in Charleston WV and grew up living in with her siblings, her grandmother and her mother. Her mother worked two jobs to try to make ends meet but after being evicted from their apartment Shimaya and her family found themselves staying at the Best Western on Washington Street with no hope to save up to have the deposit and first month’s rent for a new place. At this time, the family split up with some going to stay with friends and Shimaya, her grandmother and little sister going to stay at the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women and Families.
Ms. Jones, who was only 22 at the time, was enrolled full-time at West Virginia State University to become a social worker and began an internship at Piedmont Elementary. After living at Sojourner’s for two months, her case manager recommended her for the YWCA Alicia McCormick Homes transitional living program and she was accepted. In turn, Shimaya’s grandmother, who was her source of strength and greatest supporter, entered the YWCA Empowerment Homes for chronically homeless, disabled women the same day that Shimaya entered the Alicia McCormick Homes.
During her time at the Alicia McCormick Homes Ms. Jones worked tirelessly to move forward. In addition to attending college full-time, Shimaya managed to pay off utility debt enabling her to secure permanent housing and willingly took over custody of her younger sister in order to provide her with a more stable home environment. Always encouraged and inspired by her grandmother to stay on track with her studies, Shimaya proudly graduated from West Virginia State University in December 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Social Work becoming the first in her family to attend and graduate from college.
Following graduation, Ms. Jones began working as a Case Manager for the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter where her journey came full circle, as she became an employee of the very program that helped her years before. Shimaya found and secured permanent housing for her and her little sister and continued working for the YWCA Charleston next as a Residential Aid at the YWCA Shanklin Center for Senior Enrichment and then becoming the Community Engagement Specialist for Sojourner’s Shelter until 2019.
Today, Ms. Jones is the Housing First Case Manager with Covenant House and helps chronically homeless individuals who have mental, or substance abuse diagnosis find housing. She is honored to help others who are in some of the same places as she was and encourages them that there is a light at the end of tunnel.