Stephanie Momon has experienced homelessness, survived two debilitating car accidents, fought off breast cancer and watched her mom suffer from dementia. You might expect someone with that life experience to be cynical or bitter. Instead, Stephanie has earned an Associate’s Degree in Social Services from MATC, a Bachelors in Science from Springfield and is currently working on her Masters with a concentration on mental health so she can focus her life on helping others. She spends her free time volunteering with the Gathering.
In December, Stephanie shared her amazing life journey with me.
“Well, in the 80s I was homeless. I would come here [to the Gathering] and eat breakfast so I was already aware of it. And then in the spring my Mom and I just started coming down here. She wasn’t eating good and I wanted her to eat a well balanced meal, so we would come down here and eat breakfast. In the fall, she gradually developed dementia. My Dad is her caregiver and thought she shouldn’t come down here no more so I decided to start volunteering in October.”
Stephanie has held every volunteer position imaginable at the Gathering’s breakfast program.
“Oh, I’ve volunteered behind the table, gave out juice and desserts, clean and wipe the tables, clean up, and I also worked in the kitchen. I refill and hand out milk in the pitchers and I basically just do whatever is needed. On one occasion when I was volunteering, a guest asked me for some extra dessert and I gave it to him. He said ‘thank you’. It gave me a big smile on my face and that good internal feeling.”
She discussed her many obstacles in life and how they instilled a commitment to service for others within her.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. I didn’t know anything about breast cancer. I became depressed and wanted to give up and die, but my Mom was by my side throughout most of my treatments. She would tell me, “You can do all things in Christ who strengthens you.” I believe that’s what got me through it. I went through 4 months of chemo, lost all my hair. I was bald as a new born baby. Went through 7 weeks of radiation and then I was on 2 pills a day for 5 years. Then I was hit by a drunk driver in 2008. I flew up in the air and came down. I was lying in the street, my left arm was turned backwards. I was in Froedtert Hospital a week. I had two options: either I could have surgery (the doctor couldn’t guarantee me my arm would be the same as it was) or I could let it heal on its own in a sling. I decided to let it heal on its own and I couldn’t use my arm. I stayed with my Mom for a week. My Mom took good care of me, fed me, washed me up, she was so good to me!”
Throughout her whole life, Stephanie and her mother have been close. Stephanie talked about a strong network of family and friends, including her long-term boyfriend. Stephanie explained they have a, "deep trust, commitment, and love for each other." She explains that her boyfriend and her mother pulled her through a lot of hardships and their love and family bond keeps her going.
“In 1981, I was driving my car on the highway, on the street, it was icy and slippery - it was January. My car ran off the road into a telephone pole and my head went through the windshield. I was in a coma for a few months. One occasion I could feel some pressure on my hands. I opened my eyes and my mom was squeezing my hand and she shouted, ‘Praise the Lord! My baby’s back!’ I was diagnosed with a head injury. I couldn’t read, write, walk or talk.”
After months of rehabilitation, Stephanie is now able to do all of those tasks and more. She has been employed by Summerfest, State Fair, JC Penney’s, Boston Store, the Census Bureau and been a security person, until she took a hiatus to finish up her Master’s Degree.
When asked what the Gathering means to her, Stephanie explained, “It’s a place where individuals can come, sit down, eat a good meal, enjoy themselves, fellowship with each other and just have a nice time; be thankful and grateful for those they know and those they care for and to just be with each other.”
Over this past Christmas season, Stephanie invested in Santa hats for all the volunteers to wear. She did it simply because she wanted, “everyone to get in the Christmas spirit.” We are grateful for her spirit, her dedication to the Gathering and a life of service, her big smile and her story. Stephanie, your resiliency is a truly inspiring example to all of us.