Indianapolis woman overcomes homelessness, addiction through faith
Sometimes there are transformations so amazing that they touch our hearts and inspire us. One Indianapolis woman faced a traumatic childhood that sent her life spiraling out of control, but today, she has risen from the ashes.
LuWanna Jennings is a walking miracle and a woman restored. Today, she walks to podiums wiping away tears as she picks up awards for community service to the homeless.
"Every human being in this world who is hurting are by far, for LuWanna, the most precious and special people in the world," she said.
She walks the talk, helping feed people in need at a food pantry.
"It's important to me because without the help of other people none of us can live in this world," said LuWanna.
She walks the aisles of a church where she preaches to the congregation.
"I don't think that I could be doing anything else and there's nothing else that I want to do," she explained.
LuWanna has come a long way from more than 20 years of walking the streets, homeless and battling addictions.
"At one time in my life, I never thought that I would ever be off drugs. I never thought that I would ever be off the streets," she said.
She took Eyewitness News through the alleys she once called home near a former shelter.
"I would sometimes go around the back of the building and I would see some of the ladies coming and going and they'd give me some food," said LuWanna.
She sought refuge on cold, concrete stairs outside the building.
"See right there on those stairs. See, you can crawl up on those corners and just curl up on the corner," she said, describing how she would sleep outside.
"I see myself there and I can see that some people will be there tonight that nobody will even know about," she said. "I absolutely now have to do everything that I can to help make sure that people don't continue to sleep back there."
She remembers the dread of a dead-end life. She made attempts to take her life several times.
"I don't know if a person can imagine never waking up, wanting to never wake up or even to think because it's just so much pain. It's overwhelming," she said.
LuWanna says she was just a little girl when she first felt homeless.
"It began when I three years old. The first time someone violated my privacy in a way that killed my spirit," she said.
She says was sexually abused for years by a babysitter and her mother's boyfriend. She first turned to the streets and drugs at age thirteen, running away from her abusive home.
"Many people that you see who are disheveled and hurting today, that began for them actually when they were smaller," said LuWanna.
But eight years ago, LuWanna walked away from her past and into the future.
"I have this wonderful new life," she said. "And that life was given to me because I met some people who love people."
LuWanna found compassionate help at several United Way agencies, including the Horizon House, a day center for the homeless. She is now an ambassador speaking out for United Way as a torchbearer.
"I carry the torch that says that humanity is valued and here are a group of people who recognize it and who work for it every day to make sure that you know that you do matter," she said.
LuWanna's home church - Light of the World Christian Church - taught her that she mattered. She says Bishop T. Garrott Benjamin helped rescue her from the streets with constant encouragement.
"He kept his word and I would get a phone call every week that said, 'Do you feel connected?'" she recalled.
Bishop Benjamin connected her to education, helping her get a full three-year scholarship to the Christian Theological Seminary. She will complete her divinity degree in the spring.
Since she left the streets, LuWanna has also completed a bachelor's degree in abnormal psychology, graduating with honors.
"I just like to be present with the people," she said.
Today she takes her lessons from the classroom to the pulpit at Olive Branch Christian Church on the southeast side, where she is a student pastor.
LuWanna rotates Sunday services with the senior pastor and her heartfelt sermons stir the church.
"To be able to share her life experiences, and how her life was transformed because of the care, the nurture and love of others, is a great story," said Rev. Brooks Barrick, Olive Branch Christian Church. "The congregation has fallen in love with her."
LuWanna Jennings lifts people up. She brings them hope through her words and through her actions, helping stock this church's food pantry and helping the homeless, the hungry and the hurting in outreach missions here and at Light of the World.
"If they want to connect with someone that will help them to walk through their journey, we'd love to be those people. This is personal for you," she said. "Somebody did it for me and so that's my way of showing appreciation and I get to be with beautiful people who love to do the same thing."
Luwanna urges us to support United Way agencies that are transforming lives. Learn how you can help.