The following is a testimonial from Dianna Jackson-Miller, a graduate of Burlington Building Bridges. It has been lightly edited.

Growing up in Chicago, Illinois, was rough. I can remember fighting all the time—fighting in school to learn, fighting at home to not be in the home due to my grandmother’s drinking and due to the household being unsafe. I was living in hell, that’s what I would call it; from age 5 to age 18, I was living in hell.

With all that went on in my home, out of my house, in school, I managed to survive. I survived by fighting— fighting to get out, fighting to not be molested and abused, and most of all, fighting to finish school.

At age 15, I got pregnant, and at age 16, I gave birth to my son, Rashaan, and boy, was it easier than everyone made it out to be. I went to school pregnant, still fighting, but this time I was fighting to keep my son from the things I had to endure as a child. After becoming pregnant, I attended an alternative school. My goal for my son was that he would grow up in a safe home and a safe neighborhood and not have to fight the way I had to fight.

As the months went on, I graduated from high school, and my cousin from Burlington, Iowa, came to visit me after graduation and told me how she was living a good life in Iowa and that she felt that my family and I should move there. I had been seeing a guy named Chris, and he had been helping me take care of Rashaan and had been the one who put in a good word for me to get a job at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. That was great and all, but I wanted more for my son. I wanted him to be in a different neighborhood growing up, I wanted him to feel safe and secure, and I wanted to feel safe and secure, so my boyfriend and I moved to Iowa.

When we arrived in Iowa, I had culture shock, so I had to adjust to it. I had been in Iowa for only a couple of weeks when I got a job and my own place. Life was looking good; it felt great being able to pay bills and not worry about feeling secure or safe. I was living the dream when I came to Iowa.

Years went on, and then things started to go back downhill. My boyfriend became insecure, jealous, and angry. We were fighting and arguing, and I started to feel unsafe again. I started to feel like I had to fight again within my home, but this time, with a person I thought loved me. When I noticed the change, I had to make another change: a change to leave him to feel secure and safe again.

I left but felt broken. Now, instead of having one son, I had four—four sons to protect and raise on my own. It was hard after leaving my boyfriend. I met another guy friend as years went on, and we got married and had a daughter. Things were rocky at the beginning because not only did I have five children now, but I was married to an alcoholic.

Could life get any better? I sarcastically asked myself. I had somehow ended up in a worse situation than before. Rico was his name. I stayed with Rico for 10 years, and one day, I just got tired—tired of the drinking, the arguing, the fighting, the disrespect, and I somehow ended back up in Iowa, where my ex was.

We eventually got back in contact with each other and were back and forth talking to one another, but I was so broken, and he was broken. It didn’t work out with being a family, as I always wanted, but I somehow could not get it, did not get it. That is, until I signed up for a program called Bridges. I was sent two angels, Mona and Cynthia, from heaven above. They had started working with my family, my five children and me. At the time I was a single mom with four boys and one girl.

They did such amazing things with my family, such as encouraging, supporting, and being there for me when I needed someone—someone to talk to, someone to support me, and, most of all, someone to help me change into the person I am today.

Cynthia had a bright idea, that because I was so smart and wanted to do something better with my life, that I should open my own business. I had always managed other places here and there, but I never ran my own business. It took time, determination, and focus to get all that was asked of me done: certifications, insurance, classes, and most importantly, support and encouragement. I was able to eventually open not one but two businesses: Dee-Dee’s Cleaning Services and Dee-Dee’s Lil’ Cottage.

I could not have become so strong, determined, and successful without the help of Young House (Cynthia Cantonwine), Bridges (Mona Ash), and Getting Ahead partners (Carol and Bob Bartles). I could not have completed the steps it took without the help of my angels from above, resources, my community, and my family.

Now I am happily married with five children and four more bonus kids to add to my success story and will continue to fight the good fight of surviving.

Thanking God for staying in the midst of it all.