Dana Cruse was excited to talk about the progress her special needs student was making. Then she learned about the hardships the family had to overcome.
As CBS Denver reports, Cruse teaches preschool in Fort Collins, Colorado. This year, she welcomed 4-year-old Jenna Aubuchont into her classroom. Jenna is autistic and nonverbal, and Cruse — who hopes to be a speech pathologist one day — was immediately drawn to the little girl.
Cruse told CBS that her educational background sparked her interest in Jenna, and she was taken by how intelligent the girl is. She said, “I think I’m teaching her something, but she’s teaching me way more.”
While Jenna might not be able to speak, she clearly communicates joy and affection. Cruse wrote on GoFundMe:
[I]t’s safe to say I’m completely infatuated with her. I would describe her as curious, goofy, and clever. She loves to paint, climb, and organize toys into collections. She loves to ride the school bus, read books in our library, and be chased around the playground. Her smile and laughter bring joy to everyone around her.
Excited at the progress Jenna is making at school, Cruse called Jenna’s mom, Bethany, to discuss her daughter. That’s when she learned about what the family had gone through over the past several months. She told CBS:
“I was just telling her how Jenna was adjusting to our class. I told her everything has been fantastic so far, and it came up that they were homeless.”
Jenna has two older sisters, Emma and Kenna. Until recently, the family lived in Texas. Then their father developed an addiction problem that cost him his job and landed him in jail. Bethany had stopped working years earlier to care for Jenna, so the loss of the family breadwinner hit them hard.
For two years, Bethany tried to make ends meet in Texas. Then, friends in Colorado persuaded her to move to the area and make a fresh start. They promised to help Bethany and her daughters get on their feet, so Bethany packed up and moved the family to a new state. Bethany told CBS:
“I thought that it was going to be perfect. I had heard so much good things about Colorado, so I said ‘Let’s do this. We can do this.'”
However, just a few weeks after the move, the friends backed out, unwilling to provide any more support for the family. That left Bethany and her three girls homeless. Cruse wrote:
Each day, they line up at the homeless shelter at 3:30pm. Sometimes they get in and sometimes they are left to sleep in the car. From their nights at the shelter, the three girls’ heads have been infested with lice, time and time again. Bethany is desperate to begin working full time, but her hours are limited when she has to line up at the shelter every afternoon and keep her daughters home from school when they have lice.
After hearing about what Bethany was going through, Cruse felt like she couldn’t sit on the sidelines. She told CBS that, “Their problems kind of became my problems, and I couldn’t just keep living my life knowing she was struggling.”
The teacher began fundraising to get the family a place to live. In addition to starting a GoFundMe campaign, she also created a raffle.
Cruse says her goal is to get the family into a two-bedroom rental home by Christmas. Not only will a stable home give Jenna the foundation she needs to improve, but it will help the whole family find their feet.
Bethany was overcome by the teacher’s efforts to help. She told CBS:
“I was blown away I have never had anybody do that for me. I cried, honestly. I cried a lot.”
And that’s not Cruse’s only goal. She wrote on GoFundMe that she believes Jenna will be able to develop language skills in the future, and she wants to be there to see it:
“My biggest wish is to witness Jenna telling her family that she loves them someday. Bethany is one of the most loving mothers in the world and will do anything for her daughters. I hope we can all help her give her children a home.”