Nancy Strong is a woman who lives up to her name. She has been through a lot in her 50 years and the last four have been the toughest: losing her job, becoming homeless, and grieving the death of a son, all while raising a teenage daughter. But Nancy has persevered and is making great strides to self-sufficiency – with inner strength and determination and some love and support from The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia.
“I didn’t want to be homeless. No one chooses this. My thing is I needed a job. I was patient and everything came out positive,” she said with a smile.
Nancy was working as a warehouse packing instructor for several years when the Philadelphia business abruptly closed in December 2011. Although she actively looked for a new job, she kept coming up empty. Tragedy struck in May 2012 when her son passed away. Months went by with no job prospects, money dried up, which led to having no place to live. Nancy entered an emergency housing program during the summer of 2013. Despite a desire to get back on her feet, Nancy felt like she was in limbo, making no headway with securing employment or transitioning into permanent housing with the city.
“It was hard. It was very tough emotionally on my daughter. You really have to turn to your spirituality, talking to the Lord,” Nancy explained.
Her prayers were answered in September 2015 when she transferred to The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia’s Red Shield Residence. There she worked with case manager Vivian Hill, who provided guidance and support, and upon hearing about Nancy’s job pursuits, Vivian connected her to The Salvation Army’s Soup’s On! Project, a culinary arts training and job placement program.
Under the instruction of Arlene “Wiggy” Olson, Soup’s On! teaches students facets of the culinary arts industry, including cooking, marketing, distribution, and business management. Soup’s On! participants like Nancy earn a ServeSafe certificate from the National Restaurant Association. The program offers a combination of hands-on work experience preparing foods for sales, catering and classroom training.
“We had so much fun,” Nancy recalled. “Because Soup’s On! is in a small setting, you get more of the instructors’ attention. They cover everything. Wiggy said, ‘Treat this class as a job,’ and that’s what I did.”
Nancy successfully completed the training course in December 2015 and soon landed a job in the bakery department at a local supermarket
“Nancy was such a pleasure to have a student,” Wiggy said. “She is so full of positive energy. She made me proud of the work I do too.”
Two months later, there was more good news. The Salvation Army helped Nancy secure permanent housing with the city.
“I am very proud of her and all of her accomplishments and efforts” said case manager Vivian Hill. “It’s a privilege to work with Miss Nancy.”
Nancy can’t wait to have her own kitchen again, especially now that she is equipped with formal culinary skills. And as she prepares for the next phase in her life, she has a grin from ear to ear. Everything is finally coming together.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Thank God for The Salvation Army.”