Homeless mother helped by kindness of strangers plans to pay it forward

Good Samaritan Cherish Doutrich (left) reunites with Jenedith Fontanez and her 7-month-old baby, Isaac, at Fontanez's new apartment.

Against all odds, Jenedith Fontanez finds herself sitting in her very own apartment as hundreds of messages of hope and kindness from complete strangers flood her phone.

A sofa will be delivered Saturday morning, a love seat will be dropped off in the afternoon, boxes of clothing will handed over in the evening and beds will come on Sunday.

But, more importantly, her daughters will finally have a place they can call home. 

It’s a stark contrast from where Fontanez was two weeks ago: trudging down the street with a baby in her arms wondering when their next meal would come and where they were going to sleep that night. 

Then a passing driver pulled off the road and offered her a ride. That simple act, along with a $500 gift, changed her life.

But what may be even more inspirational  than the kindness of one person is the outpouring of support Fontanez has received from dozens more who have responded to the single mother’s story.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who have contacted me to offer food, baby-sitting services, furniture, clothes for the kids — all kinds of things,” she said Friday afternoon. “This is really helping me get back on my feet.”

And, she said, the compassion her family is experiencing will serve a larger purpose.

The 23-year-old mother of three vowed to help others overcome the same struggles she once faced by building a network that will link good Samaritans with those in need.

“I know how hard it is to find your way out of the system. You’re so busy worrying about finding a place to stay that it can keep you from focusing on finding a job,” she said. “Taking someone off the street can make all the difference in the world.”

Her goal is to create a program that focuses on assisting single parents while they battle through homelessness and poverty. It’s a project she hopes will up and running in a few weeks with help from the couple that extended their hands to lift her up.

Andrew and Cherish Doutrich had given her a ride, bought Fontanez and her baby food and slipped $500 into her diaper bag. The money was used to put a deposit down on a one-bedroom apartment in East Lampeter Township.

Fontanez, who usually goes by Jenni, said she had just started working as a nurse’s aide at a local hospital but couldn’t put together enough money to find housing. She’d been homeless for several months, staying sometimes in shelters, sometimes in rooms rented from friends and relatives.

She was struggling to care for her 7-month-old infant, Isaac David. Her daughters — Inelis, 7, and Arielis, 5 — have been living with their father for the past few months.

Now, with the help of many more who read her story, her family will be reunited in their new home.

And once her children are settled in, Fontanez said she will turn that kindness toward others — she already has a few people in mind.

A graduate of McCaskey High School’s Teen Elect program, a support group for students who are pregnant or parenting, she returns to the classroom often to talk to young girls and boys in desperate conditions.

“There are a lot of people out there that just need someone to take that first chance on them,” Fontanez said. “I’ll be fine. Now it’s time to help other people out there.”

Karen Shuey is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer who covers state and federal government and politics. She can be reached at kshuey@lnpnews.com or (717) 291-8716. You can also follow @Karen_Shuey on Twitter.