Onya Jensen was once on the streets. Now she spends her time supporting the foundation that helped her.
The beauty that comes with West Coast scenery is something extraordinary to behold. The warm breeze hits your face as you take in the expansive landscape. Trees bustle with wildlife. Bees busily pollinate flowers. You see mountain tops in the distance; the tide hitting the sandy beach….
And then your stomach growls, bringing you back to reality.
Onya Jensen hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with her partner, Terry, whose street name was Pony Boy. They found awe-inspiring majesty in the surroundings, even as they struggled to feed themselves.
“I really do miss waking up on a new beach every day. But eating out of trash cans was not the greatest, and having to walk to find work was hard,” Onya said.
Before leaving Arizona to hit the PCT, both Onya and Pony Boy found support and a family with the Aris Foundation. It's an organization devoted to helping hungry, needy and politically under-represented homeless adults in Arizona. Onya had been on the streets since she was a teen, holding jobs while completing high school. Pony Boy found support from the organization to get sober. The foundation helped get them both off the streets.
Every Tuesday, Aris Foundation provides meals, hygiene products and snack packs for the homeless.
“Pony Boy used to come out every Tuesday and then he brought Onya. They needed help to get off the streets, and we helped them furnish their place,” said Aris Foundation Founder and CEO Katherine Kouvelas. “You would never know she was struggling then.”
Returning from the PCT, Onya was able to get back on her feet with a job as a claim associate at State Farm®. She held a similar position before heading to the trail. And now, she also dedicates her time to volunteering with the Aris Foundation.
“I love seeing the faces. I call them my family. I want them to succeed and get sober and see them happy,” said Onya. “The Aris Foundation means community to me. It’s the community that shows up to that park on Tuesday, rain or shine, with no class separation. A full belly and a warm blanket is all any of them want.”
Now the tables are turned. Because of her volunteer efforts, Onya was able to provide a $500 State Farm Good Neighbor Grant® to the foundation. She used that money to provide a burrito dinner to about 150 Arizona homeless.
“When people like Onya and Pony Boy come back out it shows everyone still out there that they did it. They’re showing them it’s possible. It’s not easy, but they can do it, too,” Katherine said. “Onya is articulate, beautiful, intelligent. You couldn’t get a better spokesperson. She has had to fight for everything and she still stays positive and happy.”
Corporate Responsibility Analyst (Central & Northern CA, HI)