Kimmie Jensen appointed executive director of troubled woman's program after using program to heal
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
Thirteen years ago Starr Peardon wanted to help women who struggled like she did with drugs, alcohol, and jail time. That's when she started Talitha Koum, a housing initiative for women dealing with addictions and criminal records in Greater Vancouver.
Now former Talitha Koum resident Kimmie Jensen is taking the reins of the program following Peardon's March 31 retirement.
"Starr never told me why she entrusted me with the job, but I remember telling her that I wanted to be the director," Jensen recalled. "I think it was a prayer said out loud that I didn't think was attainable."
Peardon started Talitha Koum because she wanted to share the joy of Jesus Christ and how He came into her life, saving her from the pits of despair.
The program takes its name from the words spoken by Christ in the Gospel of Mark. When Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead he says, "Talitha Koum!," or "Little girl, get up!"
Jensen said she has a passion to see women like her grow and become successful. "I really learned from Starr that we love these women and believe in these women until they can believe in themselves. That's our primary purpose: one addict helping another. Then they pay that love forward."
Much like her predecessor, Jensen's road to recovery included drugs, alcohol, and time on the streets. She was born in Manitoba to an alcoholic father and a prescription pill-addicted mother.
"I picked up my first cigarette and my first taste of alcohol at the age of six," Jensen said. "We would steal my dad's five star whisky and a pack of cigarettes and smoke and drink behind his old Valiant. I would put all the cigarette butts in his exhaust pipe so every time he would start the car up all the evidence would fly into the neighbour's yard."
Jensen's parents separated early in her life and her older sisters stepped in to raise her. By the age of 15 Jensen was kicked out of school for her destructive lifestyle. She moved to Winnipeg with another older sister where her addiction progressed to include cocaine and hallucinogenic drugs.
A year later Jensen was caught stealing from houses she worked in as a cleaner. She moved to Alberta thinking a "geographical cure" would solve her problems.
"I thought when I got to Alberta things would be different for me, but I continued to abuse drugs and drink."
She got a job working in the oil patch where she began a relationship with her boss. The two moved to Salmon Arm and started a family.
"During this time I was drinking and doing drugs, but I was functioning, so I thought I was OK."
In Salmon Arm she had two children. But Jensen's life began to spiral out of control in 1997 when she was introduced to crack cocaine.
"I would steal from my common-law husband, and leave my kids unattended," Jensen confessed. "In 2001 he gave me a choice: he and the kids, or my addiction. I chose dope."
Jensen then drifted to Vancouver. "I lived on Granville for the longest time thinking I was still OK because I wasn't on Main and Hastings."
Eventually Jensen's lifestyle forced her over to the Downtown Eastside where she became a prostitute to feed her drug habit. "I would do whatever I had to do to get my dope."
Jensen served her first long jail sentence in 2006 for two counts of unlawful confinement and robbery. In prison she met a woman who told her about Starr Peardon and Talitha Koum. "When I walked into that house I felt I was going to be OK. Today I know that was the presence of God," Jensen said.
Unfortunately Jensen relapsed after she finished the program when she saw her children for the first time in several years. She said the emotional stress drove her back to the addiction lifestyle.
Jensen realized she had to "do the work" to overcome her emotional baggage. She kept in touch with Peardon while serving another prison sentence.
She returned to Talitha Koum and after a few months Peardon took Jensen under her wing. Now Jensen is the program's executive director.
Jensen credits her success on a total reliance on God. "I was all about self-reliance and Talitha Koum taught me there is something greater than myself."