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Willis' Story

“Speak up for those who can't speak for themselves. Fight for the rights of others.”― Jeanette Coron

Willis has always been a leader. Even when living in a homeless camp, he was the one helping to secure tents for those who didn’t have them, organizing an effort to keep the camp clean, and making sure everyone had the opportunity to bathe and shower. Today Willis has an apartment of his own, a job, and is even helping to teach a class at Iowa Western Community College. Throughout his journey, Willis has always had a gift for helping others, a quality that has helped to bring him where he is today.

Willis came to New Visions in the winter of 2023. His brother was also staying in the Joshua House Emergency Shelter and was dying. Our case workers soon secured housing for Willis and his brother, who passed away shortly after they were housed. “I miss him a lot,” says Willis, “but I’m glad he didn’t have to pass away on the streets or all alone. I’m glad I had that time with him.”

While living at the Joshua House, Willis was given the opportunity to be a part of our first cohort of shelter clients who took classes to receive a welding certificate through our partnership with Iowa Western Community College. Welding was nothing new to Willis, as he had worked in welding at other times in life. Through the class, Willis found that he was able to explain things to other students in a way that the teacher could not explain. “Sometimes it just takes a different approach,” says Willis, “and I know with these guys, it’s just as important to teach them life skills along with welding skills.” Willis’s strong skills were quickly put to work at Katelman Steel in Council Bluffs. Along with his work ethic, his ability to relate to students did not go unnoticed, and the welding program at Iowa Western soon asked him to come and help teach their next cohort with New Visions.

When asked what helped him to go from homelessness to teaching a college class, Willis gives a lot of credit to his late mother. He says his mom taught him about compassion and the importance of always helping other people. “My mother counseled pregnant teens and fought for women’s rights back in the 70’s. She always said that the best way to help people is not to give them the answers, but to point them in the right direction.” Willis continues to put that advice into practice today as he puts his skills to work teaching others about welding and about life.

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