Eileen Vizenor’s life changed completely last December when she lost her home and all of her possessions in the span of a few weeks. The experiences were devastating, but none more than losing her two beloved cattle dogs after she couldn’t take care of them anymore.
But these days Eileen has a new companion to share life’s ups and downs with, a pudgy, loveable Corgi who ambles by Eileen’s side. Eileen found Mollie Mae through a listing on Craigslist, and though they have only been together for a couple weeks, Eileen has already come to love her new companion. “It’s a hoot,” Eileen says with a laugh. “I mean, we’re still getting to know each other. I can tell she’s just got a big ol’ kind heart.”
Mollie Mae is just one part of a large support group Eileen, who was born and raised in Portland and Oregon City, has found over the past few months as she has determinedly worked to build a new life. Since December, Eileen has begun selling Street Roots, entered transitional housing, and returned to church. She visits The Downtown Chapel (St. Andre Bessette Church) almost twice a week and sells Street Roots after services.
“The priest there and that church community are just awesome,” she says, wiping tears from her eyes. “They’re just so helpful and nice and people can’t believe that, to look at me, that I was homeless, but my motto is just because I don’t have a home doesn’t mean I have to look like I don’t have a home. I’m getting my pride back and my self-esteem. I’m learning to like myself again and like what I see in the mirror.”
Eileen has also found support in the many wonderful women she’s met through the different centers and shelters around town. She hopes to be able to give back to these organizations in the future.
“If it wasn’t for these programs, this person and that person, this case manager, that case manager who has been kinda herding me through, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m a much better, stronger person, a much, you know, obviously sober person. So I’d definitely like to give back to the community.”
She is especially happy, though, to have begun taking classes at Portland Community College, returning to school after nearly 30 years. This summer term she will be studying business administration and hopes to be able to volunteer at a dog day care and adoption center. “But my personal goal is that within 10 years I’d like to be a owner of my own doggy day care,” says Eileen. “I’d like to combine my love of animals with my business administration, working for doggy day cares or a humane society or an animal shelter. You’ve got to have goals.”
Indeed, what Eileen has accomplished in just a few short months would feel impossible to most after such personal losses. However, Eileen has managed to build up a network of support and a store of personal strength simply from allowing herself to be open to others and welcoming the experiences and knowledge they share. In turn, she hopes to reciprocate this kindness through public service and, later, publishing a book of her experiences to be placed in women’s resource centers around town.
If ever you see Eileen and Mollie Mae selling Street Roots outside of The Downtown Chapel or at Union Station, stop by and say hello. Eileen has compassion and wisdom to share while Mollie, though shy, welcomes the petting of kind strangers. Together they make a heartwarming pair, set to make their own mark on Portland’s spiritual and service communities.