“I had to lose everything to gain everything,” Jodi Berge said. “I had to have a new perspective on life. I had to lose everything so I can relate to these people on the street.”
As a child, Jodi Berge wanted to be a nun. Life’s plans coupled with a tumultuous childhood, long wrought with poverty and abuse, would lead her down a different path. After battling with alcohol and addiction for several years, Jodi found sobriety and began to help people in their own hardships and sobriety journeys. Now a minister for more than 11 years, she uses her experiences to help lead people to a better life through counseling, mentorship, support and public service.
“They call me ‘Mama Jo,’” Berge said. “I’m like their second mother. Because I care, and they need to know somebody cares.”
Jodi works with people experiencing homeless who often suffer from severe alcoholism, addiction, mental illness and abuse. She uses the scope of her experiences to bridge the gaps in communication and understanding between those in need, their families, and community outreach programs so they can get the help and support they need.
“Trauma, pain, mental illness. I see it all, and I understand it. I’ve always felt like if I’m going to be in this, I’m going to be in it all the way,” Berge said. “I don’t call these people my patients; I call them my friends because that’s what they are. And some circumstances are hard. Some situations are very difficult. I try to show people that there’s a different way of living. But you know, they’re beaten down, absolutely beaten down, and they have lost hope. I tell them, ‘… This is not your purpose, to be on the streets and be addicted.’ I’m grateful that I came out of addiction and have this understanding of what people are going through. I’m there until the end. I’ve been through the depths with these people, and they’ll always have a place in my life.”
Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have family and people who care about them. There are countless reasons why a person may not be able to reside with their family, and Jodi often acts as a lifelink between them and their loved ones. She maintains a close relationship with the individuals living on the streets and stays in close contact with their families, sending photos and updates regularly to help provide peace of mind in situations often beyond their control.
“We’re all meant to help each other. To just be there for people. All we have to do is show up. To show up for people that need it. Whether they’re transgender, whether they’re gay, whether they’re black, white, yellow, or brown, just show up. Who are you to judge anybody? So I don’t live in that. I don’t do that. I was judged a lot. So I just don’t do it. I can tell you the truth. I can understand you. I can guide you. But I can’t heal you. I can’t fix you. But I can help you. That’s my model. I’ll try my hardest for you. And sometimes I just hurt for people. I just want people to know there’s a way out.”
Jodi finds immense pride in the work she does. She spends each day communicating with different outreach programs, delivering food and essential items to those in need, finding housing, shelter, or mental health services for others. She counsels those who need guidance, offering hugs and kind words of support, encouragement and advice. Her reward? Seeing those she assists thrive and lead healthier happier lives.
“This is my passion,” Jodi told me with a smile. “This is my career, I just don’t take a paycheck for it. And why would I? Look at all I get in return.”
Jodi ensures every donation made to her ministry finds its way to someone who needs it.
“Whatever comes in, it goes right back out into the community,” she said. “Most of the time, my ministry does not pay for my gas or the upkeep on my car. We purposely put more out into the community than what comes in. God placed this on my heart. I don’t know if you’re religious or not, but God told me that we’ve got to help each other here. So a few years ago, I started to notice that what comes in I need to put back into the community, not only to the homeless but to other organizations and other ministries. Little by little it started to work. Now we’ve got this thing down, where the resources are shared to different ministries and community organizations that really get things done. It’s pretty amazing to witness. So, what comes in goes right back out. We pay rent, we pay for hotel rooms, we pay for food, we pay for medical, we do a lot. It’s a little ministry that can do some big things.”
While she didn’t end up becoming a nun, Berge still became a strong leader who dedicates her life to the service of God and her community.
“I preach very little because that is not my purpose. I’ll do it, but I prefer out in public helping rather than behind a podium. I don’t need that focus on me, I’d rather fly under the radar. I’m a straight shooter. I say what needs to be said. That’s the only way that you can get to people. What would be best is to get to the bottom of it. Get to the problem. I always ask people, ‘how did you get here? Because there’s a trail of breadcrumbs that led you to this place.’ We can help people, but ultimately we’ve got to figure out the root of the problem. You can put people in housing and help them, but until you fix what’s really broken they’re just gonna keep repeating the same patterns over and over again. So we need to have more conversations about mental health and addiction. Let’s try and fix this. Try and fix what’s broken and simply be there for people. It’s about our community pulling together for the greater good for the lost, broken, homeless and the poor. We all have a part to play in this world. Whether that part be big or small, our collective efforts matter. My ministry is just a small speck on the radar of life and I’m honored to serve my brothers and sisters in this world. It’s not about me, it’s about we. Truly, better together.”
To donate to On Bended Knee, venmo @jodi-berge.