Queen of Heart: Moving Homelessness to Center Court

Laura Bond

This article was featured in the Winter 2018 issue of Give Magazine

After meeting Dee Clark, Jeannine Montgomerie moved homelessness to center court.

Soon after meeting Dee Clark, Jeannine Montgomerie discovered that they have lots in common. Each has been married for more than 40 years. Each has four children. And although they have different connections to the issue of homelessness, both Deen and Jeannine are working hard to end it, using storytelling as a tool.

Sometimes, however, Jeannine does this while wearing a tiara. She’s the reigning Ms. Colorado Senior America, a title that provides her with a platform to raise awareness about the realities of homelessness and those it affects. It’s a platform she sometimes turns over to Dee.

“Dee is a person of such dignity and grace, and you see that come through in her story of struggle,” says Jeannine. “She speaks so wonderfully about homelessness. When a person is willing to open up, to let someone else in, there’s an aha. You realize it’s so much bigger and more personal than you knew.”

Dee and Jeannine first met in July 2017 at a meeting for the Optimist Club at Heather Gardens, a senior living community near Cherry Creek State Park. Dee was there to share a personal story of homelessness on behalf of the Close to Home Storytellers Network; Jeannine was in the audience as the club’s president. As Dee spoke, Jeannine realized Dee’s story could have been her own, or the story of any of the women she knew and loved.

“Meeting Dee has been key to my journey,” says Jeannine, who moved to Denver with her husband in 2015 to be nearer to their grown children and grandchildren. “When you move somewhere, it takes a while to find your footing, to find your place. I felt a connection to Dee that led me to figure out where my voice was needed.”

Which brings us back to the tiara. In May 2017, although still a newcomer to our state, Jeannine won the annual Ms. Senior Colorado America pageant, which she’d entered somewhat on a whim after new friends encouraged her to step into the spotlight. A former nurse, she’s volunteered in prisons, hospices, and among impoverished communities in rural Appalachia; she also has a background in public speaking and musical theater. That life experience, combined with a big smile and a warm personality, earned Jeannine the crown -- and opened up opportunities to talk about homelessness with audiences across the state.

Jeannine has invited Dee to speak to her church and to the Cameo Club, a group of former Ms. Senior Colorado contestants and winners who come from all over the state. She also made raising awareness about homelessness part of her bid for Ms. Senior America; the pageant was held in Atlantic City in October of 2017. According to local pageant organizers, Jeannine is the first to bring such a clearly defined, community-centered approach to the role of Colorado’s senior queen.

"When a person is willing to open up, to let someone else in, there's an 'aha'."

That approach was sparked by a story. To Dee, Jeannine’s experience -- of being moved to take personal action to help end homelessness -- embodies the spirit and goals of The Storytellers Network.

“We have a commonality, in that we both have a platform,” says Dee. “We’re both sharing stories to spread awareness to people who don’t know how homelessness happens to other people. I appreciate that in her. And as a Storyteller, I’m also proud of myself.”

Close to Home is a Denver Foundation-led campaign to increase understanding and civic engagement in addressing homelessness. To learn more about the campaign and its Storytellers Network, visit closetohomeco.org

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