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Destiney McKenzie is an overcomer.

And this Thanksgiving, the former Fremonter is grateful for a local agency that’s helped her through rough times — which have included financial struggles and the death of a child.

McKenzie said she was in an abusive relationship in 2014.

“He ended up going to jail and it was just me and my two children,” she said. “I started to get a garnishment from my ex-husband’s medical bills. So basically, after paying rent and utilities, we only had approximately $30 every two weeks to live on.”

McKenzie applied for assistance through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services but said she didn’t hear anything back.

McKenzie’s landlord gave her contact information for Uniquely Yours Stability Support.

Robin Ritter is chief executive officer of UYSS, a Fremont-based agency that works to prevent homelessness or help people get out of this situation.

McKenzie said UYSS helped her via parenting and budgeting classes.

UYSS collaborated with other agencies so McKenzie and her children, Zaccary and Abigail, could get other assistance they needed.

The agency helped her find a behavioral specialist for her son and therapy at Lutheran Family Services for herself and the children.

UYSS also helped her apply for food stamps. McKenzie said she learned DHHS had lost her initial application for this program.

In 2015, McKenzie decided to go back to school.

“That was with the help of Uniquely Yours because they helped me find the confidence and the motivation I knew I had,” she said.

McKenzie moved to Omaha and went to Metropolitan Community College, where she studied human services.

She was employed full time while working toward her associate’s degree.

McKenzie completed an internship at Uniquely Yours, where she had various responsibilities.

Then in September 2017, McKenzie and her family suffered a heart-wrenching loss.

Her 11-year-old son — diagnosed with spina bifida occulta two years earlier — was on vacation with his dad and sister when the boy had a medical emergency and died.

The child’s obituary describes Zaccary as a smart boy, who “made a huge impact on anyone he came in contact with.” The sixth-grader enjoyed soccer, building and competing with robotics, animals and playing PlayStation.

After Zaccary died, McKenzie quit school for two semesters.

But she went back to school, where she is working toward her bachelor’s degree.

She completed a second internship at Uniquely Yours.

McKenzie also would have an internship at the Stephen Center, a homeless shelter in Omaha. There, she assisted with drug screenings, worked in the kitchen, filed paperwork, answered phones and helped clients complete registration information.

She graduated in August 2018 with her associate’s degree.

McKenzie, who worked with Mosaic in Omaha, moved with her daughter to Wilcox to work there for the organization, which serves people with intellectual disabilities.

Then McKenzie saw a newspaper ad for a job as a family support worker. She applied and got the position at Guardian Light Family Services.

“When DHHS goes into people’s homes, either they keep the kids there or they remove them,” McKenzie said. “They hire Guardian Light Family Services to send in a worker to assist families with certain goals they need to meet — to either keep the kids home or bring the kids back home.”

McKenzie started her new job on Nov. 1.

“This is my passion,” McKenzie said of her work. “I’m so excited to go to work every day because I get to be a part of helping bring families together.”

McKenzie, who lived in foster and girls’ homes when she was younger, notes that her own life hasn’t been easy.

Yet she’s found sources of motivation.

“My children helped motivate me and my daughter now helps motivate me every day since my son is gone,” she said. “(Abigail) gives me motivation to wake up every day, because if she wasn’t here I would have no reason to go to work.

“There are days that I am depressed and if my child wasn’t here I would probably stay in bed all day. Because I have the responsibility to be a mom, she gives me the motivation to get up and continue.”

McKenzie noted something else.

“When my son died, I was so mad at God, but I don’t think I would be where I am right now had it not been for the man above,” she said. “There’s a reason for me to be here and I’m going to keep pushing forward until I find that reason.”

McKenzie plans to complete her bachelor’s degree, then earn a master’s degree in social work and become a licensed mental health practitioner.

And amid life’s challenges, McKenzie still expresses gratitude.

“I’m thankful for Uniquely Yours for giving me the opportunity to become who I am today,” she said. “I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful just to be alive another day.

“Robin tells everyone I’m her success story because it doesn’t matter what life throws at me, I find a way to overcome it,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know how. I just keep doing it.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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