Dec. 25, 2007
Couple builds a successful life after
troubled teen years
By Linda Hanson
As Patty and Jeff Hughes open their gifts this
Christmas, there’s one gift that won’t be covered in
wrapping paper and sitting under their tree.
It’s the gift of a good life they have crafted
Just a few years ago they were struggling teens
living on their own. Now, at age 23, they are settled in an apartment
in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood. Both have good
jobs and dream about having children and buying a house.
And on this first Christmas together as a married
couple, they have each other.
When Patty was 17, she lived in her own apartment
while attending Denfeld High School. When Jeff was 17, he dropped
out of Denfeld and his family moved to Washington state. He decided
to stay in Duluth and lived with a series of friends, sleeping on
The two met through a Lutheran Social Service
program called “Oh No! 18,” which teaches independent-living
skills to people ages 16-21. Jeff also lived in LSS’s Renaissance
Transitional Living program, which provides housing and supportive
services to homeless youths. He was one of the program’s first
“Our paths led us together,” Jeff
Jeff said he was attracted to Patty because she
is down to Earth and nice to everyone. “She’s always
willing to help someone,” he said.
Patty said Jeff not only is nice, but he’s
always there for her when she needs him.
Their shared background as teens who lived on
their own helps them understand each other. They also give credit
to the LSS staff for helping them find their way at a difficult
time in life.
Patty said “Oh No! 18” taught her
how to pay bills and keep a job, as well as leadership and communication
skills. After she completed the program, she continued as a volunteer
and served on the LSS advisory board for two years.
Jeff lived at Renaissance from March to June 2002,
then left to live in an apartment with a friend. He realized he
wasn’t prepared for the realities of living on his own and
returned to Renaissance, living there until January 2004.
During his second stay, Jeff held a full-time
job setting up events at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center,
took part in “Oh No! 18” group meetings and attended
classes to enable him to receive his General Educational Development
diploma. He was able to save $1,100, which he used for a deposit
to rent an apartment and to buy furniture and a stereo system.
Without help from LSS, Jeff said he probably would
still be sleeping on the couches of friends. “I’d have
no GED, no ambition,” he said. Patty said she probably would
be living with her aunt or her mother — “whoever had
Jeff completed studies at Lake Superior College,
helped him get a job at United Health Care as a health claims analyst.
Patty works in SMDC’s child-care center and hopes to complete
an associate’s degree at Lake Superior College.
Angie Skogstad, program manager of “Oh No!
18,” said it’s not uncommon for young people who meet
in LSS programs to date, but it’s rare to have a couple get
Skogstad has known Patty since she was 15 years
old and met Jeff when he was 17. She has watched them grow up and
mature. “They’re like my kids,” she said.
When they became a couple, Skogstad wondered how
it would work out because Jeff is mellow and laid back, while Patty
can be intense and serious. “But it works,” she said.
“They have a give and take.”
Skogstad is proud of the life Jeff and Patty have
formed together and is happy for them. In working with youths through
the LSS program, she doesn’t always get to see the sort of
continued progress that Jeff and Patty have made because sometimes
people move away and she doesn’t hear from them.
Kevin Mullen, supervisor and case manager at Renaissance,
has known Jeff for about six years and has gotten to know Patty
through her relationship with Jeff. While programs can provide direction
and support, they also take motivation by the individual, he said.
“With Patty and Jeff I see two people determined
to make positive changes,” he said. “Now they’re
a success in many ways.”