Student Spotlight: Jill Markussen
Major: Human Services
In 2007, Jill Markussen’s life changed.
Her job as a senior executive in the mortgage industry was gone when the lender went out of business. A single mother supporting five children, Markussen found herself out of work and using up her savings to keep going. Unfortunately, she lost her house.
“Eventually, I was referred to a transitional housing program, Bridge Communities in Glen Ellyn,” Markussen explained. “My children and I were accepted into the program. We were considered homeless, and it was an extremely humbling experience!”
She experienced another loss when her 24-year-old daughter, Tanya, passed away in March of 2008. Calling Tanya “my angel,” Markussen earned her GED at the College later that month. Then she decided to continue her education.
“I wanted to work toward a career that would allow me to get back on my feet and support my children on my own again,” she said.
Markussen began taking general education courses and then entered the Human Services program. She earned her degree in Domestic Violence/Child Abuse while maintaining a 3.76 GPA. While at COD, she worked for the College’s Service Learning Program, was president of the Human Service Network Club, volunteered for different community organizations and was the prayer coordinator for Phil’s Friends, a cancer support group in Roselle.
In addition, Markussen earned two scholarships: the College of DuPage Foundation Naperville Rotary Downtown Scholarship and the College of DuPage Foundation Single Parent Scholarship. This help allowed her to continue her education.
The week she graduated from College of DuPage, Markussen was hired by DuPage County in the Senior Services department. She later earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Governor’s State University.
Unfortunately, while attending GSU, Markussen and her children lost their home and belongings in a house fire, leaving them homeless a second time.
“Due to the struggles my children and I had faced with the death of my daughter, losing our home twice and other adversities, we realized that although we had been through a lot, we were always surrounded by wonderful, supportive people,” she said. “It made me wonder how people without the supportive friends, family and community that surrounded us could possibly make it through their struggles and, moreso, why should anyone have to face it alone?”
Markussen and several others launched Project Flipmode, a not-for-profit that helps families facing homelessness or other crisis by bringing the community together to provide support.
“We sponsor one family at a time and do what we can to get them mainstream services and support, and we also collect items that the family may be in need of,” she said. “Flipmode was my daughter’s nickname due to her ability to ‘flip’ situations around and always look for the good in any situation she faced. In her honor, we are turning our adversities into other people’s blessings by paying it forward.”
Markussen also speaks at schools, churches and colleges to educate people on who the new faces of homelessness really are. She has organized successful symposiums held at College of DuPage to spread awareness on this topic.
“It is important to give back to a society that has helped my family tremendously,” she said.
As she continues her work in the community, Markussen's career has flourished. In 2012, she was promoted to Senior Case Manager/Transitional Coordinator for a program called MFP – Pathways to Community Living. She assessed people in nursing homes to see if they were eligible for the program, which then helped place them back in the community.
But one of her passions has always been working in the domestic violence and sexual assault field. In 2013, she landed a dream job at DuPage County as a senior case manager with Adult Protective Services. She was then promoted to Adult Protective Services Investigator and, in 2014, during the Illinois Department on Aging’s annual conference, she was named the IDoA Caseworker of the Year.
In 2015, she accepted a job at Consecra Housing – now Embrace Living Communities – as a Social Service Coordinator, working with 160 seniors living in the subsidized independent living building.
She continues her work with DuPage County, organizing many conferences and the annual New Face of Homeless symposium, which is held at COD.
Despite facing many challenges, Markussen is grateful for the opportunities she has received.
“The personal growth that I have attained due to the assistance and guidance of many of the instructors at COD was invaluable,” she said. “(Retired professor) Maryann Krieglstein went above and beyond to push me to do what she saw was my potential, as did many of the instructors at COD.
“Raising my children alone, paying my bills and continuously attempting to keep my head above water the past few years has been extremely difficult. But all of these challenges have helped me realize just how strong we can be when we really need it, and they have made me a much better person.
“I am really enjoying the seniors I work with now. The skills I learned while at COD have brought me far, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I had while at COD.”
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2017 College of DuPage