The 16-year-old single mother found herself struggling to hold it together.
She had done well for a few months caring for her newborn boy, but then her home situation took a turn for the worse. An abusive stepdad and neglectful mother led to her moving in with a friend.
But that friend's father was an alcoholic.
She ended up living in a motel on 34th Street in St. Petersburg. As the challenges grew, she sought public assistance, trudging through Williams Park to an office.
"My son weighed 8 pounds, and I had him in a carrier on my front," Jennifer Stracick recalled. "I was dripping with sweat. I waited forever to apply, and all the lady wanted to concentrate on was a Guess watch that my mother had bought me for Christmas years before.
"I'm in front of you, you see that I'm a little girl. … Why are you making my life harder?"
Stracick came to realize it would be best to give up her son for adoption, but the decision was not without trauma. Stress literally made her life a five-year blur after she parted with her son, she said.
But the memory of the insensitive social worker stuck. She came out of the fog and pursued bachelor's and master's degrees in social work.
"I was disgusted that I didn't have any help from anybody, and that was going to be my life's mission, to turn around and help people and not be that type of person," Stracick said. "But I never thought I would end up working with the population that I came from."
Stracick, however, ended up doing just that. She now serves as executive director of Alpha House of Pinellas County, which provides housing and support services to homeless, pregnant women and teens, new mothers with infants and families experiencing crisis pregnancies.
It's rewarding work for Stracick. The facility is a home, and the residents are daughters and sisters.
"Most of these girls have nobody," Stracick said. "They have no family at all. For the most part, their families are addicted to drugs, and they're neglecting them.
"Part of our mission statement is for them to be productive members of the community. I will push them."
Stracick and her staff provide the residents with counseling and important life-skill lessons, but they also offer a lot of love.
As many nonprofit groups have found, raising funds has become a greater challenge. But Stracick soldiers on, hopeful that the organization's fall gala Sept. 25 will be a success.
Reginald Roundtree and Heather Van Nest of WTSP-Ch. 10 host the gala at the St. Petersburg Coliseum. You can learn more about tickets at www.alphahousepinellas.org.
The gala room will be adorned with photos of girls who are thriving because of Alpha House's help.
Stracick, 37, will look at the photos and wonder what life would be like if she had found her way to Alpha House.
She reunited with her son when he was 19 — "the greatest day of my life," she said. They maintain a good relationship, but she still carries pain about all the years she can't reclaim.
"I have really come to accept that I'm always going to feel bad," Stracick said. "It's a void … but working with this population helps with that."
With your help, Stracick will keep helping other girls avoid the life of second-guessing she deals with every day.
That's all I'm saying.