From homeless shelter to business owner

Minnesota Family Investment Program, MFIP

JFCS Career Services helps Petra get back on her feet and start her own counseling practice


Before moving to the U.S., Petra had a degree in mental health nursing and an established clinical services career in England, Ireland and Australia. However, now living in Minnesota, she and her family were going through a difficult stretch when they were referred to Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) in 2015.


She was working on getting licensed as a clinical counselor, but without enough income, Petra; her husband, William; and their daughter, Caroline, were living in a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Emotionally, it was a difficult spot to be in.


Nevertheless, thanks to support from JFCS’ Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), they were not only able to get back on their feet and move into stable housing; Petra was able to receive her clinical license and start her own mental health counseling practice. The cherry on top is that she recently contacted JFCS Career Services for client referrals for jobs at her own therapy practice. It’s truly been a remarkable turnaround and JFCS couldn’t be prouder.


“I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with Petra and her family,” said Natalie Moritz, JFCS Employment Counselor. “I learned so much about resilience, kindness, and the strength of the human soul from them. Both Petra and her husband, William, had the skills, drive, and determination to get back on their feet – they just needed some outside support, and I was happy to help them connect the dots.”


Petra grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa. She moved to England in 1999, intending to pursue a career in banking, but decided to switch to a nursing path after getting a job in London at a group home for children with Autism. “I kind of found my niche,” Petra said. “I never thought I had a nursing bone in me.”


She ended up getting a degree in mental health nursing and moved to Ireland for a job. She was living there in 2008 in a nice house, with stable employment, when the economy crashed and her job disappeared overnight. Without many options for her career, she accepted an offer to work in Australia. While there, she was exposed to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), and realized this type of therapy was exactly what she wanted to do.


Coming to the U.S.

Around this time, Petra and her family ended up moving to the U.S. – first to Texas and then to Minnesota, where they had family friends. Looking to start a CBT practice, Petra applied for a visa, and worked to get paperwork from Australia and England transferred here, but found out the process would take between six and 12 months. She also had to become clinically certified in the U.S., even though she had credentials abroad.


“In the meantime, you have to live,” she said. “It was a struggle.” This is why Petra and her family ended up at the homeless shelter in 2015, when they were referred to JFCS’ Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which provides support for families to help them move toward self-sufficiency through employment.


“Without housing, you’re not stable,” she said. “You start doubting yourself. I knew I was in the right place, but it was proving to be difficult. JFCS gave us so much support.”


JFCS paid for Petra’s National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) application and exam, which she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. Her husband, William, had experience as a diesel mechanic. JFCS helped pay for some of his expenses to participate in a program through Metro Transit, where he is now employed as a mechanic. Soon after, their family was able to move into their own home – JFCS’ Hag Sameach program provided them with Christmas gifts and some small home necessities, like plates, dishes and toiletries.


Starting her own business

Petra completed her LPCC certification in August 2018 and then started her own practice, Kesma Flame Lily, LLC, which is located in Brooklyn Center. The name is a tribute to her parents and her home country. Her mother’s name was Kesiwe and her father’s name was Mavave. The flame lily is Zimbabwe’s national flower. Her practice works with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues, providing services that span from therapy for addiction, depression and anxiety to parenting support, family counseling and beyond. Petra was even nominated this year as a LEND Fellow (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) through the University of Minnesota.


In seeking employees for her business, Petra wanted to reach out to JFCS Career Services for client referrals because she knew it was a good idea from personal experience. “JFCS can spot people’s potential – that hunger for something better,” she said. JFCS saw that same drive in her and gave her the support she needed to pursue and achieve a successful career.


For more information on JFCS Career Services, call 952-546-0616 or click here