Ernie Tennefos: Courtesy photo Ernestine “Ernie” Tennefos and her 4-year-old grandson Jordan working in the flower garden.
Ernestine “Ernie” Tennefos is an ordained Elder on the staff of Portales Church of the Nazarene and a counselor at the Matt 25 Hope Center in Clovis, where she primarily counsels recovering addicts.
Why do you do this kind of work? You always hear people say you should work at a job that doesn’t feel like work and to me it doesn’t feel like work. I take so much satisfaction in giving people hope. I always say, “I don’t have a magic wand but you can call me and I’ll listen.” And that’s what we all want, somebody to listen. I can’t fix your problems all the time but I can listen.
What challenges have you faced in life? My husband was my biggest trial. I married him when I was 18, right out of high school. I was a goody-goody Catholic girl and he was the new kid in town, little did I know it was because he was locked up through high school. He was a drug addict that was in and out of jail. It’s a miracle that 31 years later we’re still married and he’s not dead. And I hesitate to tell people that because some women are holding on to that hope that he’s going to change, he’s going to stop. Eight out of 10 people die in their addictions.
Tell me about your gardening I’ve just always had this passion for playing in the dirt and watching things grow. I’d rather be outside playing in the dirt than anything inside. I grew up in California, where you can throw a tomato out and a hundred tomatoes grow. I plant a garden here; sometimes it grows, sometimes it doesn’t.
What makes you happy? Now it’s my grandkids. I can come in here and sob with people and hear all their worries and fight for people and carry some of their weight and when I see my grandkids, they take the weight of the world away.
What makes you sad? I cried last week with one of my clients, I literally sobbed because I couldn’t give her hope. I believe in God and all my hope lies in him, but I couldn’t do anything for her except cry with her and pray. It’s heavy. I don’t want to be negative like the whole world is horrible because it’s not. But it’s the clientele we deal with. As many as 98 percent of some of the girls in our classes have been molested, and not by strangers. That’s heavy. Some days I cry.
— Compiled by CMI staff writer Tonjia Rolan