April 11, 2018

Home at last

Jordan Wetterlind overcame homelessness to find his way to UW-Superior

Jordan Wetterlind ('20 Social Work) didn’t think there was anything particularly unusual about his childhood until he took a social work class and watched a video about people living in poverty. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, those people have it pretty good,’” he said. “That was the moment my eyes were opened and I realized I had been homeless by definition, and living in extreme poverty.”

Wetterlind’s mother struggled with gambling addiction and mental illness and his former step-father was an alcoholic, which led to their divorce and a subsequent downward spiral.

“We often didn’t have enough food. I sometimes had to skip meals so that my brother and sister had enough to eat. I’m not proud of this, but sometimes I stole food because I had no other choice. I’d leave a note to explain and apologize and hoped they would find it. I really didn’t tell people how bad things were because I honestly didn’t realize myself how bad they were,” he said.

“I left home the summer before 10th grade because my mom’s boyfriend at the time, who was a drug addict, had threatened me and I was scared,” Wetterlind said. “It was a big decision because I was afraid of what would happen to my younger brother and sister if I left. But, after weeks of thinking about it, I decided I had to help myself before I could help them.”

Wetterlind had been couchsurfing for some time, staying at various friends’ houses or sometimes even secretly staying overnight in a gymnasium because he had nowhere else to go. He said his mother checked in with him every week or two “just to see if I was still alive,” he said.

Basketball opens doors

An avid basketball player, Wetterlind found a temporary place to stay with his coach’s parents for a period of time and then lived with another couple his junior and senior year of high school.

“If it wasn’t for all the generous and caring people along the way, I never would have ended up at UW-Superior,” Wetterlind said. “No one in my immediate family has gone to college, so I’m grateful for the people who helped me navigate the application process and finances.”

Wetterlind said he chose UW-Superior for the chance to play basketball, for how economical it was, and for the resources and support it offered students like himself.

Sadly, Wetterlind’s first year at UW-Superior had more hurdles in store. His mother unexpectedly passed away during his first semester and he found himself struggling to maintain focus. But, just as it had been in high school, basketball served as a safe haven for him – both as a member of the men’s team and as a student-manager for the women’s program.

“It has been great getting to know Jordan on and off the court,” said Zach Otto-Fisher, head women’s basketball coach. “This year, I’ve sat next to him many times at church on Sundays and I’ve learned so much about him. How he has overcome so much and still has smiles and energy —well, that’s something special. He is a strong young man who is going to do great things after college.”

High notes

Wetterlind also finds refuge in playing the piano. His friend, who is a piano major, taught him the basics and the rest he taught himself. Now, he can often be found playing one of the pianos at Yellowjacket Union between classes.

“I’ve always been an optimistic person and that has helped me overcome the hurdles in my life,” said Wetterlind. “Being here at UW-Superior is like a dream. I don’t know for sure what I want to do when I graduate, but I’m thinking about the social work field so I can help other people like me. My ultimate dream would be to be a public speaker so I could inspire and motivate kids in situations like I was in.”

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