As soon as she got her degree in human development from
Cornell, Brooklyn native Jennifer Wassermiller headed west.
She worked in restaurants part-time and also in
organizations serving adults with mental illness, at first
in Albuquerque, where she met a guy from Oregon, then in
Portland. She got pregnant, got married, had two sets of
twins, fled her abusive husband, and wound up in Eugene.
"With four kids I couldn't do social work, so I waited
tables," she says. "People know me from Cafe Navarro and
Ring of Fire." As the mother of a child with autism,
Wassermiller became an advocate for people with disabilities
and started a support group for parents of kids with autism
at Bridgeway House. "I also facilitate a group at home," she
adds. After marriage to Paul Solomon in '04, Wassermiller
carpooled to Portland State once a week. She completed an
MSW in June with a 4.0 GPA and gave one of the commencement
addresses. "I call myself an Ivy League welfare mom," she
says. "Having used services like Womenspace and the Relief
Nursery makes me a better service provider."
photograph and story by Paul Neevel
Eugene Weekly / 6 July 2006