Like many people, single mom Denni had decorated her refrigerator. Personal photos and university paraphernalia covered the front of her appliance. But it was one gorgeous postcard that caught a stranger’s eye – and spurred her into action.
The photos taped up in her kitchen showed the highlights of a happy life, but it hadn’t been an easy one for Denni, her son and her two daughters. Her husband left all four of them when the children were just three, five and six years old.
But he didn’t just walk away – he took everything with him, according to Denni. “I was left with absolutely nothing,” she told The Oprah Winfrey Show. Without money or resources, she and her young children were forced out of their home.
“We were going in and out of homelessness,” Denni recalled. “We would live in the van for a period of time if we had to, or in homes of our friends,” the mother of three added.
“That time was complete turmoil in our lives,” Denni admitted. But the single mother didn’t give up – instead, she got to work. In fact, she spent her life working at least three jobs at a time to support herself and her brood.
A teacher by trade, Denni picked up odd jobs outside of her main profession. “I took in laundry from other people, I typed reports, I went out and I worked in restaurants. I also cleaned homes on the weekend,” she said.
Of course, every hour of work served a greater purpose – and her drive came from a place many parents know well. “I was in a survival mode for the welfare of the three children,” Denny said.
Denni’s kids didn’t just survive – each one of them thrived. By the time the family appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on September 17, 2010, all three children had graduated from college.
And Denni’s son knew exactly how he and his siblings had come to be so successful. “All three of us have graduated from college, and I don’t think that would be possible without her and all that she gave up in her life to make our dreams come true,” he said.
His mom marked their achievements in her own way. She decorated an appliance in her kitchen with, among other mementos, stickers from universities and colleges. “My refrigerator is a composite of all the things that are meaningful to me,” Denni explained.
There was another little piece of paper up there that inspired her in a different way – it was a postcard she received from another country. “It’s a trip that I hope to go on in the future, a trip to Italy,” Denni said.
It wasn’t just any trip Denni had in mind though. “I’d love to go with my family someday,” she said, adding, “That’s been one of my personal goals. And, fortunately, the right person happened to hear her wish.
When Denni appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, the TV host told her that her producers watched the clip – and then picked up their phones. “We called our friends at Marriott Hotels & Resorts, and then we called our friends at United Airlines, ’cause we have a lot of friends,” Oprah said.
Any fans of The Oprah Winfrey Show might’ve suspected what came next, since the host was notorious for handing out gifts to her guests. “United Airlines and Marriott Hotels & Resorts are sending you and your children on a luxury dream vacation to Italy,” Oprah revealed.
But that wasn’t all. Oprah’s staff did a little digging into Denni’s financial system and found out she had a staggering amount of debt. “You also personally have $78,000 worth of loans,” Oprah said.
“How many years do you think it would take you to pay that off?” Oprah asked, to which Denni replied, “We calculated I will be a young 93.” But Oprah had another surprise for the single mother – it would take much less time for her to repay that money.
“We’re going to pay off all those loans,” Oprah said, eliciting cheers from the audience, who had also heard Denni’s story. The mother of three was shocked. “You gave me a life; you’re giving me a life,” Denni said.
But Oprah wasn’t finished. Her final gift for Denni was “on behalf of every mother out there who has sacrificed for her kids,” the TV host said. “I’m doing this for you ’cause I can’t do it for everybody else,” she said.
With that, she gave the hardworking mom the most amazing gift of all. “I’m going to give you a year off,” Oprah said. “I’m going to pay for you to have a year’s salary,” she explained, giving Denni freedom from the many jobs she’d worked for years.
Unsurprisingly, the mother of three was incredulous. “I thought my life was over,” Denni admitted to Oprah, likely citing the excess debt that was once looming over her head. But the TV host reassured her, “No, your life isn’t over. It’s just beginning.”