The non-profit House of Matthew was founded by Twitty and her husband Cornell at their kitchen table 16 years ago. They started by simply walking up and down Tacoma Avenue, clipboards in hand, talking with people on the street to learn about their needs and how best to provide life and employment skills, job placement and more. From there, the Twittys formed a partnership with the Tacoma Rescue Mission to lease housing space and built systems to help the low-income and those at risk of homelessness or who are already without a home.
Over the years, House of Matthew grew to work with more than 30 community partners that assist the Twittys, both of whom are Army veterans, in offering one-on-one guidance to their fellow veterans and a broad range of people through a structured, comprehensive homelessness prevention and life skills program to transition to a stable and happy life.
With some House of Matthew clients having background barriers to employment, maybe a criminal history or past drug and alcohol issues, the Twittys established a business to employ them and give them a hand up: Top 2 Bottom Commercial Cleaning and Sanitation.
“We’re able to provide them with that employment piece and give them the job skills and training they need so that once they transition out of our program, they’re able to have a referral source with us,” Jeannette said.
FROM SELMA TO TACOMA
Born and raised in Selma, Ala., Twitty was there for historic events in the Civil Rights Movement. She remembers as a young girl marching from Selma to Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, attending mass gatherings and singing “We Shall Overcome,” and being present to hear the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph D. Abernathy. She also remembers having to walk five miles to an all-Black school because she was not allowed to attend the white school that was just blocks from her house.
“I was a part of that history, and it’s a part of me,” she said.
Twitty’s mother passed away when Jeannette was six years old, and her oldest sisters stepped up to help their dad raise Jeannette, her twin sister, and the rest of her siblings. After graduating high school, Twitty went into the Army and served four years. As is common with a lot of young people who leave home then return, she wanted more than what she had in the place where she grew up, so she traveled to Tacoma to live with a high school friend until she got on her own feet. She took her first job as a cashier at an AM/PM on 84th Street.
“I like customer service, working with people,” she said. “That’s why I do what I do now, to interact with people because I’m a people person.”
From there she entered Licensed Practical Nurse training at the Puget Sound Institute of Medical Technology. Through the Tacoma Urban League, she landed a medical assistant position with noted local physician Dr. Charles Weatherby. She worked with him for 16 years then moved on to Tacoma General Hospital. This presented some challenges for Twitty, a mom with two daughters and no time to spend with them due to being on call, mandatory overtime, and late night hours.
She took a chance and switched careers, moving on to Tacoma Public Schools as a journeyman custodian for 25 years. “I wanted to be part of my kids’ life and that’s why I made that decision and I have not regretted it. The school district was very good to me.
“I haven’t done much in my life that I haven’t loved,” she said. “I absolutely love what I do now helping people at House of Matthew and Top 2 Bottom, being able to provide employment opportunities to people who otherwise would not have had that. I get my reward from helping people.”