You can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what James Jenkins wants you to remember when interacting with people. Just because someone is selling Real Change doesn’t necessarily mean they are homeless and just because someone might be slurring their words doesn’t mean someone is intoxicated.
Jenkins has Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare neurological disorder. Symptoms include confusion, trouble swallowing and weakness of the arms or legs. “I was talking with my friend and he noticed that I was being funny. My speech was funny and was slurred. He worked at a disability clinic and had me wait for him to finish. The next day, I didn’t even want to shower, but he pushed me to do it and then took me to the hospital,” Jenkins said.
At the hospital, the doctor knew something was wrong, but wasn’t equipped enough to handle it. At the time Jenkins was living in Idaho, where he grew up. “He had me life flown to Seattle and in order to do that my friend had to call my mom and tell her that I was on my way to Seattle,” Jenkins said.
At the time Jenkins was in college. He had to leave school for the time because he had to get his ADEM under control. “As soon as I dropped out of school I was dropped from my insurance,” Jenkins said. Thankfully he was accepted at Harborview where they took his Medicare. He stayed at Harborview for over a month before they diagnosed him with ADEM.
Jenkins copes with the disease as well as he can.
It still causes slurred or slower speech, weakness, numbness, short-term memory loss and a loss of balance. Thankfully he has Social Security Income and Social Security Disability Income to help him out because he can’t work a desk job with his disability.
Jenkins has three brothers. His parents divorced when he was young, and he’s only close with one of them. Being born and raised in Idaho, Jenkins is always asked if he was raised in the LDS church.
“You’re not the first person to ask me that, surprisingly,” Jenkins said with a smile that seems permanently etched on his face. “My dad was Mormon, my mom was Christian, and she raised me to believe in whatever I want to believe in,” Jenkins said.
While he liked growing up in Idaho, Seattle was somewhere he always wanted to be.
Today, Jenkins is living in Seattle. He is currently selling Real Change to supplement his SSI and SSDI because his ADEM doesn’t allow for a lot of nine-to-five jobs. Real Change allows him to work when he feels up to it.
It’s also helping him save for hearing aids, which aren’t covered by his insurance and cost $6,000.
He has been selling Real Change since July 2018.
You can visit Jenkins at the QFC on Broadway and Pike St. in Capitol Hill.
James Jenkins is one of 300 active vendors selling Real Change. Each week a different vendor is featured. View previous vendor profiles.
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