Seventh in a series on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.
WATERLOO — Being raised by a single mother, Michelle Jungers grew up knowing what it was like to live on the brink of homelessness.
“It was a community of people that literally put a roof over our heads.” said Jungers.
“At 8 years old, a member of our church let us live in their home, and I can’t imagine what would have happened with five children and nowhere to go,” she said.
Now 38 and armed with a law degree, Jungers is the managing attorney for Iowa Legal Aid’s Waterloo office, an organization that helps low-income residents with civil matters, including the risk of losing their homes.
“Michelle works tirelessly and humbly to bring dignity and self respect back into the lives of the women and clients with whom she serves,” said Alan Heisterkamp with the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Violence Prevention.
Jungers has been an attorney for 11 years, 10 of which have been spent with Iowa Legal Aid.
Born and raised in northwest Iowa, Jungers was one of five children. As she studied to prepare for her future, she took an interest in law as a career.
“I started law school thinking that’s going to be my way to make a lot of money,” Jungers said.
That changed while in college where she became involved in legal clinics and discovered the social service aspect of the field.
“I didn’t know there was this realm, that a lawyer could help people who couldn’t afford an attorney. I underestimated the impact that having the knowledge that you need to empower yourself could change their life,” Jungers said.
After law school, Jungers wanted to move to the Cedar Valley where her sister and her sister’s children lived, but she was unable to find a position here.
“All my siblings live in Iowa, and we are very close,” she said.
Her family moved to Wisconsin for a year, and she was soon recruited to come to Waterloo for an opening at Iowa Legal Aid. She began in 2012 and became manager in 2016 when her predecessor retired.
In her spare time, Jungers volunteers for charities dedicated to finding homes for victims of domestic violence and homeless people. She serves on Cedar Valley Friends of the Family and is vice president of the House of Hope’s board of directors.
“With a lot of the clients I work with, if they could get the piece, a roof over their heads, things are able to fall in to place for them. … For me, I want to give enough to those organizations to allow them to be a roof, to give somebody an opportunity,” Jungers said.
With her church, she organizes meals at the Hospitality House shelter and adopts families through Operations Threshold, and she makes sure to involve her children in the charitable activities. She said there is a difference between hearing a narrative about poverty and actually meeting and talking to people in need.
“I want my kids to know that there are people who need help, and I don’t want them to be sheltered from it. I want them to see the value in helping people,” Jungers said.
‘I want my kids to know that there are people who need help, and I don’t want them to be sheltered from it. I want them to see the value in helping people.’
'I want my kids to know that there are people who need help, and I don’t want them to be sheltered from it. I want them to see the value in helping people.'
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