NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — From homeless to entrepreneur, Victoria Harris is moving herself up the social ladder — one clean rung at a time. The St. Louis native has started a janitorial service in North Platte, Neb., and is using the success she's found so far to empower those around her.
“I want to be Oprah Winfrey,” Harris said. “I want to help as many people as I can get ahead in life. But they have to want that, too. They have to work for it.”
Harris is no stranger to work. At age 14, she started cleaning the homes of church acquaintances. It gave her job experience and enabled her to buy school clothes.
She took on other jobs upon reaching adulthood, but cleaning was always something she did on the side — just for fun. In her 40s, it was something she balanced alongside a job at the U.S. Postal Service.
“Between the two, I was so tired, I could hardly cash my checks,” Harris said. “But I really enjoyed the intensity of working and earning my own money. As a woman, I thought that was important.”
Her world was turned upside down Aug. 20, 2012, when her husband died of cancer. Feeling hopeless and lost, Harris packed her car and moved from St. Louis to Cozad, Neb., to live with her son.
About a year ago, the family was faced with a series of financial hardships that resulted in Harris moving to the Connection homeless shelter in North Platte.
Harris got a job as a janitor at a local company, and her business has now increased to the point that she recruited another shelter resident to help her, and she's ready to hire more.
“People get the wrong impression about homeless people,” Harris said. “Everybody is not riff-raff or a bum. I've seen people with master's degrees who are homeless. Life can happen to anybody. It can happen to the best of us.”
Staff at the shelter helped Harris come up with a name for her business, “Big Momma's Janitorial Service.” She's preparing to advertise online and through business cards and fliers.
“Someday, I want a building to base the company out of,” Harris said. “And it's always been a dream of mine to start a cleaning school where people can get licensed. Everyone who says they're a cleaner, is not a cleaner.”
She's working on personal goals in the meantime, including a move out of the shelter. Harris isn't exactly sure where she will go, but she has no plans to leave the community.