Julie Gurak is a ball of energy and laughs. She came into the StreetWise office today, smiling from ear to ear, and ready for her interview. “Ok, ok! Ask me some questions already!” she excitedly exclaimed.
Julie is 44 years old and currently sells her StreetWise magazines in Oak Park, Illinois. “I’m the only [StreetWise vendor] out there. I get to walk around the whole town and I don’t have to stand in one spot. I love [the people there] and I love [the town],” she said. “Oak Park is such a beautiful town. You have to visit! It’s an old town, too. The sidewalks still have the bricks and the people are so welcoming. And they want StreetWise!”
Julie was adopted by her foster mother at the age of 2, grew up in McHenry County in Illinois, and spent her youth living with many other children, whom she fondly remembers “I do have a lot of brothers and sisters, because my mom took in a lot of foster kids,” she said.
As Julie went on to talk about her lazy eye, a bit of her sparkly humor came to the front. “It’s totally inherited and it’s kind of cool. I love my lazy eye. I think it’s funny, because I’ll be sitting there, talking to somebody, and all of a sudden it just wanders,” she laughed. “And then people say, ‘What are you looking over there for?’ This side’s looking at you and then this side is just wandering. Because I’m looking over there and over there and over there!”
Humor and an incredible amount of mental strength certainly helped Julie get through the tougher times of her life. Julie explains that she was molested by a male family member when she was 12 and no one believed her story. Finally, at the age of 18, Julie had enough and she went out on her own. “I left home. I just got fed up,” said Julie.
Although Julie was so young to be completely independent, she never stopped pushing herself to survive. “When I was 18, I really didn’t know anything. Plus, I have a learning disability and [I’m diagnosed with bipolar disorder], so I went back to my [high school] to see if they could help me. They got me in the hospital [and then] I turned myself into the Elgin Mental Health Center].” She spent a year at Elgin and then she later moved into a group home.
During her time at the group home, she gained a job working at Burger King at Monroe and Wells in Chicago. She soon met her would-be husband, Joseph Terry, and they spent time together after her shifts. They dated for a period and eventually the couple moved in together and married. “He treated me like a queen. He was the best,” she said.
After only being married a brief time, Julie’s husband suddenly passed away for reasons undisclosed. “My husband died and I went through depression. I was homeless. Really, truly homeless for 7 years,” said Julie.
After entering into an abusive relationship a few years after her husband died, she finally severed ties with this man and prayed to God “to bring me another Terry. Remember my husband’s name, Joseph Terry? Well, I met Terry Frasier. I’m still friends with him today and that is my buddy. Nobody can take him. Whenever I need something, he’s going to be there,” she said. Today, Terry and Julie are no longer in a relationship, but they are very good friends and stay close. She describes him as being her biggest supporter.
Terry and Julie were homeless together and would combine their money to rent hotels and get off of the streets. Julie began working with StreetWise, which also helped her save money for a hotel each night until she was finally able to secure stable housing. “StreetWise is a place that could always help me once in awhile when I needed it,” she said.
Now that Julie is living in her own apartment and working with StreetWise, she is doing very well and is able to focus on some of her other goals. She found her biological family about 9 years ago and is currently working on building relationships with them.
One particular story Julie tells about how she reconnected with her nephew is quite beautiful and amazing. “He randomly called me up and said, ‘Hi, my name is Richard. I’m going to go to Iraq and I’m going to be over there for a couple months or maybe a year. And if you hear something about a Richard Faith dying, that’s me, [your nephew].’ He was in the army and was going to serve two terms and he just wanted me to know who he was,” she explained. “That was about 5 years ago and we are actually really close now. He’s planning a trip out here, because I haven’t seen him since he left for Iraq. We always kept in touch.”
Also, by learning about her biological relatives, Julie is also learning more about her health history and working to do preventative care. “I know what [medical conditions] run in my family. [I learned that] my cousin died of breast cancer and they actually already found something in my breast. It’s not active, but they’re keeping an eye on it. I’ve got a friend going with me for another appointment, but I’m already afraid to go back to the doctor,” she said.
Julie also hopes to complete her education. “I want to go back to school and get my GED. I bought my GED book and I’m studying it by myself at home,” she said.
If you see Julie out in Oak Park, don’t hesitate for a minute to say “hello” and get to know her. Despite the challenges she’s faced – and some she still faces today – she is the type of person who simply wants to keep moving ahead and make new memories with friends and family. If you meet her, she’s sure to have you smiling soon enough.