Denni is a single mother of three children—Melissa, Jonathan and Kristina—who, like so many moms in the world, works day and night to make ends meet and help her children achieve their goals. Jonathan, wrote to Oprah to tell her about his hardworking mom.
"I want to tell you about my mother, the most important person in my life," he wrote. "I would not be where I am today, in medical school, without her."
Denni says she's been working at least three jobs since her husband left when their children were just 3, 5 and 6 years old. "He had taken everything we had, so I was left with absolutely nothing," she says.
At first, the financial strain was too much for Denni and her family to bear, and their home was foreclosed. "We would live in the van for a period of time if we had to or in the homes of our friends," Denni says. "That time was complete turmoil in our lives."
Over the years, Denni learned to scrape by by working as a teacher and taking on odd jobs like cleaning homes, working in restaurants and doing other people's laundry. With her hard-earned paychecks, she was able to put all three of her children through college, and she now has $78,000 in student loans.
"I don't think that that would be possible without her and all that she gave up in her life to make our dreams come true," Jonathan says.
Today, Denni continues to work three jobs to pay the bills and pay down her debts. She's a learning consultant for children with disabilities, a home instructor for children who can't leave their homes to attend school and a college professor who assists young adults who have overcome adversity.
What little time Denni has left is devoted to her children, but she does have dreams of her own. On the refrigerator, a magnet holds up a postcard from Italy, a country she says she'd love to visit someday with her family.
Melissa, one of Denni's daughters, says she would love to see her mom's dreams fulfilled someday. "I would like my mom to have all the things she wants too," Melissa says. "Not just for us to have everything that we want. I want her to be happy."
Now that all of her children have graduated from college, Denni says every sacrifice and minute of work was worth it. "[Education] was, to me, the one factor that I think would give them the greatest chance to be successful in life," she says.
Denni's family may think they're here to talk about persevering mothers and the importance of education, but that's not entirely true.
"The truth is, you represent every single mom out there who is breaking her back and sacrificing selflessly to make ends meet for herself and her family," Oprah says. "But my producers did tell you a little fib. Today's show is actually called 'Ultimate Wildest Dreams.'"
This one-night trip to Chicago was Denni's first family vacation...and it won't be the last! "We saw earlier that your dream is to someday go to Italy," Oprah says. "So United Airlines and Marriott Hotels & Resorts are sending you and your children on a luxury dream vacation to Italy!" Denni and her family will fly into Rome and then visit Florence.
Overwhelmed with joy, Denni expresses her gratitude. "I came here to thank you and to say how much I admire you for being the ultimate educator to all of us all these years," she says to Oprah. "You've been my inspiration."
Now that Denni can check Italy off her wish list, Oprah moves down the list to something that's been hanging over Denni's head for years—her children's school loans. At this rate, Denni says she'll "be a young 93" when the loans are paid off. "Well, it will not take you that long," Oprah says. "Because we're going to pay off all those loans!"
"You gave me a life," Denni says. "How can I ever thank you?"
Oprah says she's helping Denni on behalf of every mother out there who has sacrificed for her child. "I'm doing this for you because I can't do it for everybody else," she says.
Then, Oprah reveals the last—but certainly not least—surprise. "I'm going to pay for you to have a year's salary," Oprah says. "Relax and maybe give up one of the jobs—or maybe two of the jobs!"
Before today, Denni says she thought her life was over. "No, no," Oprah says. "Your life isn't over. It's just beginning."
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, March 12, 2014