Christian Bailey, The Whetstone

It took hitch-hiking, sleeping in tents and in parks in California for the 19-year-old to realize that she could not run away from her problems.

Jinger (pronounced Ginger) Wiest, now 22, a Starbuck’s barista in College Center, quit a job when at 19 and traveled from Marydale, Md., to Los Angeles with her friend.

“In America you’re just told to work and work and work, but you never really get anything for yourself,” Wiest said.

Wiest had more many minimum wage jobs and she always quit.

“I later realized I couldn’t escape my responsibilities and that was my turning point in life and it made me more realistic,” she said.

She said her experience in California showed her that the world wasn’t as bad as she thought. She got to see the kindness in people that helped her while she was homeless.

“People in Cali gave my friend and I places to sleep, rides, tons of food and money which was so rad because we didn’t have much at all,” Wiest said.

If she could go back in the past and tell her younger self anything, it would be to take life more seriously.

When she was younger she just wanted to hang out. She said wishes she could have figured out what she wanted to do instead of running away.

At 16, Wiest dropped out of high school but received a diploma the following year.

She said she wished she would have taken education more seriously.

“I had such a ‘whatever’ attitude to everything, even academically,” she said. “I wish I would’ve just felt more passionate and figured myself out sooner.”

One thing Wiest said she always stuck true to was her love for art. She was into music, painting and creating collages. She still works on abstract paintings and collages.

Growing up, she admired the late singer Prince.

“He was a creative genius that did what he wanted and he was so unashamed of himself,” she said. “He was so bad-ass, I always admired that.”

Wiest said she got the barista job because she “knew someone else that worked here and they got me in.”

Since her start in October, Wiest said she enjoys the creativity of being a barista. She likes that she has the freedom to make each drink different.

She always wanted to go to college but she wants to be sure she knows exactly what she wants to do before she makes the decision.

Working at Wesley makes her want to go to college even more.

“I see students’ lives and I think I could handle being a student,” she said. “Being at the college makes it less scary for me.”

She said she still aspires to be an artist.

Her ultimate goal is to make a living off her art, build a house and travel with her partner, Owen Simmons.

They met each other on Facebook, and when they met in person, she said, it was love at first sight.

“We have been inseparable ever since,” she said.

Wiest said she and Owen have no intention to get married or have any children; they have a cat named Pepper.

Despite her rocky teenage years, Wiest said she had a pretty good childhood. Her parents are still married.

“We weren’t rich but my parents always made it work,” she said.

“Growing up my parents used to take me to all the concerts I wanted to go to,” she said. “I always thought that was so cool because other parents would never even let their kids go to a show at like 13 or 14 years old.”

Wiest described herself as goofy, open, accepting and nice.

Her fellow coworkers and students at Wesley agree.

Wesley alumna DeLois Howard who works with Wiest loves how nice she is.

“She has a very nice personality, she likes to laugh and she makes me laugh,” she said. “When I came back from my maternity leave she was really happy to see me. She made me feel welcomed.”

Another one of Wiest’s coworkers agrees.

“She’s easy going and has a sense of humor,” senior Ahmad Crews said. “Every time I come to work she has a story to tell. If I am having a bad day she offers her support and she makes me my favorite drink – a caramel-vanilla chai tea latte – from Starbucks.”

Students have also experienced Wiest’s kindness.

“One time I was short a quarter for my Starbucks,” junior Jeanerre Smith said, “and she used her own money to make up the difference so I could get my drink. Also, one time when she was closing, there was some leftovers and she let me have them.”