In 1978, one of the most horrible tragedies imaginable happened to Mae Johnson.


She was raped in her own home, and forced to watch as her daughter was raped as well.


It would have been enough to break many women, and leave them broken for life. But for Johnson, it was a starting point for helping others.


"This is what I've been doing for many years," she said Tuesday. "Giving them my testimony about how I've survived. ... No drugs, no alcohol."


Originally from Compton, Johnson worked for more than two decades at Martin Luther King Hospital and then later for the Riverside police. After retirement, she and her husband moved to Hesperia.


"I knew I was predestined for something, because at a very early age, I received Jesus Christ in my heart and never deviated from that," she said. "When I learned I had a gift for gab ... I started out speaking."


And the rape survivor has found other victims of abuse and violence have gravitated to her.


"I have a lot of young ladies calling me 'mom,'" she said. "I started volunteering at Emmanuel Temple [in Victorville]. I volunteered there doing food [distribution] on Fridays and saw the great need."


She wanted to strike out on her own, and start her own charity, received a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and, in September, opened up A New Day Dawning Ministries on I Avenue.


But it's a ministry that spends much of its time on secular matters. Johnson's still-small organization runs a clothing and food bank, teaches classes on budgeting, nutrition and job-hunting skills, helps area residents with enrolling in school, seeking financial aid and locating affordable housing, as well as offering abuse, grief and domestic violence counseling. The ministry also offers a weekly Bible study class.


Each week, between 30 and 50 families pick up a bag of groceries -- including such staples as rice, beans and milk -- from her ministry and she and her husband have driven area residents without working vehicles to go grocery shopping or to work.


"The people we have been serving have been so gracious, so humble," Johnson said. "They're not coming in grumbling and what have you."


But the economy means that charities are both seeing more demand for services at the same time as the sources of revenue have dried up. Johnson has just completed a grant-writing class and will spend the last week of 2009 writing grant applications -- she's currently using unemployment payments she receives after being laid-off by Catholic Charities to fund the storefront operation.


"I know that I have a purpose here in what I'm doing and I know that God has pre-ordained me to do this."


A New Day Dawning Ministries is located at 10770 I Avenue, Suite 104, Hesperia. The ministry is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 760-244-7277.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.