Contributed by Matt Wiegman of The Salvation Army Central Territory and originally featured in the Central Connection.
When Elizabeth first came to The Salvation Army, she was losing hope. Just released from the hospital, she’d come home to discover her electricity had been disconnected due to nonpayment. Her two children would soon return from her parents’ house four hours away, her husband was out of town with construction work, and the burdens of maintaining the household with inadequate resources and little guidance had caught up to her.
I thought she’d be an ideal candidate for Pathway of Hope. She met the program’s prerequisites and showed a desire to change her family’s circumstances and the aptitude to accomplish her goals. After hearing about the program, Elizabeth was enthusiastic to begin.
Many obstacles impeded her progress toward self-sufficiency. Her family of four—soon to be five—was living in a small one-bedroom apartment. She and her husband slept on the sofa, so the kids could share the only bed. Having grown accustomed to living without sufficient resources, she didn’t even recognize it as inadequate. With a recurring heart condition, she was not only underinsured but had lost her job on an industrial cleaning crew due to her inability to perform physical tasks. The loss of income meant she often missed meals which was especially troubling because of her pregnancy.
Each week that we met, Elizabeth seemed willing to work hard and discuss her alternatives. Circumstances she’d once considered a way of life quickly were labeled as obstacles, and a plan was developed to overcome each. A career counselor at WorkOne, a local unemployment office, gave her information on job openings that would align with her education and interests, as well as suit her physical limitations. Elizabeth visited the local Medicaid office, where she received aid for the duration of her pregnancy. She learned how to apply for food stamps, which The Salvation Army supplemented with food from our emergency pantry and Kroger gift cards.
Two months after enrolling in Pathway of Hope, Elizabeth was hired as a secretary at a welding company. The pay was more than she’d ever earned! If used wisely, it would sustain her family while her husband looked for consistent work. We set up a reasonable budget, and Elizabeth diligently noted expenses and was conscientious in spending. For the first time, she opened a savings account. She also pursued subsidized childcare.
A few months ago when Elizabeth came to my office for our weekly meeting I was struck by the difference in her demeanor. When I’d first met her, she’d seemed scared and resigned to failure. Now, she was confident and excited about the future. Having received an offer to work fulltime for a construction company in Louisville, Ky., her husband would have steady employment and still be able to come home each night. They’d recently signed a lease on a new apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a much larger living area. It’s modest by all accounts but represents a significant change. Elizabeth has space to cook and beds for all family members. For the first time, she spoke of her “home.” When her son is born, he will have a proper living environment. He also will have a wonderful example of how hard work and the proper use of resources can lead to a fulfilling, happy life.