Client Success Stories
“A Hand Up”
“In Her Own Words”
Susan’s (not her real name) family is a typical example of the challenges faced by the working poor. She was employed as office staff at a major retail store, working hard and managing to support her family. Her husband couldn’t work due to severe Alzheimer’s. His health care expenses were not completely covered by the Medicaid he received. The family also received Social Security Assistance for qualified recipients of Medicaid (SSA) for their one child living at home. With public assistance to supplement her income, the family was making ends meet but just barely.
Their daughter was a top student in her high school, very involved in activities, and well-respected by her teachers and peers. With the encouragement and help of a teacher who had taken an interest in her, she sent off her college applications.
Things were going as well as could be expected until a series of unavoidable circumstances shook the family’s financial stability. When their daughter turned 18, she was no longer eligible for SSA, and their income dropped. Meanwhile, Susan’s husband’s health was deteriorating.
Susan came to us out of desperation. Her case manager recognize Susan’s thrift and determination to improve her family’s circumstances. She began looking for another part-time job, which she obtained quickly, and we provided rent and utility subsidies to stabilize her housing. we also helped her apply for food stamps. Unfortunately, the request was denied based on her family size and income that was slightly over the eligibility threshold, now that she worked two part-time jobs. Within a few months the family’s outlook was improving, and they were ahead of schedule for restoring their self-sufficiency by the time they exited our nine-month program.
The family’s biggest celebration, however, came when their daughter was awarded a full four-year scholarship to attend the U of H Architecture school. Her education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and having a better future.
If you met Maria (not her real name), you’d say she is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She’s the 46 year old, widowed, single mother of two darling boys, ages 15 and 11. They are a very close-knit family who have no other relatives in Houston.
Because her husband died about ten years ago in a car accident when the boys were very young, Maria receives $1400 each month in survivor benefits from social security that helps with her bills. But during the summer of 2010, a temporary hold was placed on those checks and she had to make do without that income for about two months. To compound this financial struggle, her job as a cafeteria worker for the School District, where she earns $980 a month, doesn’t provide a paycheck during the summer months. As if that wasn’t enough, her truck broke down at this time, and she was faced with $1200 in repairs. She continued to try and pay her rent and other bills, but with these hardships, she couldn’t catch up, and eventually, she fell so far behind on her rent that she received an eviction notice in December and would have become homeless had the family not been referred to Westside.
When she entered our program, Maria was very quiet, and her case manager Denise, said that she was very polite and cooperative but initially only responded to questions and shared little other detail. Denise needed to fully understand the barriers that the client was facing in order to develop an effective self-sufficiency plan. But getting Maria to open up at first was a big challenge. However, after a couple of months in our program she grew to trust Denise and began to share about her life. It turns out that her husband had beaten her regularly when they were married, and she finds it hard to trust anyone enough to help her. For ten years she has not allowed herself to become involved in a romantic relationship. She says she can’t risk putting her boys, or herself, through a similar situation again. Additionally, since they are now young men, she doesn’t want to expose them to any poor role models or attitudes that might give them the impression that it’s normal or okay for men to be abusers in relationships.
Besides stabilizing her housing, Westside was able to help her with strategies to better manage her finances. She met regularly with her case manager for budgeting sessions and learned how to cut some of her expenses. The first couple of months in our program, her bank statements reflected a negative balance, which of course accrued overdraft charges. Denise counseled her on this and suggested that it might be wise to take away her debit card if the overspending didn’t stop. Maria also learned other financial management strategies when she attended one of our client workshops. So she changed some of her habits–she didn’t drive as much in order to cut down on gas, and when she did, she grouped her errands. Her oldest son used to love to go out to eat, but Denise helped her see how expensive that was. Now the same son does a lot of cooking for the family and enjoys it so much that he offered to make the Westside staff one of his specialties. Denise also helped this client anticipate her future financial position by developing a budget she would need to follow when she no longer received any financial assistance from WHP.
She exited our Hand-Up program in August, is saving a little money each month, and has managed to accumulate $900 in her bank account. She says now that her financial crisis was a real eye-opener. She feels much more hopeful about the future and reports that things are going well.
While they were in our nine-month Hand-Up Housing Program, the whole family was willing and eager to take advantage of all that we required or offered. Maria doesn’t speak English, so Denise referred her to ESL classes. She doesn’t have a high school diploma, but WHP has helped her enroll in a program that offers GED classes in Spanish. Maria’s case manager also arranged for her to see a licensed clinical therapist. The whole family attended the seven-week parenting class that WHP requires of all clients.
The two boys participated in Westside’s summer reading program which they enjoyed very much. It touched our staff that, with the gift card he received as part of the program, the youngest boy purchased a Bible as his free-choice book. The boys enjoyed a teen bowling event that one of WHP’s supporting congregations organized for us. They also attended Camp Allen this summer. The youngest was a little homesick at first as the week away at camp was the first time any of the family members had spent even one night away from each other, but by the end of the week he was having a ball. The oldest jumped right into the experience and had a great time. He loves playing basketball in high school, so it was no surprise to learn that he formed a camp basketball team and served as coach. After the week came to an end, he told us, “That was the most fun I’ve had in my entire life,” and said that he hopes to be a Camp Allen counselor next year.