Wednesday, November 26, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL:Making it work: Getting a fresh start with public assistance

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 5/23/2014

“I have to let you go. I can no longer afford to pay you.” These are chilling words, especially in the midst of a recession, which is when Nancy Gilliam heard them. As she wrote in her story “Public Assistance,” she had thought that the worst of a hard year was behind her, a year during which she’d been robbed at knifepoint and divorced her husband of 22 years. Recently she felt like she’d finally made a fresh start by moving into a new house with her five children.

But then the layoff came. At first Nancy wasn’t terribly concerned. She had a master’s degree, some money saved up and good credit. “So I figured we would be OK until I could find another job,” she wrote. “How long could that take?”

“I have to let you go. I can no longer afford to pay you.” These are chilling words, especially in the midst of a recession, which is when Nancy Gilliam heard them. As she wrote in her story “Public Assistance,” she had thought that the worst of a hard year was behind her, a year during which she’d been robbed at knifepoint and divorced her husband of 22 years. Recently she felt like she’d finally made a fresh start by moving into a new house with her five children.

But then the layoff came. At first Nancy wasn’t terribly concerned. She had a master’s degree, some money saved up and good credit. “So I figured we would be OK until I could find another job,” she wrote. “How long could that take?”

In fact, it took a while, long enough that her funds ran low and she applied for public assistance, which helped, but only enough to keep her and her kids going for bit longer. Nancy kept scrambling to find a job, but the situation became desperate and, two years after losing her job, she found herself on the verge of losing her home.

When she finally got a real solution, it came from a likely place, but in an unlikely way. At the city’s homelessness prevention and re-housing program, she was greeted by a manager who was substituting for an intake worker who was out sick. The manager was struggling to navigate the computer system, so Nancy leaned over to help and managed to guide her through it. When they finished filling out paperwork, the manager asked her a question that was, in Nancy’s words, “the sweetest melody I had ever heard”: “You have a resume?” A few weeks later she was hired.

In her story, Nancy wrote about how grateful she felt to be able to use her skills to help people who were in the same situation she had once been in. She was also grateful that, after overcoming one final obstacle, she and her family were finally able to make that fresh start.

•••

When my kids were teenagers, they thought my primary goal in life was to embarrass them. But I pointed out the many times they had done the same to me when they were younger. For example, once, my daughter Ella and I passed a man smoking on the sidewalk. Ella pointed up at him and said, earnestly and loudly, “Mommy, that man is stupid, and he’s going to die.” Judging by how my face felt, my cheeks must have turned a shade of magenta as I rushed Ella away from the flummoxed man.

Helen R. Zanone had a similar experience after she explained the tooth fairy to her young children. As she wrote in her story “Teething Pains,” published in our book on parenthood, Helen’s 6-year-old, Zach, was terrified after his first tooth came loose. Helen had tried to reassure him that it was normal, but when that didn’t help, she tried bribery: “If you put your tooth under your pillow, then the tooth fairy will take it and give you money.”

This promise seemed to calm Zach’s nerves, but now he had a new concern: the idea of a fairy coming into his room at night.

“She is going to crawl under my pillow?” he asked.

“That is probably what she will have to do,” Helen said.

Helen’s 3-year-old, Caitlin, had been listening to the conversation and now chimed in herself: “What is the tooth fairy doing with all of the teeth?”

Helen improvised, explaining that she needed them to give to the new babies.

A few days later, at a department store, Helen was pushing Caitlin up and down the aisles in a cart. They kept passing an old lady who looked disheveled and was missing teeth. Caitlin stared at the woman every time they passed. “Caitlin, you heard me. Stop staring,” Helen said. But it was no use. For some reason, Caitlin was transfixed by the woman.

Soon Helen found out why. As they passed the old woman one more time, Caitlin yelled, practically at the top of her lungs: “Look, Mom. The Tooth Fairy took too many of her teeth!”

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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