LCOC helps abandoned mom move forward
Kirsten called it her “storybook marriage.” At 19, she envisioned a lifetime of happiness with her husband and a home filled with loving children.
It didn’t work out that way, sadly.
Within a few years, her husband abandoned her and their new child. Suddenly, she was left alone and isolated, struggling financially and emotionally. Her 40-hour minimum-wage job was not enough to meet monthly expenses – and that was before she discovered her toddler was a special needs child who would require costly support.
In many ways, Kirsten’s very personal story is a variation of one repeated across the country millions of times, statistically.
Despite her full-time job, despite supplementing it by babysitting, she was part of the burgeoning working poor in America who cannot provide sufficient food, shelter and transportation for their families.
Like so many other full-time employees earning the federal minimum, she pocketed just over $15,000 a year, placing her and her child well below the $23,850 poverty line. And that’s the national average, not on Cape Cod where the cost of living is significantly higher.
In Chatham, the cost of living is 87 percent higher than the national average; in Dennis, it’s 54 percent higher.
These statistics come into stark relief when they land at the feet of Cape Codders like Kirsten, when they translate from cold numbers to such human dimensions, bounded by the realization that she is far from alone.
It’s what animates the Lower Cape Outreach Council in its day-in, day-out efforts to help neighbors like Kirsten maintain their equilibrium amidst sudden life changes like a lost marriage, a child needing extra support.
“It sure wasn’t my goal to be a single parent, but there I was shattered at 23,” recalled Kirsten. I was working all the time. Yet, I couldn’t come close to paying all the bills by myself.”
Without a personal support system, she also had to grapple with another torturous dilemma. How do you work on minimum wage and afford daycare that could easily cost $200 to $300 a week?
At a breaking point, Kirsten fortunately discovered LCOC.
“I was raised in a church. My father is a retired Marine. I learned that you take care of yourself, while taking care of others. So, to say it was a humbling experience walking into the LCOC is an understatement,” said Kirsten.
But, instantly, she was put at ease. “They pointed me in the right direction, which was so important at that moment. I felt so alone before then.”
Her first stop was the food pantry. In a typical year, about 3,400 households turn to LCOC for more than $400,000 worth of food.
Then, LCOC helped Kirsten pay for two months of electric bills.
But, beyond the financial and food assistance, the most valuable gift was the human support she received, especially from Gennie Moran, LCOC’s chief operating officer.
“I was feeling like I was failing as a parent, a human being,” said Kirsten. “But Gennie was very clear. She told me, ‘we all have bad things happen.’ She said I’m a great mom. You’re managing to pull it all together. You have a great kid, a roof over your heads, clean clothes for her. Let’s make this work, let’s put one foot ahead of the other.’”
Kirsten shared her family budget and was relieved that LCOC commended her financial management. “They convinced me that I simply couldn’t do better without some help,” she recounted. “I wasn’t a screw-up,” she laughs about it now.
It was nearly Thanksgiving, and the best gift she and her child got from LCOC was a turkey with all the trimmings. “It was amazing to have an entire meal given to you. They made me feel like I was part of their family,” Kirsten recalled.
Then, LCOC mobilized to help Kirsten address the intractable challenge of day care’s Catch 22. “I needed to work to make money, so I couldn’t stay home to care for my child. But I couldn’t afford child on my wages. And any day I had to stay home with her, I lost that day’s pay.”
Complicating matters was the emerging realization that her daughter needed extra help. “I knew she was different, that she wasn’t acting like other children her age. Was I doing something wrong? Or, was there a real problem with her?”
Now, Kirsten didn’t have to figure this all out herself. “You’re doing the right things,” Gennie told her. LCOC pointed her toward schools that could address her daughter’s special needs and helped her discover potential grants and other financial assistant to subsidize the costs.
“Yet, in many ways, the spiritual and emotional support I received from Gennie and LCOC was more important than the financial. They revived my self-esteem and gave me confidence to move forward,” said Kirsten.
Life is much better today. Kirsten is remarried and has two more children, although one of them is autistic.
“It would help if both my husband I were working, but the daycare issue remains a big part of our lives,” said Kirsten.
“It’s simply less expensive for me to stay home and take care of our three children than for me to return to a minimum wage job. So, we don’t go out to dinner or the movies. But those are small sacrifices for having an intact family.”
It’s a family Kirsten suspects she may not have today had LCOC not appeared at what seemed an insurmountable crossroads.
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