Last night following a very calming session with my meditation group, I met another social justice advocate for some conversation. He asked me how I stay optimistic when the issues I work on continue to lose funding and political support swings from one direction to the other depending on whose running the country. The truth is I don’t know how I stay optimistic: it is just what I have to do to continue fighting for people who have less opportunity than I have enjoyed throughout my life.
I am human and I had spent the weekend stewing about a young women I have come to know over the past few months. She is a shining example of how life does get better. A survivor of domestic violence and a single mother of two, she has earned a college degree and is studying for her master’s degree in social work. She is amazingly mature for her young age and she even gave me advice that I have kept close to my heart, and I am 20-plus years older than she. I am sorry that she’s been dealt a bad hand and was forced to move out of her home into a room with her two children. But I am optimistic she will make it, and so is she.
Please read Lisette’s story:
Last year I turned down a job that offered to pay me very well. I thought to myself, I don’t want to forget I am in this business to help people. Three months ago, I got the slap in the face, and there was no one to help me.
It’s rather funny actually. My welcome to the real world wasn’t as warm and inviting as I would have hoped. As a young mother, I promised myself I would work so hard not only to make my children proud, but to not depend of public assistance and not be part of those statistics that teen parents are known for. But I needed help to get on my feet and take off to change the world! Was there help? For a little bit. Has the system failed me? Yes. It has, in a rather cruel, strange way.
When I finished school I was able to get a great job and move out on my own. No rental assistance, no utility assistance, no food stamps. Yay! I had broken the mold. Then there was daycare. I tried everything to get my kids to an affordable child care, but being that we were on our own, things were a bit expensive and I needed some help. I thought I would walk myself to the social services office (at 22 years old, my daughter being 7 and my son 5) and finally ask for some aid. My big reality: “No Ms. Orellana, you don’t qualify for anything. Sorry.” So as was expected I made changes and paid for everything. Sure no fancy movie nights, no big trips with the kids, but hey it was worth it.
The only program we were eligible for was Social Security benefits. And that was for Jeremy only because of his health condition. I then discovered that through Social Security he qualified for daycare assistance. Another big yay! Now I could get Jeremy in a structured licensed facility. For the next two years that was my only big help. Until three months ago…when my nightmare started and I began to feel like a criminal who was milking “the system.”
I got a letter in the mail stating that I was to pay back all the assistance given to my child within the next 30 days. I tried to appeal it, and their answer “Sorry ma’am. It’s not the government’s job to support your child. Ask their father to step in. You have the resources to make it”
Without going to details of the drama I have been through, and the humiliations from different offices, I can say I’m confused. All I can think of is how my only crime has been to ask for daycare help, and because my son–who has a documented disability– can’t get assistance I have had to give up so much and my life is in shambles. That future I had been working so hard to make stable is all of the sudden shaken. I was not ready. There was no warning, and now I realize how cruel the real world can be with single parents who are treated as if they want things catered to them. I’m speechless. Do I think it’s a stereotype of single mothers? Maybe. Is it because I have a “good job” and don’t get child support? Could be. Do I understand the economy? You bet I do. Bottom line is this young, single mother of two is moving out of her house this weekend, and has to move in (temporarily) to a room, and after that, we’ll I don’t know. But help is only given to those who “are in worst positions than you ma’am.” Learning experience? I believe so. Wish me luck; this will be one interesting trip.
The one word I’m living by is “faith.” Things will work out, and I feel so lucky to have the knowledge I have now. But I still can’t help but wonder: “If I were a high school dropout, with no job, then would I get help?” For some reason, the answer I suspect to that question seems disturbing.”