The soles of Amy’s boots were worn out and ragged. She used plastic bags to line the inside so her socks wouldn’t get wet.
But Amy’s soul, the spirit inside her, remained strong and unbroken. She wakes up every day determined to give her two children the opportunities she never had.
For Amy, getting new boots were neither in her budget or something she put much thought behind. She was too busy making sure she had enough money to cover the oil bill and daycare for her two children.
Try to imagine someone in need and Amy likely isn’t the first person who comes to mind. The 34-year-old single mother of two children has a good job, promising career and infectious personality. But she is among New Hampshire’s 29,000 low-income working families faced with economic hardship, also referred to as the “working poor.”
Helping the Working Poor
In nearly half of these families, a single mother is responsible for both raising and supporting her children. Despite having jobs, building a secure home is never a given. Especially for Amy.
Amy’s paycheck goes towards daycare, rent, a car payment and living expenses, with little left over. She has been living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to stay ahead. She had reached out to local and state agencies for assistance but was told she was not eligible because of her income level.
“I was considered self-sufficient because I worked,” Amy says.
“On one hand, Amy could stay at home with her children, have some level of assistance but not enough for a sustainable income,” says Judy Nelson, a caseworker for Catholic Charities New Hampshire. “On the other hand, she could go to work, lose some of that financial aid and still struggle to make ends meet. In a way, it’s a no-win situation.”
Judy and Catholic Charities New Hampshire are looking to change that by providing Amy with the financial skills and education around what they call a Life Plan.
A Life Plan is based on setting specific goals to enable individuals and families to overcome barriers. Each Life Plan is customized, designed to assess someone’s current situations, address the root causes of their challenges, and together, work towards practical solutions.
In Amy’s case, it was finding an answer on how she could continue working while having more of a financial cushion for her and her children.
Beyond a One-Time Act of Kindness
Amy first reached out to Catholic Charities New Hampshire a few years back in hopes of getting fuel assistance. With winter coming and the oil tank about to run dry, Amy was desperate for help.
Amy worked with Judy on her Life Plan, learning how to set enough money aside to keep her house warm during the winter. Weeks later, her phone rang. It was Judy who wanted to know if Amy and her family wanted to be part of Christmas Connections, a program pairing families in need with businesses that donate clothes, toys and others items.
“It was huge. I needed new tires for my car at the time and was facing a decision: purchase the tires and ensure my car would carry us through the winter or give my kids the Christmas they deserved,” Amy said. “I had all these doors closed on me because I made too much, so I was surprised I could receive care. At Catholic Charities, I felt understood.”
Nelson said there is no stereotypical person who seeks the assistance of Community Services. Each has unique needs at different times of their lives, whether it’s someone who is on the brink of losing their home or a working mom, like Amy. Judy says the role of a caseworker is to help that person meet their needs and move their lives forward. Everyone is different.
“A big piece of my job is to listen and support them,” Judy says. “They are struggling, but I find that if they are willing to work with us, they usually have the attitude that it will get better.”
Amy wasn’t dealt a great hand growing up but she never stopped believing it would get better. Her mother was hooked on drugs, her father was an alcoholic and not always around. She didn’t let that deter her from putting herself through college and starting a career.
When the father of her two children walked out of their lives, Amy was left on her own again. That, however, is not stopping her from giving her kids, now 2 and 5, the opportunities she didn’t have. Thanks to Judy and Catholic Charities, she’s on her way.
Amy’s situation is getting better. Her oldest child is entering preschool, which will reduce daycare costs. She hopes she will not require fuel assistance next year and would even like to be in a position where she can give back and sponsor a family in need through Christmas Connections. She is continuing to work with Judy on her Life Plan to make sure she can stay ahead.
Someone to Count On
“Judy is a great person to bounce things off of,” Amy says. “It takes a weight off my shoulders knowing I can call her.”
Amy’s soul – and her sacrifice for her children – continues to lead her on to better places. As for her sole, that too has been enriched. Her phone rang one day. It was Judy again. “When was the last time you did something for yourself?”
Judy had gotten her a gift card, for Amy to buy a new pair of boots.
“It meant a lot,” Amy said, her voice cracking as she recounted the story. “Growing up I did not have a lot of people I could trust. But I know Judy will always be in my corner. She has always been there for me.”