Our Amazing Neighbors – Spirit of Giving in the Midst of Struggle
Posted by frankieblackburn on March 23, 2009
Some people might assume that as you walk the halls of a large, subsidized housing development – as eight of us did yesterday afternoon – you might find people feeling down and out or overwhelmed by the bad economy. Almost everyone we spoke with is either recently unemployed or suffering from a major loss in hours (in my team alone, we spoke to at least four women who clean houses and have gone from five days of work to two or three days of work). But, the overwhelming feeling one gets as you explain the purpose of the Neighbors Campaign is one of sincere interest and engagement and even willingness to contribute to help their neighbors. Here are two of my favorite stories:
A man from a west African country tells us about losing his primary job after being in a bad car accident last November and about his wife’s continued struggle with sickle cell. (He shares his story after inviting us in to sit down because he is cooking and needs to watch the pot on the stove). He is now working three nights a week, watching out over developmentally disabled young people in a residential facility. He is the only one working in the household…..his wife recently had her hip replaced, as a complication of her chronic disease. They have two children in middle school. He tells us about going to HHS to apply for help – rental assistance and perhaps food. It is painful for him to describe…because he was eventually turned down, despite the fact that he does have a green card. He has only been in the country for two years, not the requisite five years. No one told him about other resources that are available – without the five year rule. At first he shook his head in a moment of pain and pride, but as we carefully told him about the new Neighborhood Center around the corner and Patricia who works there and the fact that she is also from West Africa and speaks French, his native language….you could feel his body begin to soften. We continued to talk ….not even sure what we were talking about ….and all of the sudden he asks “Can I help you all out …..go door knocking with you? Perhaps help translate in French at the upcoming meeting next week….?”
Behind one door, two little – and quite pretty – girls peer out. They run and get the “man of the house,” a handsome African American gentleman who appears to be about 35 or 40. It turns out that he is essentially homeless after losing his good paying job last fall as an AV engineer and is staying in this apartment with a friend. As his story unfolds, he tells us about losing his home and the incredibly painful process of looking for a job….the toll it takes on your mental state. We ask if he had used the Montgomery Works “one stop shop” in Lake Forest Mall and he says he went to Montgomery Works in Wheaton. He says that they really were not able to help him….he “felt like a number there.” He then goes on to talk about how he searched and searched on the internet – using sites like Monster.com. One day – he had almost given up – and her was on Craigs List searching for a used car for his girlfriend to buy and stumbled onto the Jobs section….leading to some postings for AV Engineers. Sure enough, one step led to the next and he secured a new job with better pay and better benefits and just started working again on March 3! We asked if he could come to our Neighbors Exchange this coming Thursday to share his story….he gladly said yes…tears and hugs were shared in this moment of new connection.