We’re into the final day of our Warm Hearts, Warm Homes campaign. Tuesday, we’ll be done raising funds and back to our usual programming. But for the people who need the funds that we generate, the “winter campaign” is just beginning. They’re strategizing ways to keep the car running, buy Christmas gifts for loved ones and keep their homes warm, through December, and for four-or-five more months.
Amy Robinson spoke with a woman who says she has needed heating assistance before, and likely will again. Amber said she wanted to talk with us to help put a face on poverty. She said this is her way to help give back
Amber is one of the people you might pass on the street or know know as a casual friend, and you’d have no idea that her family is struggling. You know the term “working poor”? Let me introduce you to someone who fits the description. “I work 40-hours a week in an assisted living home making minimum wage. I love the work, Amber said. My husband is currently unemployed, but is looking, which makes life more difficult.”
Amber earns about $300 a week for a family of four. She has a lot of experience in juggling small amounts of money to meet large problems. “Your car can break down and that can take hundreds of dollars, and that would be money that maybe you had to put toward your electric bill. sometimes it comes down to, do I pay my electric bill? Do I pay my car insurance? Do I go without a phone? It’s not cut and dried, it’s not black and white. You have to make choices every day and with children you have to say, ok what needs to my kid need met?”
Amber lives in a rural area. That means transportation is a constant concern. She said her most recent vehicle died, so she bought a car from a cousin. She’s making small payments until she can pay it off with her tax return. Unfortunately bargain basement vehicles can come with a host of mechanical problems “Come to find out that it needed a new fuel pump so my dad is working on the fuel pump and putting in the power steering pump, and then I should be back on the road.” At least until something else breaks. That’s the thing with old cars…
Amber said she has needed heating assistance before. Last winter, of course, was a bad one. She said she doesn’t think her family would have made it through without the help of Eight Cap, that’s the community action agency that serves Gratiot, Ionia, Isabella, and Montcalm counties.
Despite the help Eight Cap has been able to offer, Amber said she has had her heat shut off. The propane tank went dry. When that happened, she says she relied on small electric heaters. She described her family as fortunate because they had a heater in each room. Amber said some of her happiest memories were made in cold rooms; In the middle of a Michigan winter with an empty propane tank, and an electric heater struggling to keep up, snuggled under a blanket, watching a Christmas movie with her daughters. If you’re getting the impression that this lady is irrepressibly positive, you’re right. “Just because you can’t afford to pay your utilities, it doesn’t mean you’re less of a person”, she said. “If you can find any way to make your family happy and create happy memories”
Amber said that’s her game plan: Keep her daughters safe and happy, and work hard at her job. There is nothing glamorous about working in assisted living. But Amber said she’s come to really care for the residents. She said she’s gotten better lately at mindfulness, living in the moment. and it helps. “In my line of work, I see a lot of vulnerability. I see complete helplessness. I see sadness. And, it’s not something you want to focus on. If I can take five-minutes to realize that I am sitting here with a friend in a coffee shop. You know, everything is not the end of the world. I have two beautiful daughters that I have to take care of , so I have to find a way to get to Mt Pleasant to get heating. That’s ok. Because I’m not the only one and I do have a happy life”.
Of course, “happy” can take on a new meaning during the holidays. Caring and togetherness, is great. Trying to arrange for gifts and a meal for your family; not so much. Amber said friends have stepped up to help with her Christmas, and she’s grateful. She’s made the choice to be happy. And not just for the holidays. “I can either look at it as ‘woe is me, my life is horrible, I can’t afford anything. Or I can think… I try to pay it forward. Try to put all of the love that people show me into my work and I hope it comes through”, she said.
Amber said her dreams for 2015 are that the car runs, her husband finds work and their finances stabilize. She said she would like to become Certified Nursing Assistant, but her daughters come first. And she said she won’t give up her job. It’s near her home and she really likes her co-workers and the residents. Her other hope for the new year is that people who are able will help out. “If you do see somebody asking for assistance or you do know somebody who needs help with heat, or Christmas, or something, I can tell you that even if it’s a small $5 gift or a kind work, offer that to them, because they might be smiling, but it’s not very easy to live in poverty.