I just read an interview with Adam Shepard that JD over at Get Rich Slowly posted, this morning. The interview was interesting and gave me food for thought… but not as much as the comments. It seems to me that there are so many people who adamantly refuse to believe that each person is responsible for their own rise above poverty.
I’ve seen all of the excuses. Not enough education. Not the right sex. Not the right background. And the ever popular “I’m a single mom!”
I was raised by a single mother. Raised in poverty. We did not own our own home, or even have a place to live many times growing up. My mother was a Welfare Mother. All of her income came in the form of welfare checks, food stamps, and we were all provided the best healthcare the state offered. During the course of my childhood, we lived in dozens of places across 3 states, in low income housing, on friends’ sofas, with families in overcrowded houses, and a few times in shelters.
Our Christmas gifts, school clothes, and anything else of significant value was provided by Christian Social Services, Community Action, Goodwill, or any other of a hundred charity organizations. My mother did not work, except when it was mandated by state law that she work for the state for the number of hours equivalent to her welfare check paid at minimum wage. And, although she most certainly had enough money to spend every night at the local VFW, or bar, there was little leftover to raise her 4 children.
Now, this is not a pity party. I value the lessons I learned during my childhood. However, this is to demonstrate that I do know what I’m talking about when addressing the issues of poverty and the struggles faced by families ensconced in it.
As many of the girls who grew up in this environment, I got pregnant at 16. I was a Momma at barely 17. However, I refused to hang the label “Single Mother” on myself. Yes, I was a mother. Yes, I was single. But, my child deserved better than the life I’d had. I went to school during the day, worked at Papa John’s Pizza at night. I lived with my mom until 3 months before graduation when she decided to move to another state again. With no way to graduate high school if I moved with her, I packed my 10 month old daughter up and moved into the local homeless shelter.
From there, I began the cycle I did not want to begin. I signed up for welfare, food stamps, and medical care for my daughter. I still went to school and still worked my part time job. I did manage to graduate on time (although, with a D in a couple of classes). I found a tiny 8’X35′ trailer for rent, with all utilities included for the exact amount of the welfare allotment. The school guidance counselor brought me a gift box with standard household items to help me get started.
I got financial aid and went to the local college. I met a guy. I got pregnant again at 19 and married 2 months later. I dropped out of school and we moved. Then we moved again. Then we moved again. To make a long story short, after moving more than half a dozen times in just 5 years, I wound up living on my mother’s sofa in Georgia, with 3 children, 13 college credit hours and a 0.7 grade point average, two broken legs in braces, an INCREDIBLY spotty work history, and no husband.
I bought a big bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol, and got a job as a 3rd shift waitress. For the entire time I worked there, I was in such pain that I could barely walk. But, I worked anyway. I did not want to be a Welfare Mom and I did not want to ever utter the words “But I’m a single mom”.
My world completely fell apart the day that my (then) 7 year old daughter fell on a piece of playground equipment and broke her arm. As a waitress, I had no medical insurance. I had to quit my job to qualify for public assistance. This was the only way that I could afford medical treatment for her arm.
The Public Assistance program in my community is very strict. You’re required to attend workshops on resume building, interviewing skills, and get the documentation signed before you qualify for assistance. They also have programs in place with some local department stores to provide interview and work clothes.
I grabbed onto every opportunity they provided me with both hands. Within 10 days of my application, before I ever received one welfare check, I had a job. A job working DAYS.. at a desk job… 40 hours a week.. and for the most money I’d ever made, $10 an hour!
From that point, I never looked back. I have utilized every free educational opportunity that the jobs I’ve held have offered. Every training session, industry online training course, or even co-workers trying to teach me other job functions, I grabbed onto and used to my advantage. Within a year, I was working for a different company, making more money, learning as much as I could, and making sure that I was in the front of the minds of management when they thought of intelligent, hard workers.
The greatest thing is that my daughters all saw this. They all know where we started. They all know how much our lives have changed and improved. They all know that it was just the 4 of us together for a long time. Not only have I given them better lives than I had, through my own perseverance and hard work, but I’ve given them a foundation for success… proof that even “single moms” with “no education” and “the wrong background” can improve their situations dramatically and break the cycle of poverty.