Today I’d like to share a story I ran across in our local newspaper. I thought about just publishing the story straight from the paper but I’m not real comfortable about giving out the name of this amazing and inspiring woman and her children. Yes, it’s “out there” for anyone to read but I don’t have her permission so I’m going to share what I can without revealing their identities. Below is a synopsis of the story as it appeared:
About 4 years ago Ms. Smith (not her name) was standing in front of the Salvation Army when she was approached by a woman in need of house cleaning services. With three children at home and having just moved to our town, and with nothing but the clothes on their backs, she accepted.
Not long afterwards, Ms. Smith was able to move to a small mobile home with her children. By then she had upward of 40 houses to service. The lady who originally hired her to clean her home was her motivation to go back to school.
Today Ms. Smith has a 3.86 GPA in nursing school and is set to graduate in May. While she is excited to reach this milestone, it has not been without challenges.
Her main source of income comes from student loans -- about $11,000 a year or roughly $916 a month. She said she also receives $245 from the state Department of Human Resources, $200 of which she uses for living expenses.
While it pains her to tell them no, she rarely gets to treat her children to a meal out, and there is no money for extras on grocery shopping trips. The kids often have to miss field trips and she can't afford to buy school T-shirts or yearbooks.
"The kids are very supportive, for being children," she said. "'Maybe we can do this next year' is something they've been hearing for three years."
She has three children, two boys, ages 12 and 11 and a daughter, age 10. They live in a home made available through a charitable service organization that provides homeless families with no-cost shelter in a three bedroom, single-family home. Clients aren't charged rent, but Ms. Smith offers a $200 monthly donation to the organization.
"The hardest thing is money and time," she said. "I don't have the money for extras. I take my student loans and stretch it out for six months. Every August and January, I budget $5,500 for six months."
While Pell grants cover about 75 percent of her tuition and fees, she pays for books through the student loans, as well as car insurance, school uniforms for her and her children, toiletries and other basic necessities. She has Medicaid, and pays for food with food stamps. Currently, she has $30 to last her through December.
But the single mom is quick to acknowledge the good things that have happened in her life.
"I want to give back, and God knows that," she said. "He puts people in my life to help me through. He really does."
As a child, Ms. Smith said she often was sick with gastrointestinal and gynecological problems. She had a lot of exploratory surgeries, and remembers the nurses showing her they cared. She wants to return that kindness.
"I want to open clinics for the homeless," she said. "Whenever I receive my loan money in January and August, I head to the Salvation Army and choose someone and take them to McDonald's. Corned beef hash two times a day at the Salvation Army -- you have no idea how good a Quarter Pounder tastes."
Her children – one of whom has ADHD and the other who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism – want Christmas Day to be special for their mother.
"Christmas means giving and making people happy," her son said. "Mostly my mom. To see her use the things I give her ... that's cool. This Christmas, she wants a caddy to put the remote controls in."
On Christmas Day, the family plans to open their stockings, have breakfast and unwrap presents.
And when she does graduate and later enters the nursing field, her goal is to remember where she came from.
"I believe my story is my testimony," she said. "I don't just say, 'Oh, it must be hard.' A few years ago, we were making gravy pancakes ... we mixed flour and water, fried it in a pan and poured gravy over it. That was dinner. We've come a long way.
"I know it's hard," she said. "But I know anybody can do it. You have to want it, and believe it."
Did you get this? According to the story, 4 people have $30 to last them through December! I imagine most of us can go through $30 in a day or two just on ordinary (and sometimes) unnecessary things. Impulse purchases, lunches, tea at McDonalds, etc. Tomorrow I’m taking my grandchildren to the movies, buying then popcorn and cokes, and it will certainly cost me more than $30! Could you get by on $30 for a month? Especially when that month is Christmas? I doubt I could….while my life is certainly not extravagant or excessive, I am blessed beyond words compared to someone like this lady.
But what really got me was when she tells about taking someone out to McDonald’s for a quarter pounder with her loan money –I’m sure this is a sacrifice for her. And her children are supportive of her as well. She must be one amazing lady, to be such an inspiration to her kids too.
I ate a little humble pie reading this story. How blessed I am, and how I don’t know if I could ever make it if I were in her shoes. But instead of complaining, she is grateful what little she does have and wants to give back. I would love to read about her in a couple of years once she has her nursing degree and gets on her feet. What a testimony she will have!
And that remote control caddy she wants for Christmas? I’m hoping to get in touch with her through the newspaper and get her that caddy for Christmas. And while I know it will mean a lot to her, it will be more of a gift to me to give someone to someone so deserving.