Our friends over at Half in 10 are running an incredible project: “Our American Story,” which collects stories from people living in poverty in communities across the nation to help remind us that poverty doesn’t take just one face or one form. The stories help break down the us-and-them mentality, and as you pass through the stories you begin to realize that their experiences, decisions, hopes, and dreams aren’t that much different from yours or mine.
One commonly hears broad accusations about how wasteful and harmful government assistance programs are, but for those living in poverty, the assistance simply helps them climb out of it.
Here’s Chelsey’s story about finding herself in poverty but eventually climbing out of it in order to provide a better life for her and her family. She’s from Glade Spring, Virginia, a small town of just under 2,000 people that was incorporated in 1875. The 2010 census showed that 9.4% of the town lived below the poverty line, and Chelsey was one of them.
While reading her story it becomes clear that the network of social programs she used provided her with a ladder to escape poverty. At the end of the story, Chelsey says, “I cannot imagine where my life would be now, if it were not for the support and the opportunities that were given to me. I am and will eternally be thankful for all the assistance I received from the government programs. There is help out there, if you have the right opportunities and the determination and motivation to better your life.” It is our duty, during these economically challenging times, to ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities that Chelsey did.
My name is Chelsey and I am from Southwest Virginia. I grew up in a middle class family. I watched my parents work hard and struggle to give my brother and I everything we needed. My father worked 50-60 hours per week in a manufacturing plant and my mother for the local school system. With all the stresses of life, my parents finally separated when I was about 18 years old.
I always enjoyed school and learning, so at the age of 17, I enrolled in classes at the local community college, while still in high school. After graduation I, like many others, decided to take a break from school and took a part time job substitute teaching. I got pregnant and 8 weeks later, the baby’s father was incarcerated. I had to take on another part time job and had to rely a lot on my family for support.
After giving birth, I had to seek assistance from public housing in order to remain independent and provide for my son. Soon I realized, working two part time jobs, I still couldn’t make ends meet. I applied for and received Food Stamps, WIC, Medicaid and TANF which is (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). With the assistance I received from Food Stamps, WIC and TANF, I was able to feed my son and purchase diapers, formula and clothes each month.
At eight months old, my son was diagnosed with Fragile X, a genetic syndrome caused by mutation of the X chromosome that causes developmental delays. I found myself traveling from doctor to doctor, adding more expenses that could not be met without the help of Medicaid and TANF. All the while, I continued to pursue my education goals, applying for the RN program at the community college. I got married and had another baby. When the baby was just four weeks old, I started the RN program because I knew that getting a degree and a steady job was what my family needed.
While, I was trying to better myself, I had to rely on government assistance programs even more after my husband left me with the two children. Both of my children also attended the Headstart Program at the Abingdon Child Development Center, which promoted early childhood education, health, nutrition, social services, parent education, family development, and parental involvement for both of my children.
While I was trying to make it through nursing school, I soon learned that my financial aid was exhausted and my last two semesters would not be covered. I heard about financial assistance through the local Workforce Development Program (WIA) at People Incorporated of Southwest Virginia. I completed the TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) as well as the CareerScope assessment which proved that I should be successful in the nursing field. Based on these tests, I had the aptitude and interest needed to succeed as an RN. The Workforce Development Program helped me by providing the cost of my tuition, books, uniforms, shoes, lab coat, stethoscope, state board exam fees, etc.
Before completing my degree, I was offered a full time position that the company held until I graduated. On May 10, 2013 I graduated from Virginia Highlands Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. With many emotions and fear, I took the state board licensing exam one month later. I passed with flying colors!
Today, I am proud to say that I hold a Cardiac Nurse position with Advance Cardiac Life Support Licensure at Mountain States Health Alliance in Abingdon, VA. I now work full time, from 7am-7pm. I have received many compliments on my work as a nurse and even have Student Nurses that shadow me, just as I did while in nursing clinicals.
My children and I are doing great; we are no longer receiving any government assistance. I am now remarried and recently purchased my first home.
I cannot imagine where my life would be now, if it were not for the support and the opportunities that were given to me. I am and will eternally be thankful for all the assistance I received from the government programs. There is help out there, if you have the right opportunities and the determination and motivation to better your life. If I, as a single mother of two can do this, ANYONE CAN!