Maya’s story resonated with so many of you. I’m so glad it affected you like it has me. I run a nonprofit in Mississippi call The Homestead Education Center. We provide onsite and online resources on Purposeful Living for Better Health, Home & Community. We partner with the J. L. King Community Center that provides adult education, workforce skills, and life skills. This is how I met Maya.
Our organization raised $38,000 to put a roof on the King Center three years ago so it could house these important programs. We now send a designated portion of our funds there each year to keep programming going as grants are harder to find.
I wanted to update you on Maya. We moved her into a new apartment closer to the bus stop. We are paying her rent while a volunteer lawyer tries to get her voucher reinstated. She faithfully reports to work through all of this. She is stashing away every extra penny and building her credit for the next two years in hopes of putting a downpayment on something in 24 months.
Transportation continues to be her largest obstacle. In order to get to training for a technical job, she needs a reliable car. If this is something you would like to contribute to you can send funds through this site marked Transportation.
Most importantly, Maya is happy to be in a safe neighborhood, and hopeful about her future. I ask you to find one Maya through your church or organization. Consider the policies you support in light of this family. And mostly, understand that we are not called to judge but to help. The needs are ENORMOUS and we can’t save everyone, but we can all help one person, one family, one child, one project, or one organization that is doing this work.
I want to end by saying this is not patronizing work. I don’t feel like we’ve helped Maya as much as she has helped us. She calls us to kindness, compassion, and action. That’s important.
Maya’s Original Story:
Let me tell you a story about a mother who decided she was ready to get off welfare. Let me tell you a story about myself - a person of privilege who thought it would be easy if she just did a few basic things right.
I met Maya working a few days a week at the local community center. She showed up regularly from the housing project across the street, her boys were always clean and cared for. She was consistent and finally, I asked her, "Are you ready to get out of there?"
We sat down and made a plan. First, she would need to recoup the last of her high school credit. She worked for six months daily and received her high school diploma.
We originally planned for her to go straight to a tech program at the junior college, but that was abandoned when we realized the bus didn't go out that far. She would go to work instead.
She needed to get her boys into Head Start so that she could begin looking for a job. Daycare is at least $450/month - and that's at a crappy place. This was a hard process without a car. It takes our public transit system 1.5 hours to get across a town ten miles wide. "Why is this?" A friend from Germany asked me while visiting last summer. "This bus is just for riding around for fun?”
Once she got the boys enrolled, she began interviewing. An hour-and-a-half to each interview. Then back. Thankfully, she did have a phone paid for by I don't know what means. The only other income she had was $400/month in food stamps. I was surprised. Where was all the benefit money people were complaining about? In fact, in order to help move the housing situation along, I tried to help her apply for some kind of benefits - they had to be out there, right? Everyone said people were rolling in benefits.
Despite the fact that Maya has a significant limp from a car accident as a child, she wasn't eligible for anything other than Medicaid, a crappy apartment owned by a private company receiving government subsidies, who hadn't fixed either the heat or the stove for over six months, and some food money. She was currently working full-time, which meant the food money was about to be reduced. She pulled in $1200/month. The math didn't work.
No problem, I thought. Her housing voucher was about to come up. After five years of living in the projects, people are offered a housing voucher from HUD. Basically, they pay $600 in rent to any home you can find that a. passes inspection, and b. will take your voucher.
She had 60 days to find a place. I called EVERYWHERE. There were no openings. None. Finally, we found an apartment with an opening, but it didn't pass inspection. She filed for an extension with the help of a friend and got it. On the last day, she passed inspection, moved in, and transferred her utilities. She had to miss a couple days of work to do this.
Two days later she got a notice from Housing that her voucher had expired as she failed to show proof that her utilities had been transferred.
Then DHS called. She wasn't there in time to meet the Headstart Bus when her boys were dropped off. They wouldn't be eligible for the program if it happened again.
Her job is not happy with the number of days missed - another to get the utilities reversed.
I have a doctorate degree. I have resources and education and money.
I cannot get this family off of welfare.
In fact, there seems to be no point to her having gotten her diploma, a job, daycare, or ridden the bus 3 hours a day to work for the last year.
Tell me again how people are lazy and abusing the system? I know those stories. I also know this one.
I hope this story keeps you awake tonight. It's kept me up for weeks. I hope we can't sit comfortably in our pews on Sundays and then vote to squeeze poor people harder. I don't think we are supposed to be comfortable, friends. I don't think we are supposed to separate ourselves in our safe schools, and churches, and neighborhoods while just down the road a woman limps to the bus station and hopes she is in time to pick up her kids.
I don’t feel sorry for Maya. I admire the hell out of her.