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Finding stability in unstable times

March 5, 2021

What will tomorrow bring? For many families in central Maryland, the answer to that question could include an increase in rent, a fluctuation in income or an unexpected bill. The future is often uncertain.

Keisha* knows this first-hand. She grew up in an unstable household, where her mother used drugs and eventually abandoned her and her siblings. Keisha dropped out of high school and had three children. When her husband proved to be abusive, she left him and moved with her kids to a domestic violence shelter. They now live in an apartment complex in Baltimore County.

Keisha has worked in childcare since the age of 19, but it seemed that even with additional training and education (she earned her GED at age 31 and took courses in social work at Morgan State University), the meager increases she received in pay were still not enough to cover the bills. She applied for food stamps, but her income was just high enough that she didn’t immediately qualify. After a series of snow days last winter diminished her pay even more, she found herself behind on her monthly rent and received a notice of eviction.

“It’s almost like I had no way out,” she recalled. She called various community organizations for help before being referred to United Way and Neighbor-to-Neighbor. Thanks to United Way’s Family Stability program, support for clients includes financial assistance for rent, utilities, insurance, car repairs and other necessities to help get them back on their feet. Clients also meet multiple times each month in group and one-on-one sessions with a case manager and a therapist to discuss challenges, get advice and establish goals. Counseling and an after-school homework club also are available for children.

Jennie Fumarola is the program coordinator and case manager for the Family Stability program, based out of Epiphany Episcopal Church in Lutherville. Like Keisha, many of the people Jennie works with are experiencing temporary financial setbacks in life—people who are working hard but just can’t seem to get ahead of their bills and other expenses, or for whom an unexpected event, such as a medical emergency or car repair, puts them in financial crisis.

A groundbreaking report released by United Ways throughout the state of Maryland gives a name and face to these people: ALICE: an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The report reveals that more than one-third of Maryland households can’t afford the state’s high cost of living, and shows the impact of living at or below the ALICE Survival Budget ($23,568 for an individual; $61,224 for a family of four).

The work of United Way of Central Maryland has served and will continue serving the ALICE population—through its Family Stability program at Neighbor-to-Neighbor, and at 11 other Family Stability sites across the region. The ALICE Report supports the critical and ongoing need for these programs, and will guide future planning and projects to help families like Keisha’s.

Keisha said that through United Way’s Family Stability program, she received the support she needed to cover her rent and other bills, get her on a budget and land a better job. After earning her childhood care certification, she began work as a teacher at Epiphany Episcopal Church’s daycare program, where she oversees nine children in her class. “She’s in a much better atmosphere and doing a fabulous job with these kids,” said Jennie.

For Keisha, life still has its challenges, but she says she can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. “I really love the program and I can’t wait until I get to the point where I’m able to do this on my own,” she said. “They saw the value in me. They wanted to know what was going on in my life, so they could help me get to the next level. And it seems like the harder I pushed to succeed, they pushed three times as hard to help because they saw that I was trying to grow. They do whatever they can do to get you to the point where you can be independent again.”

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality.


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