Many of us plan for the future in some way, even if it is simply considering where we want to be in the next few years. If we’re fortunate enough, when challenges arise, we can pivot around those barriers as needed without being completely derailed. But this isn’t the case for so many of our Bay Area neighbors; many have to go to extraordinary lengths to stay afloat when the unexpected happens. For Elisabeth, a wife, mother, and veteran teacher of 33 years, the plan that she had for her family was foundational. She had been working with United Way Bay Area SparkPoint services to rebuild her credit, develop plans to maintain stability in the present, and achieve greater financial freedom and security in the future. This plan was to sustain their lives while her husband gained a credential in People and Personnel Services, allowing him to work as a counselor in a local school district. It was also helping them put two children through college: her son finishing a master’s degree at UCLA and her daughter finishing a bachelor’s at Cal State East Bay; all while Elizabeth herself worked part-time at a regional adult school helping others begin to reclaim their educational aspirations by achieving their high school diplomas. Then came COVID-19.
“My husband tried to get sub work,” she said. “But when you’re online, teachers don’t really have to call in because they’re at home.”
Just as the pandemic was ramping up, her husband was slated to begin working with the district to serve and address the needs of high school students at risk of not attending or failing. “They had to cancel that job because the students were no longer on campus. That knocked us down to part-time, dropping our income very low, to the point that we could not meet our obligations and basic needs.” Being the only one left in the family with any income, Elisabeth was left trying to cover the cost of everything on her part-time salary. She says things went from bad to worse, when all her son’s prospective income was lost due to canceled live performances, and her daughter got sick, requiring “special treatment.” “We had to ask people to help us with that, so that we could have medical treatment for her and to purchase medicine. So, without the United Way [Bay Area’s] help, we would basically be homeless.” SparkPoint staff is not only trained to help clients get on the road to economic security and financial freedom in the long term, but they’re also trained to counsel and listen for things clients may express that might indicate a crisis in other parts of their lives and address those more immediate needs as well. “Whenever you talk with them, it’s a counseling session. They’re helping you relieve the stress just by talking about it, and then giving you some hope that something is going to happen for you.” When staff began hearing of her family’s situation, counselors were able to connect Elisabeth to other resources to help her with her rent. Rental assistance may seem like a small thing, but like planning for the future, it is foundational. Because everything is connected, addressing that need meant Elizabeth had the breathing room to allocate her own resources to her daughter’s unexpected medical expenses. Obtaining and maintaining stable housing is key to helping families thrive. It’s also one of the most difficult aspects of living in the Bay Area.
“Sometimes you get in a situation, and you just ask yourself, well what am I going to do? I’m looking at COVID-19 unfolding, I’m looking at my husband not getting the job, I’m thinking my god, our entire plan has failed. And then out of the blue, they say, ‘Hey Liz, we got some help for you .’ She said, ‘we can help you with your rent .’ I couldn’t believe it.”
She has a new plan now – rebuild. She says, while they’re not entirely out of “hot water” yet, things are looking up. With her husband accepting a position to return to the school district, and businesses and institutions continuing to re-open allowing her children to continue with the care, education, and financial opportunities they need, she says they are all taking it one day at a time. “I was just so moved because it was a really hard time, and they just came out of nowhere like an angel. So, I’m just thankful, really thankful for that.”