Sunday, December 30, 2012

Separation, depression obstacles for woman

And when she had to take a year off to care for her mother, her career stalled.

Good Neighbors Fund

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Katherine -- who asked that her name not be used for this story -- came to Roanoke Area Ministries this month in search of a job. At 39, she is the mother of two children and is struggling to raise them on Temporary Aid to Needy Families. She is married, she said, but separated from her husband and cannot make ends meet without him in the household.

"We're still friends," she said, "but we have some personal issues."

Those who receive TANF payments must enroll in the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare -- or VIEW -- program, in which they actively look for work or find volunteer jobs to further their skills. For Katherine, the job in RAM's office was right up her alley. After graduating from high school, she said, she completed one year of an administrative assistant program, and immediately began working as a receptionist.

"I like it," she said. "I enjoy working with the computers and the phones."

But when she had to take a year off to become a full-time caregiver for her mother after an illness, Katherine said her career stalled. She has suffered from depression all of her life, she said.

"It's a chemical imbalance," she said. "It runs in the family." Tending to her mother, who also has the disorder, made it worse, so she and her husband decided she would stay at home and take care of the children until she felt better. In addition to the depression, she said, she now suffers from crippling anxiety.

"I get sick before I leave the house," she said. The depression "blocks me from focusing, but I'm pretty good once I get out and around people."

In August 2011, shortly after the family moved to Roanoke, she received help with a deposit on her electric service from the Emergency Financial Assistance Program, which is supported by The Roanoke Times' Good Neighbors Fund. Katherine had been in a minor car wreck a few months before, she said, and the money she would have used for the deposit had to go toward paying her traffic fine.

Katherine said her income consists solely of her $345 TANF check and $400 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Her husband used to help with the utility bills, she said, but for now, he is putting his money aside for the child support payments he will make once approved by the court. She said that she often gets food from the Saint Francis House pantry, which adjoins Roanoke Area Ministries, and on the day of her job interview at RAM, she was contemplating applying for financial assistance once again.

"I have more bills than I have money," she said.

Katherine would like to get a paying job, she said, but because she doesn't have a car, she has to borrow one to get to interviews. She doesn't know what she would do if she had to be at a workplace every day, she said. The apartment she rents is on the bus line, but it is at the top of a hill, and she has difficulty with standing and walking, she said.

She and the children are on Medicaid, she said, but because she has no transportation, she hasn't been able to get to a doctor. Her medications have run out, she said, and she doesn't feel well most of the time. Medicaid will pay for transportation to doctor's appointments, but she said she has trouble scheduling a ride.

Her younger child had a good Christmas, Katherine said, because his school signed him up for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program. But the other one, at 16, is too old for it.

"I've bought them one game they'll have to share," she said. "That's all I can do." But Katherine said they're good kids who understand that the family is going through hard times right now.

As for the future, Katherine said, with help from the VIEW program, "I'm going to finish school and get a job."

Katherine said she is grateful for the help she's received from RAM.

"It's really hard. There are people out there that are trying to do their best, and are deserving." Giving to the Good Neighbors Fund, she said, "is a nice gesture, and it really helps people out."

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