"Because of this program I am in a better place.”
After losing her son to the opioid crisis, Ellie inherited her granddaughter. She adopted her when she was in her late 50’s and is - once again - known as “Mom.”
Instead of planning her retirement from her job in social services, she is now trying to save for her daughter’s future. When we met, Ellie and her daughter were living in a one-room studio apartment in West Chester. She knew she needed a larger apartment but the thought of saving for the security deposit and first month’s rent overwhelmed her. Her dream of staying in her beloved hometown of West Chester was fading fast due to the high cost of rents.
Ellie knew she was just one accident, illness, or car breakdown away from a crisis that would require multiple costly layers of support to resolve. Then a friend suggested that she call us for help. Ellie, like most social workers, are so accustomed to helping others that they often forget to help themselves.
With our connections to a landlord willing to take a chance on a low income tenant like Ellie, North Star of Chester County were able to help her move to a two-bedroom home. We brought her beds, desks, a sofa and dinette set in time for Thanksgiving 2014. We began providing rental assistance at a rate of $200 per month, which was just the hand up that she needed to make ends meet.
We taught Ellie, among other things, to manage her cash flow and finances in a way that drastically reduced her bank overdraft fees. We also taught her about credit, car maintenance, landlord relations and more in our workshops. Her daughter is thriving in school, and Ellie proudly graduated from our program in November of 2017.
Ellie still returns for budget counseling, and gives back to the community through her volunteer work. She now pays her full rent on her own - a significant amount more than she did in 2014 - without assistance from others.
Jerry is a single father with a teenage son who loves to eat. His son is still growing, needs clothes and shoes on a regular basis, and now needs braces after having recent dental surgery.
Jerry is a metal worker who earns $15.25/hour. He wakes at 4:30am to make his son breakfast and get ready for work. He works long hours, getting home about 6:30 pm, making dinner for his son, doing dishes and going to sleep by 8:00 pm.
He allowed his son to sleep on their only bed, while he slept on a cot. Once our rental assistance began in the fall of 2017, Jerry received a gently used bed of his own from a generous donor.
To compensate for the stress that Jerry’s divorce had on their small family, he had treated his son to expensive foods and an occasional vacation to the Jersey shore. Our case managers pointed him in the direction of the County’s Domestic Relations office, and urged him to shop for lower priced groceries and less costly excursions. Jerry is now in a smoking cessation program to trim another costly expense from his budget and to improve his overall health.
His van was 20 years old and needed costly repairs which would have caused him to fall short on his rent. North Star of Chester County stepped in to help with that repair, in addition to our monthly rental assistance.
Jerry attended workshops and was introduced to a mentor, Steve, who had made friends with some of the area dealerships, and who understood the impact that Jerry’s mortgage foreclosure from his divorce would have on his credit score. With Steve’s guidance, Jerry used some of his tax refund to purchase a 2016 model with 40,000 miles on it for only $200 a month.
Since stabilizing his financial situation, Jerry now pays his rent on time, and recently received a $1.00/hour pay increase. His son’s grades have gone from D’s to B’s, and they are ready to see about getting those braces he worried about last year.
According to Jerry, “I am at a loss for words to try to express my happiness! Thank you so very much for introducing me to Steve. He, as all of you are, is a blessing from above!!!!!”
When “Aliyah” called us, she had just delivered her third child and was wondering how she could make ends meet. She had no car but worked more than 15 miles from home. Borrowing a car from a relative whenever it was available and getting rides from friends was a stressful way to get around. Relying on public transportation with three small children was not feasible.
The bills were piling: utility costs skyrocketed with the cold winter. Her phone was shut off for a time. Her job as a hair stylist earned her just enough to disqualify her for food stamps, child care subsidies and other low-income benefits. Her ex was not providing child support payments, so she had to bear the burden of raising her family on her own.
Hair stylists’ earnings are commission-based. She does not get paid if she stays home from work during a snow storm or when a child is ill. Family support can only last for so long before it fades away as well. Aliyah needed a stabilizing and objective influence in her life.
Our case managers helped Aliyah address some tricky problems with her electric bill, landlord communications, and goal setting. They held her baby while she attended workshops and budget meetings, and encouraged her to make lifestyle changes to save money.
Aliyah was able to purchase her own car with her tax refund and still have some left over for savings. Soon after, her landlord stated that he was selling her apartment and forced her to move out in 30 days. Under normal circumstances she would have been a candidate for one of the county’s few homeless shelters for families, but she found strength and encouragement from our team. Through a friend, she was able to find new housing that is affordable, clean, and safe.
Grateful for the $300 per month in rental assistance, the education she receives from our workshops, and the support of her case management team, Aliyah wanted to give back. We connected her with the Chester County Single Mothers’ Conference, where she and a friend spent the morning providing free hair styling to those who attended. Bringing joy to others gave Aliyah a feeling of pride in her own achievements.