Whose story will you tell?

Yesterday, A Wider Circle furnished its 1,000th home of 2013, putting us on a pace to furnish the homes of 4,000 families this year. During the first quarter of the year, we have spent time listening to 1,000 stories of adults who were born in poverty, raised in poverty, abused, victims of awful crimes or who lost parents, siblings or children to the effects of poverty and the war zones that impoverished neighborhoods often become.

Mary came to us in March, referred by a local social service agency. She had to reschedule several times for different reasons, but was determined to make it to her appointment. On the day of her appointment, she called crying hysterically because her driver had to work and would no longer be able to bring her. Her chance of finally having a bed in which to sleep and all the items she needed to create a home for her children seemed lost.

One of our Client Relations team members got on the phone and helped her to calm down enough to explain her situation. We told her it was okay to come as late as she needed to come, which took away much of the anxiety.

When Mary arrived, we did an intake and she shared stories of abuse, homelessness, and a deep lack of hope.

Mary moved to our nation’s capital several years ago, after finally finding the courage to leave her abusive ex-husband. She and her children found a home, but shortly thereafter, the home flooded and they lost everything. Mary is a fighter, and she was able to find resources to get beds for her children, but she had not had a bed, herself, for two years. She was sleeping on a box spring, and the family had few of what we might call the necessities of life. Mary shared her story through a flood of tears, a story that included being physically abused by her mother as a child. She had then married early and was abused by her husband throughout her marriage, and after she became a mother, she was abused by one of her sons. What gets fired, gets wired; in other words, we learn to get used to things that should not be a part of anyone’s life.

Mary proudly shared on this day that no one has put their hands on her in the past three years. At the same time, her story is far from easy street. “When you are not doing well,” Mary shared, “no one pays attention to you.” Mary now suffers from anxiety, depression and asthma. In the past two months she has had five serious asthma attacks. Her mental health issues have kept her from getting a job and taking consistent steps for a better life. Depression that set in at an early age (hard to imagine depression not setting in when such abuse and poverty are present) makes everything more of a challenge. Still, she is a mother, and she takes that very seriously.

Mary’s younger son, Daniel, still lives with her. He is 19 and will be graduating high school soon. He repeated the 9th grade three times, but, as she shared, he is now eager to finally get his diploma. He will be one of the few people in their extended family with a high school diploma, and he is the only one of his friends to graduate. Mary had to transfer him from one school to another to get him away from the drugs that were all around him. He has been able to create change in his life, thanks to the persistence of his mother. And she is hopeful for his future. We gave her ideas and connected her to different options for colleges and financial aid information.

Mary’s ability to share her entire life, she explained, was due to the fact that nobody here judged her, nobody spoke at her, but rather listened to her. And she felt respected. Her last words, as she got in her now fully-loaded truck – including her new bed – were simply, “You turned my sad day into a happy one.”

As she drove off, our thoughts turned to their future. Will they – now having a real home in which to live their days and nights – be able to create a different reality than the one they have been living? Will we love them enough; will we connect and support them? Or will we judge and disconnect?

Mary is waiting – everywhere you look. Bearing witness is a part of every major social movement, and ending poverty is no different. It brings us out of ourselves and connects us where connection is needed.

Whose story will you tell?

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