June 7, 2017  |  Boston & Cambridge Education Financial Health Housing Social Capital

Cathy Draine

Poverty was not in the plan when I moved to the Boston area in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree at Brandeis University. Growing up in the foster care system in Tennessee, I know first-hand what it is like to be completely dependent on systems that begrudgingly take care of you. Once I aged out of the foster care system and graduated college I was determined to never have to return to public assistance and, for most of my twenties, that was the case. Once I received my Master’s Degree at Brandeis I decided to stay in New England and actively pursue work in the area’s thriving and innovative nonprofit sector. For five years, I would progress in the area and eventually decided to go back to school to pursue a second master’s degree at Emerson College. It was during this time however, I would experience the trifecta of the poverty spiral for women of color (1) loss of work income (2) housing insecurity (3) single parenthood with no financial support.

It was then that I found myself reliant on systems that I had worked so hard to put in my past. Home ownership and a passion for writing had to be put on hold while I found ways to provide stability for my daughter Ailey and I. I remember how hard I cried when I went to apply for SNAP benefits only to be told I was only eligible for a little over $30 per month. I tried to get housing assistance and was told the only way to get help was to face eviction – and there were no guarantees given that the amount of people in need was far greater than resources available. I refused to take the risk and be homeless with my daughter. So against my doctor’s recommendation, I went back to work four weeks after having my daughter in order to have a steady income to keep my market rent apartment.

The return to work however was a double edged sword; my gross salary was just over the threshold for assistance with child care. So I struggled to meet the cost of day care without a child care voucher. Paying on average $790 a month in child care, juggling bills became an art form. My car was re-possessed at one point but because I need it for work, I borrowed the money from a friend to recover it before it went to auction. There is no way to accurately describe how it feels to know you are falling and there is truly no help unless you hit rock bottom. Many days the only thing that kept me going was a desire to ensure that my daughter would not have to repeat the patterns of my childhood.

Since joining FII, I see brighter days ahead. The FII emphasis on families networking to meet their goals has proven to be beneficial with helping me get back on track. Through a family partner, I was introduced to another family partner with FII-Boston. She offers affordable private child care. I was able to switch my daughter to her care. Besides knowing that my daughter is in a wonderful home-based child care setting, I am now able to save. I have started to contribute to my company’s 401k which matches up to 5% (I currently contribute at 4%).

I have also began writing again. Rather than use my FII data stipend to just cover delinquent bills, I am using a portion to cover the self-publishing costs on my first children’s book, How the Salad Came to Be. The book will be ready around the second week in July 2017 and I could not be more elated about it and FII – Boston. Being a part of FII has reaffirmed my belief in the adage it takes a village to raise a child. I would also say I now am more firmly resolved in the notion that it takes each villager to sustain a village. I am grateful for the village FII helps to create.

I know I am back on track and it is because of the priceless support FII –Boston has for me to tap in to.

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