“Don’t judge my journey until you have walked my path”
Walking the path of the Little family of five includes a 45-60 minute hike on foot to work for the father, Bob Little, every day. His wife, Mary now, works in the front office of a local elementary school. Each morning, she departs from their apartment with her three kids ages 8, 7, and 2. Her husband travels the opposite direction, on foot, to work. It may not be the most ideal scenario, but they are thankful. They are thankful for two full-time jobs, for the health of their children, and a roof over their head… grateful because all three of these were in jeopardy at some point over the last six months. The path they have traveled has been a rocky one.
Prior to living here, Bob served in the Marines for four years, stationed in San Diego. Just when he was about to deploy, he injured his shoulder. After two surgeries, he was honorably discharged from the Marines and the family of five relocated to Central Florida where Bob secured a job working at a local grocery store. At first, their entire family lived out of one bedroom in Bob’s sister’s house. Soon, they found sustaining their family in such a small space and their expenses on his salary were increasingly difficult.
At that point, they moved in with Mary’s mom and partner, occupying two bedrooms for their family of five. Within the first month, however, Mary’s mom became unemployed. Mary learned that her mother was already two months behind on the rent and in a financial pickle of her own. Within the months of July and August, the power was turned off twice and the water once.
The end of August was approaching and the kids needed school uniforms, shoes, and school supplies. These were things the family could not afford. Miraculously, after two interviews, Mary was asked to be the front desk clerk at the elementary school her children attend! It was a huge break for the Little family and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Unable to keep the kids in the current living conditions, the family packed up and moved to a motel in early September. There, the family of five occupied a one-bedroom room at the stiff rate of $350 a week. Mary tried to make the tiny hotel room into a home. She bought her boys Spiderman sheets instead of the typical motel set. She put up quotes on the walls to remind her kids that family has nothing to do with the place they live but the people who occupy the space. Financially, the family was struggling as Mary’s first check from the elementary school wouldn’t arrive until September 30th. Luckily, her two boys were receiving food items to help over the weekends from Buses n’ Backpacks. Her family didn’t have a dime to spare and the food that came home in the unmarked backpacks was a godsend for this family.
They resided in that motel room over 10 weeks until they finally caught a break and were able to receive help getting an apartment through the “Family Endeavors” program. Additionally, Bob applied for and secured a job as a dean in a local high school. While he loved his job, he was having to walk 45 minutes to work each day and was underemployed. Working for the high school meant that he and Mary could carpool, working the same days and similar hours. Even better, as a veteran and his nights now free, he can go back to school through the benefit of the GI Bill, allowing him to obtain his degree while covering his rent and utilities. Things were really looking up. The Little family was thrilled to move to an apartment of their own.
The time living in the motel financially drained the family. They sold their televisions and many of their valuables in addition to losing a car. And soon it was Christmas time. This meant they were financially at rock bottom and had to figure out how to ensure their children had a Christmas. Mary recalls that she felt that at most she and Bob could, “Maybe buy the kids one present each.” South Lake Community Ministries Christmas Share program stepped in, ensuring all three of the children were sponsored and received gifts tailored to the kids’ interests. To Mary, it felt like the coming of the new year was bringing a welcomed new beginning, a fresh start– yet another storm was on the horizon.
Unbeknownst to them, their 2-year-old daughter, Maddy, had contracted a blood infection called Kingella kingae. It infected the bone in her leg and Maddy could hardly walk with her unconsolable pain. Despite visiting the doctor, her condition went undiagnosed and worsened until Mary and Bob rushed her to the Arnold Palmer Emergency Room one afternoon. She was admitted three days before Christmas. Maddy endured multiple blood tests and bone aspirations before being diagnosed and treated. She was discharged on Christmas Day. With these fresh medical bills and the expenses associated with the time in the hospital, they were unable to stay on track for covering their rent that month. Reluctantly, they asked for the help of South Lake Community Ministries. Mary recalls, “This is the most help I’ve ever had to ask for since I moved out of my parents house as a kid. I had to ask. They deserve more and I love them. I am their voice!” Asking for help took courage and humility on Mary’s part but made all the difference for the Little family.
Oftentimes we think we have our path all mapped out. We face unexpected detours or hit dead ends as we travel through life. Through the help of South Lake Community Ministries, the Little family was able to get back on track. Is there anything more refreshing than a clean, fresh start after a long, difficult journey? Today, 15 months later, they are living without the need of a backpack, both parents have jobs and everyone has a roof over their heads that they can call home.