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Laid off, no job, she and her kids move to Atlanta. Three months later, still no job. They spend the night in her car . . .
Tenia Colon was a working mother of two in Baltimore, Maryland in 2009, with a job at the Department of Motor Vehicles and child care work on the side. She tried to find other work when she was laid off from the DMV, but after months of searching still had no job, despite considerable experience in daycare and two skills certificates in childcare and office technology.
When a friend suggested the job market in Atlanta was better, she and the girls moved in early summer 2009. “My friend said she’d put me up,” Ms. Colon says. “With the experience I had and my education, I didn’t expect it to be hard to find a job.” But Atlanta was hit just as badly, if not worse, by the national economic downturn. “I applied for 50 or 60 jobs, fast food, grocery bagging, you name it. I got five interviews, but no job.” After three months, her friend said she was moving, but couldn’t take Ms. Colon and her daughters (Ellure, 3, and Essance, 8) along.
“My worries and fears overwhelmed me,” she says. “I grabbed my children and started looking for a shelter.”
A worker for DFCS (Georgia Division of Family and Children Services) gave her a list of shelters, but none of them had space available. “I finally went to my church and drove the car around to the back of the church so nobody could see us. We spent the night in the car.” The next day she consulted the list again. “I saw Initiative’s phone number, but I didn’t have a phone,” she says. “I drove to the Initiative office and rang the doorbell.”
The Initiative staff interviewed Ms. Colon and she applied to participate in the transitional housing program. While her application was processed, she was able to spend three nights in a motel with money her grandfather wired her.
When she was approved for the program, she was assigned to IAH social worker Chasity Collier. Soon she and her daughters moved into an apartment at Initiative’s Sol Luna Park apartments on Memorial Drive. The day after moving, she started looking for work again. A week later, she walked into Advance Preparatory Academy, a daycare center. “I was offered a part-time job. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I took it.”
She also met with Ms. Collier at least once a week. “She was always available, even late at night, if need be,” says Ms. Colon. The IAH program also took care of basic needs. “They helped with furniture, clothes, food, a place to call if I needed something.”
She continued to search for full-time work and within two months gained a full-time job at Creative Images childcare center. “I did a little bit of everything there – cook, driver, teacher, all of it.”
Ms. Colon’s two daughters initially had trouble adjusting to their new school and daycare center after the disruption in their lives. But it didn’t take long for them to rally. Essance is now on the Principal’s List and participating in the Cool Girls afterschool program, and Ellure is happy and well adjusted. Ms. Colon is also becoming more active in her children’s schools and is serving on a parent committee.
“Part of Initiative’s job is to immediately provide stability for children so they have all they need to reach their potential,” says Initiative Executive Director Lisa Wise.
Two years after Ms. Colon walked into the IAH office, her future is bright. She has completed the IAH program, and she and her daughters are renting their own apartment. She is also excited about her new job with a gas utility call center. “I will always be grateful for Chasity Collier and Initiative,” she says. “Chasity was always there when I needed her. I couldn’t have survived without her.”
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