The Stigma of Public Assistance: Coming from A Beneficiary

Ever know someone receiving public assistance that is working, going to school, volunteering or all of the previous? The stigma in America is that most people on public assistance are lazy, moochers, lack motivation and expect a handout. But is that really the case?

We have many people receiving public assistance such as Food Stamps (aka SNAP benefits) that just a few years ago would have never imagined they would be in the position to be in need of assistance. Many middle class families have lost their jobs, their homes, their cars, their livelihood. Yet, Americans continue to voice their harsh, close minded opinions of people on public assistance.

Chances are, most Americans have never set foot in a public housing project, subsidized apartment complex or in the home of a family who has fell on hard times and possess a SNAP card.

One inspiring single mom, I will refer to as Jenn is tired of the stigma associated with being a SNAP beneficiary. Jenn says that most of the time the issue has been brought up on Facebook, which has at times resulted in her deactivating her account because close friends and family who know her will stir up the issue anyways even though they know people like her who have worked hard towards being independent.

Ten years ago Jenn would have never imagined herself being on what was then, Food Stamps. She was a married, stay at home mom of two children, a girl and a boy, living the American Dream. Jenn & her family lived in a middle class neighborhood in a tri-level house, fenced in backyard with a swing set and two dogs.

In 2004, that American Dream came to crashing end. Her now ex-husband lost his job of 11 years in part because he had recently been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder, severe depression. Jenn took over the reigns and worked two jobs for about six months before friends and family pleaded with her to change direction in her life and focus on taking better care of herself and her two young children. It was a hard pill to swallow with her because she had worked hard to keep her family together and to build something she had never had yet always dreamed of.

Her now ex-husband had been quite emotionally, mentally abusive for a time. He was an alcoholic as well as an on and off again drug addict on top of his recent diagnosis of Bi-Polar disorder. The only way Jenn could recover from the years of turmoil was to break away and start over.

Fast forward to today. Jenn has accomplished a lot although she feels at times discouraged. For the last two years she and her oldest son and just recently, her daughter (her oldest child) has been living in a subsidized apartment complex. She says that just living where she is at also has a stigma attached to it, mostly because of past issues which she says have been mostly eliminated thanks in part to an apartment manager who has aggressively changed things.

In late 2004 Jenn lost her job because her boss chose to take advantage of the fact he could fire employees without any reason, which was devastating to her family. However, she was able to receive unemployment assistance.

A year later, Jenn gave birth to another son, Hunter. By then Jenn had been forced to move into public housing. At that point she felt like she had hit rock bottom. But Jenn had plans to make it a temporary thing. In January 2006 she started classes at her local community college, full time. When she realized that dependable child care was a major issue during her first semester in college, she took advantage of online courses offered through her college. Every semester Jenn was a full time student. Several semesters she made the honor roll, something she had never done in middle or high school.

A year and a half later, Jenn transferred to a 4-year university, still taking courses online. After a year and a half of having challenges working with her advisor, she once again transferred to another 4 year university where she and her oldest son also moved to, 100 miles away from friends and family. That was something Jenn had never done in her life.

See, prior to her second transfer, Jenn HAD a job that last for nine months. It unfortunately was eliminated because of the economy. Jenn’s ex husband had also quit paying child support, so Jenn was forced to pack up her belongings and put most of it in storage and move to her mom and step dad’s home. There, Jenn and her boys were forced to sleep on the front porch even when the weather got down to 25 degrees. Many nights Jenn shed tears of discouragement and frustration. During the day though, Jenn persevered, determined she would finish college.

What gave her a boost was being granted housing from the second 4 yr university she transferred to.

In May 2010, Jenn graduated from college. Her hopes had been that she would have a job soon after graduating college to avoid having to move back home and possibly move back in with her family. After applying to 50+ jobs around graduation time, she came to the realization she would have to go back home.

Jenn was extremely discouraged. Here she had a piece of paper that she had worked very hard for and yet that paper could not get her a decent paying job to get her on her feet and off of public assistance. Even back at home, Jenn continued to apply to jobs and she got two interviews. One though wanted to pay her a mere $.50 more an hour than a high school graduate. Her best friend created a budget for her and determined if she took the job she would be worse off than her current situation. The other job chose someone else.

Instead of giving in, Jenn kept on trying, even applying to places like Toys R Us and fast food restaurants to no avail. Finally Jenn decided she would look into going to grad school. Jenn found an online grad school that she could start soon after her application and financial aid paperwork was completed. She felt it was better than sitting around doing nothing.

Jenn has continued to work hard in grad school and will be completing her Masters in June 2013.

She is still living in a subsidized apartment complex with hopes that sometime next year she will be gainfully employed and living a better place for her family. Meanwhile she and her family live off of her student loan disbursements and any money she earns doing odd jobs or errands for friends and family.  In the meantime, Jenn is not sitting down feeling sorry for herself.

She has been a band booster president for one of her children’s school bands, she has been a room mom, co-room mom, a parent volunteer, chaperone, concession worker, fall festival booth worker at all three of her kids’ schools. On the adult level, Jenn joined a community service organization two years ago to gain experience but also to spend time with her 86 year old grandfather who has been a member for nearly 40 years.

Jenn has been secretary of the club, going on her third year. Last year she was also asked to be the Lt. Governor for the middle and high school clubs.

The one thing though that stays with Jenn is the stigma that beneficiaries of public assistance do nothing to better themselves. She has gotten to the point she doesn’t like to go grocery shopping although she has some preference to where she goes based on the cashiers attitudes towards customers. Jenn says that many cashiers, especially the young ones usually change their attitude towards her when she tells them she will be using her food stamp card. Many times she has wanted to speak out, but because of her quiet nature she typically walks away saying nothing.

Jenn figures one day it will happen, that she will be in a place to defend herself. She says that she figures most of the time she has more education than the cashiers so it just goes to show their education obviously hasn’t taught them to be more open minded.

In about six months Jenn will be finishing up her last course of her grad school which helps her stay focused. Her hope is that through sharing her story, people will step back and see that there are some people who are making a difference, who are being productive and setting goals to get off of public assistance. Perhaps those who choose to stigmatize will have a change of heart and realize that there are people who are deserving.

Relieving Stress Part I

As a single mom of three kids ages 14, 10 and 7 as well as a Grad Student and Pre-Nursing Student (among many other things) I deal with stress.

When things recently came to a head I knew there were things I had to do. Stress is known to affect your health, cause memory problems and alter your behavior. If it continues, stress can and has killed people. I still have a lot of life to live so changing my behavior had to start immediately.

Identify your stressors-What causes you stress?

Take some time for yourself. Even if it is taking a walk by yourself for a few minutes a day to clear your mind, Do it.

Write things down in a journal and when you do, be sure to write at least five positive things down. Positive thoughts will help you gradually change your attitude. It doesn’t happen overnight. Within one to two weeks of daily work you will see a difference! Let that be the last thing you do before bedtime. If you can, write at least one positive thing down in the morning and then try to reflect on it. Creating a positive attitude takes time and reprogramming your brain will take effort on your part. Start out small and add to it.

Talk to someone who is positive and has an optimistic attitude. You want someone uplifting who is great listener but can also give you some constructive criticism if need be.

If you feel you are beyond the basics of relieving stress, seek professional help even if it is your pastor or other clergy. If a group is available consider trying that. Make an effort to not hold things in.

Dealing With Bullies

After reading the tragic story of Amanda Todd, it really hit home about the things my children as well as myself have experienced when it comes to bullying. Interestingly enough as I read through the comments at the bottom of the story I came across one who said that those who are aware of bullying, including the teachers and do nothing about it are just as guilty as the bully themselves. Strong words yet they are the truth, in my own opinion.

My oldest son who is 10 years old has been dealing with a bully for the last year. His teachers, counselor, principal and therapist are all aware of the bullying issue yet most of them except his Learning Support Specialist and Therapist  are doing Nothing about it. Constantly I am getting phone calls and letters about issues with my son. They have noticed his behavior is not the best this year. When I tell them the contributing factor to that is dealing with the bully they just brush it off as if it is nothing.

Imagine your child who has been harassed, picked on, blamed for things he didn’t do tries to take up for himself and of course gets into trouble. He tells you he hates school because of so and so, becomes aggressive in trying to deal with the situation.  When you get a call or letter from the school and tell them it IS because he is being bullied and then they brush it off as if it is nothing, it is beyond frustrating.

I will never forget two days before school was supposed to start this year. My son and I went to the meet-the-teacher night. As I walked over to his assigned desk my heart sank. The bully was once again in the same class with him! When I shared with my son that this bully was in the same class with him it was as if a switch was flipped inside, to the off position. I recently found out that the Learning Support Specialist told me she had told the guidance counselor not to put my son and the bully in the same class. *SIGH*

You see, my oldest son is high functioning Autistic. He is a very special boy who is smart, handsome, talented, creative, adventurous and caring (at times). He can be a very helpful boy when he wants to.

Yes, my son can be at times impulsive, rarely aggressive and defiant.

This year though it’s obvious something is going on with him. He is totally distracted and unfocused. From what he tells me he doesn’t care anymore because he hates school.

I have been contemplating just homeschooling him next year although I have been teetering back and forth about just pulling him out of school this year. My child is withdrawing from life and I as a parent have to do something!


When I was slightly older than my son, I was faced head on with a bully. I was a very shy, timid girl mostly because of my appearance. I had bucked teeth from the fourth grade until ninth grade and there were plenty of times I was picked, called bucked toothed. But there was this one girl named Lynn in the same grade as me, who was just downright mean to people. If you looked at her she would react negatively coming at you as if she wanted to hit you. She would talk bad about people behind their backs.  Whenever you walked down the hallway Lynn would try to trip you, smack the back of your head or act as if she was going to hit you. There were times she got into fights with people.

Unfortunately for me and my brother who is three years younger than me, Lynn lived about a half mile down the road from us. She rode the same bus with us so not only did I have to deal with Lynn at school I had to deal with her in the morning and the afternoon. I tried to avoid her like the plague as much as possible.

Then one day all of that changed.

Lynn was sitting behind my brother on the bus. For whatever reason that I don’t remember, Lynn reached over the top of the seat and smacked my brother upside his head.

That set me off big time.

I do remember adrenalin kicking in and me being across the aisle jumping across to my brother reaching over the seat and hitting her. I was so mad and I had enough of her antics.

After that, Lynn was kicked off the bus. The bus driver did not write me up either. Lynn avoided me, like the plague.


Anxieties With Searching for a Car and Buying one…On Ebay

Recently I came to realize that it was costing me a lot of money to keep filling my Jeep Cherokee with gas, like every three to four days. In fact, the last 10 days I know I have spent around $100 in gas just to take my kids to and from school, band practices, doctors appointments, therapy appointments and having to go get medicine.

It was a heart wrenching decision to start looking for a car to drive daily and even more difficult to share the news with my three kids who absolutely adore “Princess.” I got the silent treatment from all three of them ages 14, 10 and 7. Their biggest concern was whether or not I was keeping her.

Of course I am!

I just explained to them that Princess does need to have some maintenance work done on her so we can take her off roading like they have been wanting to do. I even told them that there may be days I may drive Princess especially when there is snow in the forecast.

It has not been an easy time looking for the “right” car. Some I have found with the perfect body yet there is something seriously wrong with the engine or transmission and in one case, the brakes not working. I have been most astounded though at the prices of the cars.

I spent over a week and a half looking at cars locally, in our local trading post paper, newspaper, craigslist (from the local to places 250 miles away) and Ebay.  My original budget had been about $1,000 which when I look back at it was a joke. Rarely can you find a vehicle for that price and when you do there are bungee cords holding the doors closed, duct tape on the body, glass missing, key holes with no place to put the key just to name a few things.

Even when I bumped up the price limit to $1,500 I had a friend who visits car auctions often to be looking for certain cars. He warned me that chances are cars in that price range will look like they’ve had a rough life. I will agree!

Then it came to a point after talking with my boyfriend that if I wanted a decent car the way I wanted I would have to ask for some help. I had to break down and ask my grandfather for a little help with my car budget. As hesitant as he was, I believe he was very understanding about my situation with spending money on gas.

After a few days of looking and “watching” cars on Ebay and digging through ads on Craigslist, I finally came across one I “fell in love with.” Yes, I’ll admit I crumble when I see certain cars. I did it with my Jeep Cherokee which I immediately named Princess before the auction had ended…

The best thing about the car I found was that it was where I could get a friend to test drive it for me before making the decision to dive in and bid on it. I had missed the Buy It Now option by probably 12 hours by the time my friend test drove it. But, the most interesting thing about the car is that the guy who was selling it knows my friend from a place he worked at previously! Funny how things can be a small world.

For nearly a week I have been tormented by the whole auction ordeal. I missed the BIN by less than a day, then a potential fraudulent bidder got involved and bumped up the price right to my absolute limit, when, where and how to get the car, then trying to figure out how to get all the money together to pay for the car, just about all took me over the edge.

Actually, it was the final day that made me the craziest. I did my absolute best to keep my mind off the auction by cleaning, doing school work, washing my hair, going to do a few errands. For the most part of two days I figured the auction would end around 3 PM. That was a perfect time since that would be just before I had to go get my boys from school. Ummm, nope not so much. Try 3:50 PM. *Sigh*

Well, I had downloaded the Ebay app recently so that made it a little easier to keep up with the auction. At the same time I had a small auction going that I was selling some sandals I no longer needed. So every once in a while I would get an alert that either the bid price had gone up on the sandals or the car (I’d much rather know the bid price went up on the sandals). I remember sitting in line at my oldest son’s school and would check the final 50 minutes of the auction about every 10-15 minutes. I had estimated that it would end about the time I picked my youngest one up from school.

As it got down to 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes and then 5 minutes my heart was racing faster and faster. I thought I was going to pass out before the auction was finished. For a day and a half the highest bid was at $2,400. I just knew at the last minute someone would outbid me (my maximum bid was $2,401.99). Lucky for me I got stuck at the traffic light through two cycles. It was one time I just didn’t care.

I remember looking at my iPhone as it got down to 2 minutes and some odd seconds, 1 minute and then into the seconds. I could feel my heart beating intensely, my hands were shaking profusely. And just as the light changed to green the auction ended.

I won!


Now to go get the car, tomorrow….*Sigh* I have no patience to be waiting

Life With An Autistic Child

Most of us have heard the expression walk in my shoes to see what it’s like (fill in the blank).  Have you ever been so frustrated you want to curl up in a ball and cry? Do you know someone who has a special needs child or a child with developmental delays?

Life with a child who has needs beyond the average person can take a toll on parent(s). Unfortunately some parents do not have a support system in place or they may have one that is mediocre.

So trying to take some time to themselves to refresh or re cooperate can be the greatest challenge, especially when it comes to child care. Actually, it is one of my greatest frustrations, disappointments, discouragements and it has been for at least the last 10 years.

People enjoy watching my now teenage daughter. Most of the time I hear about how wonderful and sweet she is when someone has been watching her. But when it comes to my oldest son Caleb, things are dramatically different. Most people don’t want to watch him. In fact, I’ve had people admit that they cannot “handle” him.

It is a struggle to find decent, reliable child care especially when people believe they cannot handle or deal with a child who is mildly different from the average child. Most days he is just a more curious, inquisitive child that will ask questions quite often.

This also leads to the problem of employment for me. If I do not have reliable child care then what good does it do for me to go out and seek employment?

I cannot imagine what other single parent families go through with a special needs child. I would hope they would have a great support system which is a challenge for many including myself. There is a true need for people to reach out to families who at times are overwhelmed, stressed and would like to have even a day to recuperate. It is a challenge to find respite care for caregivers who primarily focus on the needs of the special needs child and tend to forget about themselves.

Most of us have seen stories in the news where someone snaps and does something unimaginable. People cannot imagine what it is like for someone who is overwhelmed day in and day out with no outlet. Life with an autistic child is not an easy one. Every day there are challenges some more stressful than others. Despite the fact that many of these challenges are life lessons it often feels like the world is against them.