Published December 29, 2011, in the Record-Courier(Link)
By Julie Sickel
Five years. That’s how long Amanda Huddleston has given herself.
Five years to get out of Section 8 housing. Five years to be off government aid and Food Stamps. Five years to finish her college degree and begin a real career.
By then, Amanda will be 31 and her boys, Logan and Joshua will be 9 and 7. She’ll be able to afford to pay for things like jackets and boots for her sons without her parents’ help.
In the meantime, Amanda will wake up every weekday and board the public transit with Logan and Joshua, see them off to daycare and preschool and then arrive at the Medina County Job and Family Services building at 232 Northland Drive and take the 8:15 a.m. bus with 10 to 25 other workers to the Medina Assembly and Packaging factory in Wadsworth. At the factory, she’ll do everything from sorting recycling to making boat straps.
Amanda is 26. Her light brown hair is pulled up into in a neat bun on her head. She wears glasses and holds a box of contact solution in her small, pale hands. When she’s not speaking, she keeps her lips neatly rested together and the curves of her mouth in a tired smile.
She is a member of the Ohio Works First program. She works 86 hours a month –less than the normally required 129 hours because her sons are younger than 6. She earns $434 in cash. Cheryl Mason, eligibility specialist at MCJFS, said Amanda receives $526 in Food Stamps each month as a two-child parent and pays an $8 per month co-pay for her children’s daycare.
Amanda is what another MCJFS representative called “a shining star” because of her work ethic. However, the work she does every day until her return from the factory at 2:15 p.m. cannot be counted as “work experience” on a resume. It’s government aid.
Life wasn’t always like this for Amanda. She used to be independent. She had a car, a house and a job at a daycare that she loved. That was before she got pregnant with Logan and found out she had heart problems. Three months after he was born, she went in for heart surgery and came out with a load of medical bills.
“It just kind of threw me off. I was able to work but (Logan) was 3 months old when I had the surgery done and I couldn’t find anything,” she says.
Logan and Joshua have two different fathers. Logan’s father pays child support, but is otherwise removed from the family. Joshua’s father works just long enough before quitting so he doesn’t have to pay child support, said Amanda.
“I just got myself in a situation and now I’m trying to get myself out, and it’s hard. It’s very hard.”
Her situation doesn’t keep Amanda from enjoying her time with her boys. Dancing was her favorite thing to do before Logan was born. Now, she dances around the house with her two boys instead, laughing and feeling silly. The smile on her face when she talks about her sons is lively and very different from the smile she wears when she talks about the future.
Amanda eventually graduated from Cuyahoga Community College with a degree in medical assisting. Six months after graduation, she went back to school to study nursing, but eventually withdrew. It’s been too long since she’s worked in medical assisting for her to be hired. Now she’s in default for thousands of dollars in student loans.
Amanda interviewed for three jobs in the past month and is hoping to hear something soon.
Mead Wilkins, director of MCJFS, said Amanda’s story isn’t unique. Many of the workers in Ohio Works program are single mothers who aren’t getting child support.
“You have the young mom with two children and she can’t get out of poverty,” Wilkins said. “You’re just holding on by your fingertips.”
Wilkins said the goal of the program is to teach workers the life skills they can use to eventually gain employment, things like working hard and being to work on time.
“This isn’t somewhere I want to be for very long,” Amanda says, drumming her fingers on the contact solution box still in her hands. “I mean, I’m thankful for it and the cash I get helps me. But this is not something that I ever thought I’d be doing.
“It seems like when I try to get one step ahead, I fall 20 steps backwards,” she says shaking her head.
Then the weary single mother, who spent the day packaging holiday cookies in brightly colored Christmas tins, places her hands flat on the table in front of her, closes her eyes and sighs before concluding, “One day it will all come together.”
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