By Karen Griffiths
For Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Unexpected medical costs left the mother, her young son Markus, 7, and her partner of four years, David Hernandez, in danger of losing their home before the Peninsula Home Fund stepped in to help.
Jennifer, a Sequim native and self-described “good mother who takes her responsibility to provide a warm home for her son seriously,” and David had only had half enough to meet last October's rent.
“I've been working since I was 15 — and a mother since I was 18,” he says, “and I've always prided myself on being responsible and paying my bills.”
She had been feeling ill. A dentist confirmed that “I actually was very sick from having horrible teeth.”
She learned that “there are a lot of people like me who don't know you can get heart disease from bad gums, that the infection can get into your bloodstream and can kill you.”
The dental surgery “was really expensive, but I got it taken care of because I want to be healthy enough to work and care for my son for a long time.”
She found help from Olympic Community Action Programs — OlyCAP — which manages the Peninsula Home Fund for the Peninsula Daily News.
Her Home Fund caseworker arranged for assistance from the Housing Resource Center — and a voucher for the Home Fund for $150 covered the rest.
Coming up the funds to pay any unexpected expense was made more difficult through Jennifer's life-changing commitment last fall to change careers.
After working eight years as caregiver for the elderly, she decided the time was right to enroll as a full-time student at Peninsula College to become a medical assistant.
“I helping my son with his schoolwork and telling him the importance of working hard at school to make a better life for himself,” she says. “Yet, there I was working hard for minimum wage without much chance of earning more.
“So then I realized I could still do that, too. I wanted to set a good example for him.
“I thank god for every day. He is a wonderful child. Respectful and a gentleman. He tells me he loves me 35 to 40 times a day.”
At Peninsula College, she says with enthusiasm, “all my instructors are wonderful, and I love learning everything I can about the human body. And when I'm finished I'll be a certified medical assistant, as well as a medical biller and coder.”
David works full-time at a local company, making minimum wage, while Jennifer goes to school.
Not out of the woods
But his hours were reduced recently — and, because of deep cuts ordered by Congress to the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the family's food stamps were just reduced from $400 to $100 a month — so making ends meet continues to be a struggle.
With just one semester left to get her attain her medical assistant certificate, Jennifer hopes to continue her schooling.
“With David's work hours cut back and our food stamps cut back to next to nothing, I'm really worried how we're going to pay this next month's rent,” says Jennifer, worried she will have to quit school.
“I'm trying to find whatever part-time work I can that I can schedule around my classes so I can finish school.”
She's willing to work as a caregiver, house cleaner or whatever she can.
She hopes one day to earn enough to donate back to the Peninsula Home Fund.
She knows that in other areas of the U.S. there are no resources to help struggling parents like herself who are responsible and work hard to earn money to pay their bills on time, but fall short when the unexpected comes up.
She wonders: “And what then? Are mother and child out on the street to live?”
“The Home Fund's help was amazing,” she adds, emphasizing, “I am so grateful for the help, and for living in a community where help is available.”