Lani and her family moved from poverty to possibility with the help of a United Way-supported community resource centre and asset-building program. Here’s her story in her own words.
When Mike and I first met, I was in the middle of bankruptcy and living on social assistance. He was working part time and making minimum wage. We began our lives together living in an apartment with two other guys. It wasn’t ideal, but we just kind of made it work. We had to.
When I got pregnant and this house came up for rent in Elmwood, we jumped at the chance. It looked like a shack from the outside, with no siding, but the rent was really low. Ever heard that expression, if it’s too good to be true?
The furnace barely worked and the utility bills were crippling. Ajax was born that winter and there were even more challenges. That first year he hardly slept. Mike and I literally had to swing him back and forth in our arms for hours to get him to fall asleep only to have him wake up again a short time later.
We were exhausted. I began to doubt myself. What was I doing wrong? Was I a bad mother? When you feel like you should be happy but your child is a little bit different, you kind of hide it. You don’t want to see other people. You’re afraid of being judged. By chance I ran into an old friend in the area.
She invited me to a program for parents run by the local resource centre. Just being with other moms who were going through a lot of the same stuff, having people to talk to and not being so isolated made such a difference.
They didn’t judge me. They just provided resources and education. They’d bring in guest speakers—like the one woman who talked about an asset building program. That day changed everything for us.
We began thinking about the possibility of a more stable life and a home of our own. We applied to the asset building program and got accepted. With the help of this program we learned about budgeting, saving, how to make our credit score better.
When we heard our landlord was thinking about selling the house, we weren’t sure what would happen. When I was a kid, we moved around a lot. And when Mike and I first moved to Elmwood I didn’t want to stay. By then it had been a few years and it was like, yeah, I could stay here. I don’t want to move anymore.
So we thought, maybe we could buy the place.
With the skills we’d learned in the asset building program, we were able to save enough for the down payment and were approved for a mortgage that included some money to make a few repairs.
We put on siding, upgraded the insulation and installed a new furnace. Our monthly payments are cheaper than renting.
It sounds like something so trivial but being able to own a house is such a huge deal.
Almost 3 years ago we had our second son, Lex. Now both our boys will grow up in the same house, in the same neighbourhood. They’ll go to the same schools, with the same friends without us having to move to find cheaper rent.
That stability is really important to our whole family but especially for Ajax.
We have a really good relationship with many of our neighbours. In summer we have barbeques and all the kids in the neighbourhood come here. They call our yard the park. It’s like a safe place where we can keep an eye on the kids and make sure that they’re looked after.
So much has changed for us because of one program. It hasn’t been easy, especially while raising two boys, but I’ve even been able to return to school. And thanks to our new budgeting skills, with very little debt.
I had no idea until recently that this program, and the resource centre, was supported by United Way. Or that they support hundreds of programs like it, and families like ours, all over the city.
Having these kinds of resources and supports right in your own neighbourhood, that’s how you get people taking care of each other. That’s how you build a stronger community.