A tired Travis Gholston, 4, waits as his mother Jennifer Wilson spreads layer upon layer of blankets atop his child-sized cot. The youngster’s real bed was repossessed by a local store after Jennifer was unable to keep up payments for it.
Wilson, a single mother with joint custody of her four-year-old son, is one of many local parents who find it nearly impossible to make ends meet, even while working a full-time job.
Wilson said she was caught off guard when her utility bill jumped from $85 in November to $151 in December. That unexpected cost required Wilson to stop payment on the bed.
But she said she knew gaining independence wouldn’t be easy and she wouldn’t be deterred.
“Setbacks are a way of life, but you have to move on,” she said.
How Wilson Got To Where She Is Today
When Jennifer Wilson broke up with her boyfriend in September, she found herself on her own for the first time in her life.
“I had always been dependent on someone else,” Wilson said. “First my mom, then my husband then my boyfriend.”
So Wilson was unprepared for the financial hurdles she would have to clear when it came time to find a place to live for her and Travis.
First she needed a job. With only a high school diploma and a semester of college, it was difficult for the 35-year-old to find a position she was qualified for that would pay the bills.
With the help of the Fairfield County division of WorkNet, Wilson found a job at Storage One, a self-storage and Budget truck rental business in Canal Winchester. Her wage of $9 an hour is the most she has ever earned.
With a paycheck finally coming in, Wilson set out to find a home of her own.
She found the up-front cost of renting an apartment or house to be nearly insurmountable. The expenses included the rental deposit, utility deposits and the cost of getting furniture when she had none of her own.
The costs were in addition to the higher food and medical expenses she was left with once she started working and became ineligible for the state assistance she had been receiving.
Where She Found Help
When she reached out for assistance, Jennifer said she was surprised at the resources she was able to call on in Lancaster.
“I had the desire to move forward in my life, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of JFS and the Lutherans,” she said.
Wilson received gasoline vouchers, utility deposits, food, counseling and winter coats from Lutheran Social Services.
There were clothing vouchers and food from the Salvation Army and food from the Maywood Mission.
“There’s a lot of help out there. People just need to suck up their pride and ask for it,” Wilson said.
She said that she used to have a hard time asking for help, but when it came down to whether she would have food on her table or a home for her son, pride had to take a back seat to survival.
In addition to the state and federally funded help that Jennifer found, she also relied on those closest to her to lend a hand.
Sharon Wilson, Jennifer’s mother, watches Travis each Saturday so Jennifer doesn’t have to pay a day care while she works.
Sharon said she’s happy to do it.
“They are my life,” she said with a smile, while she and Travis watched “A Christmas Story.”
Sharon said it’s tough at times to watch her daughter struggle through trials with money. But she knows whether a person is 18 years old or 35, it’s not easy to become independent for the first time.
“This has been difficult for her, but she had to prove it to herself that she could make it,” Sharon said.
Wilson is Not Alone
According to Laura Holton, the Director of Community Services at Job & Family Services, an average of 5,000 people come through her department each month for assistance of some kind.
“A lot of people think that families are just laying around soaking up all of the free assistance they can without contributing,” said Holton. “But the fact is that most of the people who need food stamps are working one or more jobs and still can’t make ends meet at the end of the month.”
Wilson’s case is the same as the others that Holton speaks of. Wilson said she’ll be eternally grateful for her job and loves what she does. But it’s also harder than she imagined to stretch her pay to cover her expenses.
“Nine dollars an hour sounded great, but once I pay my bills, there is nothing left,” she said.
Looking to the Future
Wilson said that she plans to go back to school in order to qualify for higher paying jobs. “I’ve got one semester of college. I want to pursue my degree in social work,” said Wilson. She wants to be able to help people who are going through the same trials that she has had to overcome. She said that she hopes that Travis will learn the importance of a good education and that he will gain knowledge from her experiences to make it far in life.
Giving Back Where She Can
Wilson still struggles and remains somewhat dependent on LSS and others for help. But, she said she is able to do more on her own each month.
Wilson said that besides the occasional $5 donation into a Salvation Army kettle, she is not yet able to help out other people financially.
But she has found other ways to assist those in need.
“I was able to help out some friends who needed support by telling them where they could go and who to talk to,” Wilson said. “I feel that I’ve been blessed, and now I want to do what I can for other people.”
“Setbacks Are A Way of Life, But You Have To Go On.”
Trials including the repossession of Travis’ bed have built resolve in Wilson, who said that even when bad things have happened, she still has found things to be grateful for.
“We’ve still got a roof above us and food in our bellies, so we’re okay tonight,” she said. “I know that God will provide what I need.”
In fact, Wilson said that God has been there for her and Travis even while things looked to be at their worst. On Monday, Wilson filled her car with Christmas gifts for Travis, all from local donations to Lutheran Social Services. Also, Travis’ father is set to send a mattress and Wilson’s friend is providing a bed rail and box-spring to give Travis a new place to sleep. (Story Copyright Ken Ritchie/Eagle-Gazette)