Deborah Reclaimed Her Life Thanks To These Orange County, NC Nonprofits
“People don’t realize how close they are to having a different experience in their golden years than they anticipated.”
Deborah knows this better than most.
She was at work one day when she suddenly passed out and had to be airlifted from her home base in Johnston County to the hospital at UNC-Chapel Hill over 70 miles away. At that point, she didn’t yet know that she would spend three weeks at the hospital and another year in medical rehab. She didn’t know she would lose her house, job, car, dog, two-thirds of her blood, and most of her liver function. She just knew that she was fighting to survive.
And after more than a year, she had. Deborah was ready to leave the medical rehab facility and pick up her normal life but doing so wasn’t as simple as walking out the door. Her only income at that point was a $30 monthly disability check and that wasn’t nearly enough to survive on.
Deborah doesn’t give up easily. She didn’t have a car but she signed up for the Town of Chapel Hill’s EZ Rider Service, which “transports individuals who are unable to use the fixed route system (some or all of the time) due to a disability in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”
She then used the EZ Rider Service to knock on Community Empowerment Fund’s door.
By definition, Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) is a nonprofit organization in Durham and Orange Counties whose mission is to cultivate opportunities, assets, and communities that sustain transitions out of homelessness and poverty. In practice, their team achieves this by providing person-centered support, financial education, and asset building tools to individuals experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.
CEF showed Deborah how to get approved for food stamps, how to get her Medicaid switched over from the rehab facility to her own name, and how to acquire proof of residency (a library card). They helped her find a place to live that she could afford in Chapel Hill and while it was a tiny bedroom that took almost her whole disability check, it gave her the stability she needed to keep going.
“I don’t know where I’d be without the Community Empowerment Fund. I had no bed; I had no money for one. They got me a bed, a table to eat on, and a couple of chairs. Then they asked if I needed something to put my clothes in and they brought me those items,” Deborah explains. ‘I was really excited to get into a place. They helped me unload everything and then said they had one more item for me.”
The driver who helped to deliver the furniture even pulled out a rose before leaving to show Deborah that the “world isn’t all bad and things are going to get better.”
Deborah stayed in that tiny bedroom for almost a year. She then got word she’d been approved for affordable housing for seniors.
“I put my name on every single organization that I could. I kept knocking on doors and finally after almost a year, the possibility of a door opened and I was able to get this affordable housing,” she explains.
Deborah moved into her new home in June 2019 and she felt ready to fly on her own for the first time in a long while. But first, she needed access to a computer so she could manage her doctor’s appointments, bank accounts, and various meetings.
Green Field Commons, the affordable housing building that Deborah lives in, has a computer lab but it’s public and accessing her bank account from there made Deborah uncomfortable.
Then she tried the library but COVID-19 quickly eliminated that option.
Community Empowerment Fund ultimately referred her to Kramden Institute, whose mission is to provide technology tools and training to bridge the digital divide. That divide has become even more apparent through the COVID-19 pandemic, so much so that Kramden Institute received a grant from United Way’s Rapid Response Fund. The grant helped to provide local students in grades K-12, who do not have access to a home computer, with refurbished computers and free technical support, as well as laptops to adults who are in need of a device.
Deborah’s story ticked every box. She says that even though she’s only had the laptop for a couple of months, it’s already been a “real blessing.”
“I had someone hack into my bank account and I was able to see it in real-time to get the money back. I’ve been able to stay on top of checking my bank account and my medical stuff. It’s made a world of difference,” she says. “I’ve been able to do what I have to do during the pandemic so I haven’t had to expose myself.”
From contacting her sister through email and reconnecting on Facebook with friends from home, people who didn’t know where she went or what happened to her, Deborah feels ready to conquer her future — all with support from her new laptop.
“I went from a busy person who volunteered, helped my mom and my ministry, to bed-ridden. I’m able to get out now but one activity does me in for one day. I’m really trying to recreate myself and be able to do something to give back.”