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It wasn’t that long ago that Charlee had everything going for her.
The 24-year-old Athens County resident was paying the mortgage on her house, paying off her truck and building a good life for herself and her four-year-old son.
A single mother, she was receiving Ohio Works First funding and Food Assistance Program funding, formerly known as food stamps, and it was helping a great deal. She also was working nights, starting a second job and even going to school to become a nurse. Charlee knew that all of her hard work was going to pull her off of public assistance, and she was very proud of everything she had accomplished.
She also was in a steady relationship and was engaged to be married. Everything was going well.
A September 2008 car crash, though, caused her to lose nearly everything she had worked so hard for.
She broke her leg, suffered nerve damages and other injuries, and spent weeks in the hospital recovering. She is now out of the hospital and is recuperating at home, but she is unable to work and faces more surgeries in January. She has a metal rod in her leg, has a tough time walking, has to take medications for the pain and simply has no way to pay most of her bills.
“I’ve let everything go,” Charlee said. She knows that it will not be long before her phone service, cable and utilities are shut off, but she has no way to pay the bills. She is behind on her mortgage payments and knows she will lose her home. Everything is slipping away from her, and there is nothing she can do about it.
Charlee receives $336 a month in OWF funding and $223 a month in food assistance funding. That’s all of the money she has coming in.
By shopping very carefully, she can make the food money stretch for an entire month. She said she doesn’t eat much, especially not since the accident, and her son is good about eating the different food items she can afford. She pays whatever bills she can with the OWF funding, but it only goes so far.
Charlee has received a little help from family and friends, and that support made it possible for her to get through Christmas. She knows, though, that there is not much other help out there for her, and she wishes the state would increase benefits or make some changes to help people in need.
She receives health insurance through the state and is very thankful that she has it. Even with the insurance, though, she has some pretty steep medical bills that built up from her time in the hospital and she has to find a way to pay those bills, too.
“It ruined my whole life,” Charlee said about the accident.
While things are tough, her son makes her life better every day, Charlee said.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be walking,” she said. She has to be up and around just to be a mom for him. He also is very helpful and will get things when she needs them.
Her fiancé has been very helpful, and on Jan. 2 the two were married. He is in the U.S. Army and ironically had to report back to his unit on their wedding day.
Charlee is still recuperating and taking care of her son, and she has been in and out of the hospital for different surgeries. The recovery period from this surgery may be long, and she may need to live in a nursing home while she recuperates, she said.
When she gets out of there, she does not know if she will have a house to come home to and she does not know where she will go.
In the summer, her husband will be stationed in a place where Charlee and her son can join him, and she hopes life can get back to normal then. She hopes that in the summer she will be able to walk much better and not be in pain every day. She also plans on finishing nursing school and then finding a job. She does not want to be on public assistance anymore.
Getting to that point in the summer, though, will be difficult for her and she likely will have incurred a great deal of debt by then. Things would be much easier if the state could increase OWF benefits by $100 per month, Charlee said. It would also be much easier to deal with public assistance programs such as those that help pay for utility payments, if she could always get people on the phone instead of talking to automated machines. Charlee gets very frustrated dealing with the automated machines instead of real people.
She also has a difficult time getting the medications she needs for her pain, and explained that it is frustrating seeing other people getting pain medications and then selling them to people who want to get high.
It’s frustrating, too, knowing that as hard as she worked for her house, truck and other items, that they are all being taken away because of a car accident.
Despite the frustrations, though, Charlee is thankful for everything she has in her life, and she is excited about the future. She plans to continue working hard at whatever she does and she will continue to do whatever she needs to for her son and family.
She’ll get to where she wants to be, she’s just got a tough path to go down to get there.