New year offers fresh starts for families in crisis
January is a time for a fresh start. After the ball drops, we take inventory of our lives and look for ways to do better, and sometimes, to be better.
Fresh starts and second chances are true gifts, and they come easier to some than others. Many of our neighbors in Florida are still recovering from the hurricane. They are starting over in the worst way you can possibly imagine — trying to find new jobs and safe places for their children to sleep.
Many of these parents are not the “perfect” job candidates on paper. They might need training or have histories with the law. They work hard but in the world we live in, that’s not enough. They fill out hundreds of job applications online and hear nothing. They start to feel invisible, worthless.
These are not the fresh starts most of us have in mind when January rolls around. But it’s the reality of thousands of our neighbors across our state. If you are making goals for the new year and looking for ways to do better, to be better, I urge you to join us in helping them.
Hurricane Ian fell off the front pages of national newspapers a long time ago, but as we all know, it will take years to recover from the storm. My organization, Better Together, is still serving areas of Southwest Florida where homes are uninhabitable and families feel forgotten.
We are focusing our efforts on three main priorities: safety, security and relationships.
Safety: Right now, we are making sure every family has a safe place to live and the basic necessities, such as car seats, mosquito nets, diapers, wipes, over-the-counter medicines, toddler beds, first aid kits, shoes, pack-and-plays, baby formula, water, clothing and more. We are tarping roofs, cleaning up debris and repairing the homes that can be saved, while families who lost everything are staying with our screened and trained volunteer host families.
Our volunteers delivered Christmas presents to more than 800 children to alleviate financial stress on families during the holiday season, and hosted holiday outreach events in communities hit hard by the hurricane, including Pine Island, Harlem Heights and Suncoast Estates. Overall, we’ve given services and supplies to more than 10,000 families in areas with the highest need.
Security: Since thousands of people lost jobs overnight, our church partners are holding job fairs to help people get back on their feet and keep money coming in the door. For those who don’t have a way to get to work, we are helping them secure reliable transportation. For parents who are barely keeping it together, we are hosting Parents’ Night Out events to provide a night of respite while we watch the children and provide a hot meal.
Relationships: As we serve these families, friendships form. Volunteers exchange phone numbers with families, and from then on, that family is not alone. Whether it’s now or five years from now, we will be there for encouragement, mentorship, emergency babysitting, anything they need. Our volunteers are in it for the long haul.
For many of the families we serve, life was already hard before the storm. Now, with a community in their corner, they will rebuild stronger than before.
Jessica, for example, is a hard-working single mom who woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to start an early morning shift as a waitress. When the storm hit, she lost her job and home on the same day. The home was unlivable, and the landlord made repairs difficult. Our mentors met with Jessica and helped her find a new home. Our volunteers helped with furniture and beds, and other important supplies like school clothes, backpacks and shoes for her three children. She is now working with our mentors to find a new job and make a plan to buy her own home in the future.
In the meantime, a generous local donor sponsored Jessica and her family for the holidays, making sure each child had gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. Jessica’s family has a long road, but the goals that once seemed impossible are now within reach because they have people who really care about them.
We are also helping Tiffany, who is homeless right now and needs help caring for her four children while she works to find a job and housing. Tiffany aged out of foster care with zero support system, and she is determined to not let the same thing happen to her kids. She is in the fight of her life for her family, but she can’t do it alone.
Thanks to Better Together, she doesn’t have to. Our donors paid for a hotel room while we helped Tiffany find a host family to care for all four children while Tiffany worked with mentors to make a budget, meet local employers and look for housing options. Friendships have formed, and Tiffany can pick up the phone and call a volunteer for parenting advice and encouragement. On hard days, just having someone willing to listen keeps her from falling apart.
We need more volunteers, more people willing to invest personally in the lives of people like Tiffany and Jessica. In the new year, let’s look beyond the goals we make for ourselves and instead look for the fresh start we can give to others.
As I take inventory of my own life heading into the new year, I’m grateful for the friends and family I have to help me get through the hard times, the people I can call in low moments who will say, “you are not alone, I am here for you and I believe in you.”
In 2023, consider joining Better Together and being that person for someone else. I believe in you.
Megan Rose is CEO of Better Together, a nonprofit organization that helps parents and families. To help families in your community, get help or donate, visit bettertogetherus.org or call 239-470-2733.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: New year offers fresh starts for families in crisis