Dorothy did everything the “right way.” She married her high school sweetheart, started a family, and landed a great job almost as soon as they moved to Texas. There are no guarantees in life, but she followed every proven rule and guideline. Based on almost any metric, her life should have been perfect. Instead, after losing her husband and her job, she found herself on the verge of complete exhaustion. She is the embodiment of our anxieties: proof that the American Dream can be buried under the burdens of daily life. Until she found the New Hope Center, Dorothy had no one to help her carry hers.
Now the sole provider in a makeshift family of six, Dorothy has come to rely on the Food Pantry and Clothing Closet whenever her budget gets tight. In the last two weeks, she’s worked nearly 120 hours at a local fast-food restaurant. After falling ill for a week and missing work, she’s still behind on rent. She’s chronically fatigued, hardly sleeping as she shifts between roles as a mother, chauffeur, and employee.
Less than a year ago, with her only vehicle about to break down for good, she was ready to give up. Clothes and canned goods couldn’t solve her problem. She had deeper needs.
‘The Other Half of Me’
Dorothy and her husband moved from Baltimore to Texas in 2004. Along the way, her husband missed wages from a friend who promised to pay him for work at a startup company but later went back on the deal. Nonetheless, the couple landed on their feet in the mid-cities. Dorothy got a job at Citibank, where she served as the corporate banker for several major clients in the area, including Home Depot.
Then her marriage dissolved and it all fell apart.
“When we separated, I left there. I didn’t work for a while. I lost two storage units, lost a car, lost my apartment. Literally hit rock bottom and had to start over,” Dorothy said. “I just didn’t want to be who I was before; didn’t know how to be that person without the other half of me. I got married at 17 years old [when] I was still a Senior in High School, and I thought I had everything figured out; that’s what I wanted. So when I did all of that the right way and it still didn’t work, I kind of gave up completely.
“I just didn’t care anymore. But one day, I woke up, and I realized I can’t give up. I have to keep fighting.”
The family lived in a hotel for two years, their room sandwiched between a prostitute and a drug dealer. Dorothy worked two jobs — which she scheduled around the kids’ school hours — just to scrape together the income she would need to secure her own apartment. When a complex finally approved her application, she left immediately. She forfeit two weeks’ rent for the hotel room just to escape.
Never Miss a Moment
Moving forward, Dorothy vowed to give her kids — who range in age from three to seventeen — everything she could afford to give them. She remembered growing up in poverty, and she didn’t want to pass that experience down. She’s built her life around being there for the kids; giving them every opportunity she could afford to give them.
“I just want my kids to feel normal, [not like] what I felt growing up, knowing we didn’t have anything,” she said. “I hope, in my struggle, that I’ve taught my kids so many life lessons that they otherwise would not have gotten… and I love being a mom. I don’t think I would change that for anything in the world. It’s a big burden to carry, but it’s a great reward at the end.”Dorothy scaled back to one job to make time for the kids, and the family survives on a tight margin. Some months are good. Others are so desperate that the kids won’t eat unless they can come to the New Hope Center. But Dorothy makes a point to only visit the food pantry when she can’t find another way.
“There will be months and months in between where we’re doing really good. If we don’t need it, [we won’t] take from someone else. When we really need it, we know it’s there,” she said. “I’m the only one able to work right now, just because of daycare costs and the car, not having reliable transportation… All of that falls on me. That’s why I push myself at work so hard.”
The family makes the most of every visit, and her youngest children even find joy in pushing a cart around or selecting new-to-them clothing from the racks of donations. Her youngest prizes a pair of high-top Skechers rescued from the rear wall. She calls them her “6 Stones.”
The family atmosphere in the New Hope Center helps Dorothy to hold her head up, even when having to admit to her needs. That’s why she chose the vast parking lot in front of the 6 Stones office as her safe space. When a leak in her car’s water pump became a crack in the radiator, she started breaking down here — on purpose — every day. A fifteen minute trip to school became a two-hour ordeal as she waited for her engine to cool between trips.
It’s been almost a year since Dorothy has taken vacation time. She never calls in sick. She can’t afford to lose the money, and she certainly couldn’t afford a repair bill that came out to $900 in parts alone.
“Every day that I parked there, someone — a volunteer or someone driving in and out — always stopped to make sure I was ok, that I didn’t need anything. That’s why I stopped here. I felt safe,” she said.
“I would sit out in that car and I would cry, every day. I'd want to give up so bad. But I’d know my babies need me, and I can’t leave them to do this on their own. They can’t. So you guys made me not give up. Y’all made me restore my faith. It was weird. Normally you have to go into a church to get that. I got it in the parking lot of 6 Stones. When I was at my darkest point, God brought someone to me and reminded me that there are people out there that care.”
In time, those daily check-ins became a relationship. And that relationship became the answer to an unspoken prayer.
‘I Was Giving Up on Everything’
Over time, Dorothy became friends with several 6 Stones employees. When the kids needed a bathroom break during their two-hour ride home from school, they’d stop inside. When the winter cold began to bite through the car doors faster than it could satiate the broiling engine, the family found a warm place to relax inside a staff member’s office.
During those visits, Dorothy signed up for Night of Hope. Staff helped her find a new tire to replace one that went flat. She never asked for more than safety and prayers, but she always followed through when given the chance to do more for her family. So her new friends made one more call: to the company that maintains a small fleet of 6 Stones vehicles.
That auto shop not only got every part donated but waived their labor fees. When they called Dorothy to pick up her resurrected vehicle last December, she found the back seat brimming with snacks and food alongside donated Christmas decorations from a local church. Between Night of Hope and those gifts, the family had the best Christmas in recent memory.
“That was their Christmas. That was everything to them. It was something that I couldn’t do, so at some point you made me look like a superhero,” Dorothy said. “I never ever expected it. I didn’t come here for that; didn’t ask. Y’all saw a true need and stepped up above and beyond what I could even imagine… the way they cared about me was more than anyone — I felt — has cared about me in a long time, from here to there.
“This place is really important. I don’t even know if y’all realize how important it is, even just from the littlest things that y’all do. I don’t think you realize that, sometimes, it really saves peoples’ lives. In a whole ‘nother meaning from ‘you feed people, you clothe people.’ You give people hope where they may not have it otherwise. I didn’t. I was giving up on everything.”
Dorothy still has hard days. The hours are long, and her body still aches from time to time. But she isn’t focusing on that anymore. Instead, she’s pouring all of her energy into the people she loves: the kids, who will soon get to share her only week of paid vacation; her “regulars,” who seem to prefer Dorothy’s smile and paper bags of food to the upscale trappings of a traditional restaurant; and a new family. One she didn’t know she had. One that’s here when she needs them, and glad to see her when she doesn’t.
She has a team of volunteers who gave her the most precious gift of all: hope.
“I didn’t feel like I had anybody that cared. A perfect stranger that didn’t know me from anyone else took the time to come out and talk to me, check on me, and make sure I’m OK. It kind of put me in a better place, where I could refocus,” she said.
“You don’t get this everywhere. It feels like a family when you come in here. It really does, no matter what your need is. The prayers; everything from start to finish. It’s life-changing. For me, when I leave here, I can hold my head up. I don’t feel bad that I can’t give my kids everything. That’s hard because I want to. I try really hard, but I sometimes need that extra little oomph to push me. You guys have always been there.”
We always will be.
You can be part of that family, too! There’s always room for more volunteers in the New Hope Center, and even the smallest donation can help support incredible people like Dorothy. Come be a Catalyst of Hope with us.