There is A Light, A True Story
Maresa had always carried great strength and hope in her heart as a girl. She had been working so hard, made so many plans, but by only 26 years old, they all seemed to be falling around her like ashes settling at her feet. Nothing was as she had designed, nothing seemed certain, except that her 3-year-old son looked to her for protection and love. It was all she could give and it was leading her down an even more uncertain path.
Years earlier, Maresa graduated high school and the world was wide open in front of her. She was enrolled in college courses and worked at a local deli. That’s when she met Spencer, a handsome young man also attending college. They fell in love and made plans for their future; they would finish school, get married, buy a house together, and then later talk about children. It was nearly four years later, when Maresa became pregnant. There was no question between them that they would have this child and love him. They named their son Elijah. Maresa left school to be a stay at home mom with plans to re-enroll once Elijah was old enough for school.
One year after Elijah was born Spencer not only had the responsibility to be a loving father, but became the sole caregiver of his very ill grandfather, who lived out of town. For a full year, he traveled back and forth between cities caring for his family and his grandfather. Maresa recalls that she could see the toll it was taking on Spencer. “I should have done something,” says Maresa, who still aches from the memory.
Shortly after Spencer’s grandfather passed away Spencer experienced another family tragedy, his Uncle drowned. Spencer continued to commute between cities to provide support for his struggling Aunt. It was after one commute that Spencer had a seizure and passed away at only age 26. Maresa was back in school and working. Elijah was 3 years old and just started preschool. On the day of Spencer’s death Maresa recalled how the couple “had just been at the preschool and Spencer had met all of Elijah’s teachers.”
She was alone with her 3-year-old son. She couldn’t allow herself to fully feel the pain; she couldn’t talk about Spencer’s death. Worse yet, Maresa was in the grips of a fear that she would lose Elijah next. “I quit working and going to school. This could be our last moment together,” recalls Maresa. She could not be separated from Elijah.
Overtime, Maresa could not pay the bills and needed to find a place to stay. She was able to stay from time to time with her mother and at other times with a friend. In her grief, Maresa sought support and comfort from a male friend. At age 28 she was pregnant with her second child. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. Next time I’m going to do this the right way, I’m going to be married.” Maresa recalls. The relationship was not healthy, but she took responsibility for the new life. “The moment he was born I fell in love with him,” said Maresa with a mother’s loving smile. The newest love of her life was named Julian.
“I felt out of control, I wasn’t running my own life. This wasn’t like me. I’m strong.” said Maresa. “I was worried about how my children looked at me. I wasn’t dealing with Spencer’s death. It was a snowball effect of doing nothing.” Maresa had no permanent home for her 5-year-old and newborn sons. However, she did not want to stay in shelters with her children “I remember just sitting and crying. I felt like I couldn’t start over. I felt stuck where I was, or rather where I wasn’t,” said Maresa.
Maresa did some research and contacted St. Vincent Catholic Charities Housing Services for the Homeless. Maresa spoke with an STVCC case manager. The case manager reviewed Maresa’s situation and verified that she was in fact homeless. In order to help Maresa avoid ending up on the streets, St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) welcomed her into a fully furnished apartment and began providing her with services to help her become self sufficient. Maresa began seeing a counselor at STVCC Counseling Services to work through her depression, find ways to understand Spencer’s death and work through her separation anxiety with her children. Maresa obtained a job at a craft store and began to regain a sense of independence and strength.
While at STVCC Maresa’s caseworker helped her design both short and long term goals and how to follow through with them. “I learned how to budget and was required to pay some rent and bills. I inched toward independence,” said Maresa. STVCC gave classes in nutritional meals through the MSU extension, provided training in parenting skills and Maresa attended women’s groups for support.
“STVCC helped me put my responsibilities back in focus. Everything they did helped me. I took no steps backward. I only took steps forward. They had the wisdom of what we each should be doing, our goals and how to achieve them,” said Maresa.
Maresa graduated from the STVCC Housing Services for the Homeless program in 2008, after only 6 months. “STVCC helped me find a home, apply for rental approval and find assistance for a security deposit,” said Maresa. At age 29, Maresa moved into her first home for her family of three.
Today, Maresa, Elijah and Julian are still in their home. They have a garden of marigolds, cucumbers, tomatoes and sunflowers that the family nurtures together. Elijah, now 8 years old, is excelled in school and Maresa is looking into programs that will support his advanced learning level while maintaining him in a grade with peers his age. Julian is now 3 and Maresa is reviewing early childhood centers with a focus on education for him to begin attending. This fall Maresa plans to go from part time college courses to a full time student. The family also has something else to celebrate: a marriage engagement.
Maresa and Casildo (affectionately called Doe by the boys) met in 2007 through Elijah’s school. At the time Maresa was focused on the boys and herself but Casildo’s kindness was endearing. Eventually, Maresa agreed to date Casildo in 2008. “He is patient, calm and supportive,” said Maresa. On May 1st, 2009, Casildo got down on one knee, told Maresa he loved her and asked her to be his wife. “We are building a strong foundation,” said Maresa. Casildo is impressed by Maresa as a mother and a person. “Our relationship is based on communication and support.” said Casildo.
“Every once in a while I get out my little red STVCC folder and use my budget goals list,” says Maresa with a smile. “I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I truly wanted to, but you don’t always have a way. The ability was there, but everything I got from STVCC is what made it possible. It is possible. There is a light at the end. Even if it seems foggy, even if you can’t see it, there is always hope. It’s in your support group; who you have there with you.”
Photo: From left to right: Casildo, Julian, Maresa, Elijah, and their pet duck Riley in the backyard of Maresa’s home that STVCC helped her aquire. The family planted a garden which they tend to, together.
Photo: Above Photo: Maresa recently brought in another member to the family, Riley, the family’s pet duck. The boys are very gentle with Riley and have helped to raise him from a duckling.