‘Loved and cared for’ – Michele’s Getting Ahead story

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‘Loved and cared for’ – Michele’s Getting Ahead story

When we met Michele Pollard-Coons at one of our evening pantries almost 2 years ago, the situation was beyond dire – but we didn’t know it. Michele came to get food at the urging of one of her neighbors. But she told us much later that when she arrived she had planned to take her own life that night. She was “crying hysterically” that evening as she told staffers that her husband had walked out, taking most of their savings with him. She was facing surgery to get a pacemaker and had just one month’s worth of living expenses left. 

“I said ‘I don’t even know how to pay the bills,’” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to do. I was 63 years old and a mess.” 

It was at that pantry that she heard about our Getting Ahead economic empowerment work groups. After experiencing “kindness and encouragement” at the pantry, she abandoned her plans of suicide and instead applied for Getting Ahead. There, she found a group of strangers who quickly became friends. The camaraderie between these Getting Ahead co-investigators grew very close and they even celebrated Easter together this year. 

“I didn’t want to go to the food pantry that day. I’d never asked for help in my life. If things got rough, I’d just get another job,” she said. “But after all my health issues, that wasn’t an option anymore and I had to go on disability. Common Heart got me onto a good path. The staff and volunteers made me feel loved and cared for. I know I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Common Heart.”

Since GA graduation, Michele – a retired special education teacher’s aide  – has been trained as a co-facilitator with Getting Ahead and has found a church home. She’s making improvements in her own life and has completed two of the resource-building goals she set when she graduated – return to her Christian faith and get healthy, specifically losing weight and taking her medications correctly and on time. There are 11 Getting Ahead resources that can be used to help improve lives: financial, emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, support systems, knowledge of hidden rules, language, integrity and trust, motivation and persistence and relationships and role models. 

One of her biggest personal breakthroughs in GA was learning that it’s okay to say ‘no’ and stand up for herself. This has helped her to not overcommit and hurt her health in the process, Michele said. “Now, before I say ‘yes,’ I pause and pray before giving a response.”

Through her volunteer work and additional learning opportunities with Common Heart, Michele has received $500 deposited into a savings account as part of our Emergency Savings Incentive Plan. She’s a regular volunteer in our pantry warehouse and is helping with childcare for the current GA session. 

“Little by little, I’m getting better. My (adult) son will even say, ‘Mom, Common Heart brought you back to life a little bit.’ He can see the change in me,” Michele said. “Getting Ahead showed me that I’m not the only one who struggles. It not only gave me knowledge and new resources – it gave me strength.”

Sandy Dyson-Reid, Empowerment Center Director, said Michele has quickly become a big part of this small revolution of kindness. 

“I’m honored to be able to serve with Michele regularly. Like many others that go through Getting Ahead, Michele has overcome many challenges,” she said. “Not only does she continue to build her own resources, but she gives her time to help others by volunteering and being a listening ear and welcoming spirit to everyone she meets.”

Michele was a co-facilitator for a recent GA session and said though she was “a little nervous” it gave her purpose.  

“I know what the participants are going through, so I really felt like I could encourage them and help them. I told them ‘once you graduate you’ll find out that all the other graduates are there for you, too.’ We have a community, a special bond,” she said. “Co-facilitating a GA session made me feel needed. Common Heart has given me a purpose that I didn’t think I’d ever feel again.”

If you think you would benefit from Getting Ahead, apply online at Getting Ahead – Common Heart. Participants receive a $35 Wal-Mart gift card plus free dinner and free childcare (if needed) for every session they attend. Graduates have the opportunity to receive free life coaching and earn $500 deposited into a bank account through our Emergency Savings Incentive Plan (ESIP). Call 704-218-9060 ext. 1016 with any questions. 

If you would like to help support the GA program with financial or meal donations, call 704-218-9060 ext. 1016. Speakers are also needed to share expertise during monthly resource meetings.

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