Deborah W. cropped

Deborah doesn’t talk much about her early years as the third of six children in a two-parent Orlando home, but her pain and survival are apparent as she shares her story of growth into the woman she is today.

Now residing at Pathlight HOME’s affordable Maxwell Garden Apartments, Deborah’s history is one of formal education and hard work. She pursued her nursing degree while raising two daughters and, after working eight years in that field, returned to college to become a Behavioral Specialist. “I wanted to do something different,” she says about her next 15 years.

Her professional life of working with clients and their behavioral “triggers” ironically came to play out in her own life over the years. “I experienced drugs and alcohol and became homeless. It’s a domino effect; I’ve learned that.” In terms of the abuse she suffered as a child, she states, “I always thought it was my fault. That gave me my drive to want to do better for my children. I have no regrets because what happened to me as a child made me the woman I am today.”

When her child-rearing days ended, Deborah felt alone and remarried. Life unbelievably repeated itself when her husband was convicted of abusing her young grandchild. “I divorced him; but my family pulled away,” she says.

Deborah was still working hard in the behavioral health field. She owned a three-bedroom home and a car and things were going well. Her health, however, took a turn for the worse. Diagnosed with degenerative bone disease, she had to quit the job she loved and depend on disability income. “I couldn’t do the work anymore. I couldn’t perform the tactics needed to [subdue] clients. That was 15 years ago.

About that time, Deborah’s mother moved in, residing with her for the next seven years. This living situation rekindled vivid memories of Deborah’s childhood abuse at the hands of her father and the lack of support or from her mother, resulting in a diagnosis of PTSD.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “I got hit with PTSD. I started realizing she wasn’t there (for me) when I was a kid. Three months after they took him from the house (for child abuse), she let him back! My mother was a narcissist.”

Through therapy and PTSD medication, Deborah understood that her mother “brought on [my] triggers. I can’t do it anymore.” That realization and her worsening physical health, necessitating a wheelchair, led Deborah to place her mother with other family.

Deborah’s life became a perfect storm. Suffering mightily from her physical and mental disabilities, she gave up her house and car. “I lived place to place,” leaving her belongings in other people’s closets. “That’s when the identity theft started.” She became homeless on the streets for three months and suffered a mental breakdown. When she sought help from the Center for Independent Living, she learned about Maxwell Garden. She also discovered her identity had been stolen and her bank account drained of her disability benefits.

“I fell apart again and wound up at Lakeside (now Aspire Health Partners). I had a nervous breakdown but kept talking to Sandra (at Maxwell Garden), as did the Lakeside case managers.”

Thankfully, with help Deborah was able to get her money back and have her disability payments resumed. The hospital secured her money, since her identity was still compromised, and there was just enough in her account to move into Maxwell Garden. Her gratitude is boundless for those who listened, advised and assisted, led her to stable housing, and are there for her to this day.

Pathlight HOME’s Sandra Deiter, Gail Smith and Syr Rodriguez are three people she especially wants to thank. “God worked through Miss Sandra to help; and I love Miss Gail. They stepped right in and opened up the way. I’m so happy that Miss Syr is my case manager now. I feel I can go to her and talk about anything.”

After almost four years in her homey first floor efficiency, she reflects, “I never thought it (homelessness) would happen to me. Someone can come here and get on their feet. It made me feel good about myself. It’s here for the taking…if you want it.”

“I keep to myself a lot, but I have two people I associate with,” she shares. With their help getting to the store, her case manager and her wheelchair, she is happy. “I thank God for putting me here. I have everything I need at my fingertips. He put me right in the middle of the right place. I feel like there’s a supply of programs, a kitchen where I can cook a chicken or turkey, a laundromat. They feed us every year at Thanksgiving and Salvation Army comes with food every week.”

This is a place that’s low income that can help me. This is my safe haven. This is my little corner of the earth.”

And Deborah has turned those words into beautiful deeds in front of her unit. Smiling at the amazing garden she began to plant a year after she moved in, she explains, “I wanted to see things grow. A person who believes in gardening believes in new beginnings.