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.
“My childhood was fun, my middle age was darkness and I’m back to enjoying life,” says Lawrence, a resident of Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace Apartments. A stroke, heart attack and diabetes survivor living on Social Security, he’s proud and grateful to be “clean from drugs for more than 10 years.”
Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Lawrence reminisces about his early years, during which he traveled with his parents and got into mischief with his brother. He says they were “bad kids, but not enough to get arrested.” When his dad moved out, his mother struggled to take care of them, as he and his brother went “from good to worse.”
His mother made it through those trying times by worrying about what she had to do to support them. Lawrence’s pride in her accomplishments comes through loud and clear. “She became very successful, retiring from three successive [management] jobs” in government, hospital and prison administration. Their close relationship “keeps him pushing” to this day, especially when she tells him, “You’ve always got to think positive.”
Lawrence’s father also had an effect on his life, in a different way. Accompanying his dad to unsavory places to “look out for him” as he abused heroin, Lawrence vowed he’d “never do it.” Yet, he started smoking weed with his brother and “got into stronger stuff” through peer pressure, in particular the use of crack cocaine. He smoked crack on and off for years: in both New York and Florida, when single or married; while bringing up children, and throughout most of his fulltime and labor pool jobs.
Having been in serious relationships with women who did not partake in drugs, he slowed down his consumption when he was with them. For example, when married with children and working for the City of New York, he lived the suburban life in a house in New Jersey. Though his wife ignored the drug use, eventually, “On [December] 27th she told me I had to leave…and she went back to her old boyfriend. I remember that date, the 27th.”
He was devastated; and the drug use got worse. He continuously fell asleep on the job and threatened his supervisor, leading to a stint in an inpatient clinic. “I dried out, but I didn’t dry out. I wasn’t ready.” After bunking in with his mom for a while, he moved to Florida and found a stable job at an assisted living facility. He got off drugs, though the friend with whom he lived was a heavy user. “Things were going good,” and he decided to move into his own place.
That was 25 years ago and, ironically, the place was Maxwell Terrace Apartments. “I found Maxwell Terrace Apartments over 20 years ago, when [founder] Rev. Maxwell was still alive.”
Unfortunately, Lawrence’s addiction reared its ugly head again and he lost his job, worked instead through staffing agencies, and moved on to other places to live. His “rock bottom” happened when, while carrying drugs, he was stopped and arrested by police.
“They took me to jail. I went into a program for six months; I wasn’t ready, so I stayed there for a year,” he says. “I felt so free; I thanked God. He told me it was time [to get off drugs].” That was in 2001.
Lawrence began working long hours for a transportation company. “I was a workaholic,” he recalls. That took its toll eight years ago, when he suffered a stroke. The resulting hospital stay, a turbulent relationship, and his arrest for violating a restraining order when they broke up led him to “get hooked on energy drinks.”
That monster drink addiction resulted in diabetes; and adding insult to injury, Lawrence recently suffered a heart attack. His health conditions have left him unable to work, dependent on SSI and food stamps, and grateful for donated food items from his church.
Four months ago, Lawrence moved back into affordable housing at Maxwell Terrace. “I made a complete circle,” he says as he muses about why he came back. “I feel good; I can do things that I always wanted to do. I’m enjoying myself, because I’m [now] living here clean.”
No matter his rocky past, Lawrence knows he’s fortunate to have survived and to have had his mother’s lifelong help and encouragement. “The great thing is I’m still here. It feels good to be clean. My mom is very proud of me.”
He, too, is proud of himself as well as his oldest daughter. “I love my daughter. She just finished college. Her graduation is in April,” an event he and his mother are proudly attending together.
Lawrence’s experience is testament to the fact that, through determination and a supportive environment, changed lives are possible. His bottom line? “You’ve always got to think positive!”
J’Herica has a long history of emotional struggles, homelessness and “roaming the streets,” yet now has hope for light at the end of the tunnel. For her, the light will come when she can reunify with her children, who now stay with her mom. Now that J’Herica lives stably at Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Garden Apartments and works part-time in guest services, she believes this is possible.
J’Herica is excited about the new job, yet hard on herself about her difficulties. “I’m trying not to be judgmental of my predicament,” she says. “I have to be stable enough to take care of myself. You have to be able to provide for them [children].” To that end, she meets regularly with her Case Manager, Gail Smith, who “makes sure I’m managing my medications…and asks how she can help with finances, money management, and what’s new [in her life].”
The road to bettering oneself can have unexpected consequences, however. The part-time hours, at basically minimum wage, reduces her SSI assistance. Too, J’Herica’s food stamp benefits are minimal. And though her rent/electricity at Maxwell Garden is just 30% of her income, the transportation, food, phone, other expenses eat through her cash quickly, often leaving her cabinets bare of cans and boxes.
J’Herica doesn’t want to ask anyone for money, “That’s the last thing you ever want to do…ask for a dollar.” However, she’s willing to share her story, with hope that the community will support Pathlight HOME’s February Non-Perishable Food Drive,* in order to help residents with a most basic need as they work to change their lives.
“Food is something we want to store,” she says. “I have storage space [in her apartment], but it’s completely empty. What am I supposed to do? It’s a struggle…I try to stretch my money.”
Thinking back, she explains, “I didn’t get an education; I had pressure, pain, anxiety, and manic-depression over the years. (Yet), I come from a home where food was never the issue. I’m used to having food.”
And nowadays? “When you see the food, it’s ‘teasing,’” she says about the glut of restaurant signs and ads, or the few times she’s splurged on a sandwich. Mom that she is, she wants full cabinets when her children come to visit. “I’d be highly embarrassed if the kids come and I have nothing to give them.”
J’Herica calls this time in her life, with its changes, ups and downs, “The journey to take placement…a place where you can be stable.” We think that’s an apt description of moving forward, yet still needing some basics necessities, such as food.
“It only makes me stronger by replenishing the pieces,” she says with an inner strength peeking through. “I’ve got to tell myself, ‘Don’t fail me now. I’ve come a long way.’” And she has!
*Please donate non-perishable food Monday to Thursday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Two drop-off Locations:
- Pathlight Kitchen - 3200 W. Colonial Drive; Orlando, Florida 32808
- Sobik’s Subs - 4049 S. Orange Blossom Trail; Orlando, Florida 32839
Raised in Miami by his single mom and grandfather, Kenneth loved music. He was in the band throughout high school, so talented that he was awarded a scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “I was in the big [Florida] Classic each year,” Kenneth proudly states.
Majoring in Liberal Studies and minoring in Business at B-CU as “a positive thing to help me make money,” Kenneth’s aspirations were upended in his senior year. “I wasn’t liking my classes. They were very broad and I would need a Master’s Degree [to be successful.]” That’s when his love of music took a front seat once again and he realized, “I wanted to do radio. I didn’t want to be a musician, but wanted to be involved in the music industry. Radio was a gateway.”
With newfound self-knowledge and impending college degree, Kenneth now had a direction until, one month before graduation, his world changed. Needing money, and having no family financial support, he made a terrible decision. Kenneth got arrested and charged for felony theft. His atonement was probation and restitution, and the lifelong effects of having a record. “The fastest and easiest way out is not the best way; it has consequences,” he admits.
Feeling that his “degree is not going to mean anything because I have a record,” Kenneth moved with his girlfriend to Orlando. He found out quickly that his offense did overshadow the new college degree, as the only job he could find was in telephone travel sales. “I hated it. I didn’t believe it was necessary to tell someone they need to go on vacation when they’re not prepared.” Needless to say, he got fired. Out of work for a month, he was hired as a part-time Marketing Assistant by a dinner theater on International Drive. They believed in second chances and all was good!
But life swung another blow, as he lost his relationship and place to live. He was homeless. Luckily, others believed in second chances and he had his love of music. “I moved in with a friend; got an internship with a radio personality, while still working on I-Drive; and got a part-time opportunity with the station a year later…working in promotions. That’s when I felt I’m okay; I’m still normal.” That was April 2017 and the station was 104.5 The Beat.
Kenneth’s was introduced to Pathlight HOME in December 2017, when 104.5 The Beat served lunch and supplied music for our Resident Holiday Party. He volunteered that day; met some of our residents; and found out about our affordable housing. As he’d wanted to live on his own, an idea took root and he soon applied to move into Maxwell Terrace Apartments. We welcomed him as a resident in March 2018.
“It’s the first time being on my own,” he says. “I was able to get the second job at the [dinner theater] to better take care of myself and still struggled. So I got a third job at a concert venue.” There, he sets up concerts and helps seat the audience. (That makes three part-time jobs!)
Stopped in his tracks once again, Kenneth injured his knee on the job. He needed medical help and was ordered to stop all three jobs for a period of four weeks. His Worker’s Compensation was “only enough to cover food…or rent…or the phone bill…,” but not everything. What was he to do?
What Kenneth did was to share his situation with Maxwell Terrace management, who helped him facilitate a plan so his rent was paid. “They allowed me the chance to get back on my feet and offered resources [in the community] to get help.” His appreciation extends to our onsite partners at the Goodwill Job Connection Center for helping “to get the paperwork where it needed to go” for crisis assistance. “It works beautifully and is a good resource to have.”
On January 9, 2019, Kenneth was released from the doctor. “I called all my jobs the same day and asked, ‘What do you need me to do, so I can get back to work?’” Needless to say, he’s back at all three jobs!
No matter his daily saga, Kenneth is positive. “I’m just working to right my wrongs. What you’ve been through doesn’t make you what you are now. If you want [to be] better, there’s work you can do to make you better.”
As to his goals, he wants “…to increase my income, to have a home one day, to start a business. I want to enjoy it, or it’s worthless!” And as he thinks on the question, he adds, “To be a tour manager with an artist. To travel state to state, country to county. I’m trying to figure out how to make it happen.”
For today, Kenneth is thankful to live in an apartment he can afford, among people in his corner. “Pathlight HOME’s Maxwell Terrace is here to help people who want to help themselves. You should take advantage…you should give back and use your knowledge to help others. It’s a place to get back on your feet and move on, for someone else to get this assistance.” He feels safe and loves the central location, “Just 10 minutes from downtown.”
“It’s just great what you do,” says Kenneth of Pathlight HOME’s supporters. We think this hardworking, enthusiastic and gentle man is great too!
One’s life can go downhill in an instant, despite a college education, their creative talents, a new job...or all three. The true measure of a person is their fortitude, tenacity and willingness to do what they must to climb back. Pathlight HOME is proud to be one of the “musts” in Misty’s ascent.
Misty was born in Jacksonville to a military father and a mother who left when she was only two years old. Close to her dad, she credits his leatherworking talents and involvement with cowboy and pirate reenactments for her skills in costuming. That vocation has won her work at major theme parks, drag queen shows, clubs, festivals and more throughout the years.
Her mother reappeared when she was six, only to “take me back to Oklahoma and dump me on my grandmother.” Not happy, Misty stuck to her sewing machine, improved her skills by making outfits for the dog and cat, and taught herself how to make patterns through her “math brain and geometry.” Free spirit that she was, at just 14 she ran away to New Orleans “with a drag queen to make headdresses.”
“That’s where my worlds collided,” she explains. “I had a skill. Otherwise, I probably would have been like the other girls on the street. My first six years (with her dad) gave me the foundation.”
Along her life journey, Misty earned a GED as well as a college degree in Sociology, and had four children. She left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, returned home to Jacksonville and continued to make costumes for drag queens. “It was meant to be,” she says, though she lived paycheck to paycheck for nine years. When she got an opportunity in 2014 to create costumes for an Orlando theme park, she accepted, arranged for roommates in Orlando and readied her teenage daughter for the move.
Then, the worst happened. The roommate situation fell through, a job orientation was upon her, and she had just $300. Leaving her daughter in Jacksonville, Misty started the job, slept in her car in a police department lot, and looked for a shelter in which to stay until she got paid. She also grabbed her sewing machine and pounded the drag clubs for side work. Though she located a shelter and paid the fees, it was quite far from the job. Working late into night with changing shifts, she stayed in her car most nights instead of spending gas money to go across town.
Earning just $8.03 per hour, Misty researched affordable housing options. She found Maxwell Garden Apartments and, when she got paid, reclaimed her daughter and moved in. The part-time job eventually became full-time; she budgeted scrupulously and made ends meet by sewing costumes for drag clubs.
In 2017, with her daughter in college and her costume job reduced to seasonal, Misty began working for the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) as an Economic Self-Sufficiency Specialist. She notes the irony in this job, where she now helps others. “It’s ironic, as I know firsthand…”
Misty was recently promoted to a DCF position in Jacksonville. As she readied to leave her Maxwell Garden unit last week, after almost five years, she mused about what could have happened without the community’s support of our affordable housing, “I would have still been in my car. [When I came], there was no guarantee of more than 24 hours of work per week. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”
Not yet at her zenith, Misty’s dream is to buy a houseboat; travel to pirate, Renaissance and Scottish festivals all over the country; and visit national historic and cultural sites. She has established a “houseboat fund” and established an eight year strategy for retirement. “Being retired, setting up costume booths and sailing off to the next place… That’s my plan!”
With the tenacity, budgeting skills, work ethic, and creativity we’ve seen, Pathlight HOME has no doubt she’ll succeed!