For years, the Salter family had been living the American dream. George was working as a corporate executive, Nina was home with their daughters, Simone and Daisha, and they were living comfortably in their own home.
Then, in 2012, everything changed. George was laid off from his job. Soon after, he was diagnosed with lung cancer—and didn’t find out that the diagnosis was wrong until already in debt from treatment. Nina and Simone then both had to undergo necessary surgeries, leading to more medical bills, and Nina lost her job after having to extend her medical leave.
Between the loss of income, the medical bills and no job prospects, it was a domino effect, and in less than a year, the family lost their home. They moved into a friend’s basement apartment until George found part-time work, then moved into a house. But, they soon found themselves five months behind on their rent, thousands of dollars in debt and facing eviction.
“We were drowning,” Nina remembers. “When our foundation fell, it was tough. We couldn’t make the right decisions on what to cut back on.” The Salters were about to become homeless once again.
George visited Bridge Communities when researching DuPage County nonprofit organizations, and decided to apply. They were soon accepted into Bridge’s transitional housing program.
“There were some trying times at first,” says Nina. “We had to adjust to doing things differently and change to a way of life that would allow us to get out of debt, learn to budget and live within our means.”
George adds, “What grabbed me most was the accountability. We’d never had weekly accountability and people watching our progress who wanted to help. If we weren’t meeting weekly, I can see how the program could be something totally different, or we could have fallen off the radar. This really put us all on the same page.”
Their mentors from Glen Ellyn Bible Church—Karen, Merri Jo and Joe—are lovingly referred to by the Salters as “The Shark Tank.” The mentors not only taught the family how to better manage their money and create a savings plan for the future, but they became like family to them as well. “Our mentors really cared about us and still do to this day,” says Nina. “We’ve built friendships that will last a lifetime.”
“And it’s crucial that we become our own ‘Shark Tank,’” adds George. “We’re making those habits that allow us to continue on the right track and provide stability for our family.”
Now that they’ve completed the Bridge program this summer, the family is definitely on the right track. George has now been at his job for more than two years, working with high-risk males at a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, and after completing Bridge’s job readiness classes, Nina found her dream job at a doctor’s office only seven minutes away from home, allowing her to be closer to their children.
The Salters have also become closer as a family throughout their time in Bridge, and experienced a lot of personal growth, too. “Every day was a struggle for me as a husband, father and provider,” George remembers. “Daily, I was telling myself what a failure I was. What Bridge taught was that it’s not only about the money, but about how I use my time. I’ve learned how to focus more on my job and my family.”
Being in her late teens throughout her time in Bridge, their older daughter, Simone, had felt isolated and upset during their time of homelessness. “It was challenging in the beginning to see my family struggle and it was hard not knowing what ultimately would happen to us,” she says. “When I switched schools, I didn’t open up to anyone at first, but by my senior year, I realized I was holding onto pain that I had to let go of. I had to let God work in my life. I am no longer ashamed of homelessness because it made me who I am today and it’s made me a better person. I don’t think I’d be as successful if I hadn’t gone through it.”
Throughout all the tribulations, some of Simone’s many achievements include excelling in school, participating in student council and cheerleading, and volunteering actively through her church and at a food pantry. She was accepted at Elmhurst College and, knowing her family wouldn’t have all the resources needed, she took it upon herself to apply for more than $40,000 worth of scholarships and grants, all of which were awarded to her. She was just $3,000 shy of covering her freshman year’s tuition, and Bridge saw her great potential and decided to increase her scholarship to cover the difference.
“The Salters are an amazing family. Through the hard work and tough sacrifices of learning new spending patterns, they were able to successfully complete the Bridge Transitional Housing Program,” says their case manager, Paul Matthews. “However, through this challenging process, they displayed a remarkable level of dedication and humility that carried them through. The Salters are certainly an inspiration to families that are striving to become independent.”
Nina concludes, “Bridge allowed us to see that there is hope. I wish there was a Bridge Communities in every county in every state, because it’s so needed. Learning how to change our way of thinking and way of life, and how to become stewards, will stay with us forever. Bridge built our family and made us who we are today.”