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"You gave me my life back"

For many years, Ruthilah’s life as a substitute teacher was happy and stable. She and her son Wyatt lived with her partner and his two children, and they enjoyed all the perks of a typical, middle-class life. But, things started to turn when her partner lost his job and began having health issues.

Suddenly, Ruthilah was supporting five people on a sub’s wages. They were falling behind—and then the school year ended. And so did her job, leaving them with no income at all.

“We quickly got behind on all our expenses, and in the midst of that, I found myself behind on the rent,” she said. “I found out that even though I had been paying my share of the rent, my partner hadn’t. I begged my landlord not to evict us, but we lost our home.”

Ruthilah and Wyatt packed their bags and left the relationship, but it didn’t make it any easier to find a home for just the two of them. Since it was summer, Ruthilah didn’t have another teaching job lined up, and had no way to verify income for a landlord. She’d never felt more hopeless when she was reduced to living out of her car.

“When my son was with me, we stayed on couches, in living rooms of friends, with family, even with friends of friends,” she remembered. “When he was with his dad, it was easier for me to live in my car, so I wouldn’t feel like a burden to others. But Wyatt saw what was going on, and he had absorbed all my panic and my fear.”

A family member suggested Bridge Communities, and she immediately applied. Bridge had recently expanded with a new apartment building, and there was an opening for Ruthilah and her son. They were in the safety of a Bridge home just in time for a new school year. “When I got the keys to our apartment, it was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “Bridge was fabulous with helping my son get registered in his new school.” 

Next up was getting Ruthilah back into a school—to teach. “I had recently completed my masters degree to become a teacher. And it had been challenging to obtain a fulltime job. I had never expected I would be in that position.”

She worked with Bridge’s employment program, and was thrilled to find a full-time job teaching Contemporary History at a charter school on Chicago’s North Side.

Coming into the Bridge program also led to amazing opportunities for Wyatt, who had just been entering the sixth grade. “He had always wanted to play in band in middle school,” said Ruthilah. “There was a Bridge mentor who had a grown son with extra instruments, including a trombone, and they donated it to my son. He taught himself all summer how to play it by studying YouTube videos. By the time he started band in seventh grade, he’d worked his heart out and was ready.”

Wyatt also benefited from the stability of a fantastic DuPage County school and the activities it provided. “He’s just blossoming, and doing so well in school,” Ruthilah said. “He’s also in student council and Boy Scouts, and these are things he didn’t have for a long time.”

Ruthilah’s mentors also helped her prepare for a future beyond Bridge. “My mentors were amazing, and like family to us,” she said. “Having help to figure out insurance, health care—it’s like a full-time job! It was their help that made a difference.”

After two years in Bridge, Ruthilah and Wyatt were thrilled to move into an apartment of their own in the same school district. “Wyatt is excited to start high school in the fall and is already participating in some band activities there,” she says. “We have decided to stay in this district until he graduates high school. It really means that this town is home.”

She’s saving for a new house, and hopes to buy one later this year. Ruthilah pays her good fortune forward every day at her teaching job—because soon into her position, she found that she had something very unique in common with the kids.

“I’ve had several kids in my class who were experiencing homelessness,” she said. “And my experience has given me an opportunity to connect with these kids—and I’ve become like a mom to many of them. These kids motivate me, and I motivate them.”

She’s grateful for her time in Bridge, and for gaining the tools and confidence to never become homeless again. “For so long before Bridge, I just had to settle for what I could get, and it was a very hard thing,” she said. “My focus is to give my kid the things he deserves. There was a while when I couldn’t, and it just feels good now. Bridge gave me the ability to be the mom my kid deserves. And you gave me my life back.”

Client update

Ruthilah and Wyatt have moved to their own apartment, and she is saving to purchase a home!

Read more client success stories »

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The 2019 Point-in-Time survey conducted in January 2019 indicated that 309 persons in DuPage County were homeless that night.