"Because of you, I'm not a statistic"
Back in 2015, one summer day started out like any other for Michelle. A stay-at-home mom, she was out and about, running errands, ferrying her children to their activities. She’d been married for 20 years by then, and had no reason to think her life would change.
But when they came home that evening, her house was empty. Her husband had taken all of his possessions and abandoned the family. “That’s how I found out he wanted a divorce,” Michelle remembers.
What he left her with was a large pile of unpaid bills, a mountain of debt, and a house that was on the verge of foreclosure. “During my divorce, I was getting notices tacked onto my door. That’s how I found out that my ex had not paid the mortgage for two years,” she says. “I also then learned that in 2005, he had taken out a large home equity loan in both our names and forged my signature.”
Michelle felt devastated and lost. She’d never managed her finances before—she used to have to ask her husband for permission to buy groceries or fill the car with gas—and she was paralyzed by fear. She eventually found a part-time job, but she was still short on money and options.
And with the foreclosure looming, she was running out of time before they were left homeless. “It’s hard to find someone who will take you in with three kids,” she says. “As a single mom with no money, it was very scary.”
Her new boss suggested she look into Bridge Communities, and soon after, she started the intake process. “That was a bit overwhelming,” Michelle admits. “I was very vulnerable and to disclose all my personal information was very hard for me.” But before long, she and her three children were welcomed into the program.
“When I got into Bridge, I was relieved and I was honored,” she says. “I felt a weight off my shoulders, knowing that my kids would have a safe roof over their heads, and I was very grateful for that.”
Once she moved in, she began meeting with her mentors from St. Scholastica Catholic Church, Marianne and Karen. “They immediately took me under their wing, and I really took to heart everything they told me,” she says. “They were pretty strict, and sometimes it ran parallel of how I’d felt with my ex telling me what I could and couldn’t do. But I had to realize that they were there to help me, not there to knock me down. You have to really embrace the program and know that their guidance is going to make you successful—but you have to put in that work as well.”
And put in the work she did. Michelle and her kids all entered therapy to recover from the trauma they’d all endured. “[Before Bridge] I had been very depressed, and I just didn’t have any direction,” says Michelle. “I had been very sad and scared and not feeling I could do things, because of everything he had done.” But through the support of their mentors and Bridge staff, Michelle’s family found the strength to forge ahead.
The family also took part in the nutrition workshops, parenting classes, summer camps, carseat education and activities at their LRC. “You’re only going to get out of the program what you put into it. Anything Bridge offered, I did because I figured it would make me a better mom. My kids loved all the activities, and I love how Bridge embraces the children in the program, to make the transition as easy as possible,” says Michelle. “And Jill [Garbaliauskas], who was my children’s case manager—she is an angel. I love her so much, and she really invested in me and my kids. Without her and her dedication to my children, I don’t think I would have been able to navigate everything as well as I did.”
She also obtained a better-paying job, and put her newfound budgeting knowledge to work. She negotiated and paid off her debts, and saved enough money for a sizeable nest egg. And after two years in the program, Michelle graduated from Bridge and now rents the apartment for her family. She’s planning to stay at least through next year, when her oldest graduates 8th grade.
And, Michelle is soon embarking on the next chapter of her life as well. After a 13-year absence, she is returning to nursing school in January. “I didn’t finish nursing school
because my ex’s career was always more important, and he didn’t want our kids in daycare,”
she says. “I had always sacrificed things I wanted for myself. But finally, I have the confidence to do the things that I need to do to better my family. I feel like I am almost at the top of the mountain, and I am very excited for my future.”
“Michelle did a great job overall, she was dedicated to paying off her debts and did a wonderful job of saving money,” says Paul Matthews, her case manager. “She was great at being involved with LRC events and parenting classes, and she had a close relationship with her mentors, who were just awesome.”
In fact, her mentors—who Michelle’s kids lovingly call “the Bridge Ladies”—are still a big part of her life today. “They are like my family, and I love them. I definitely called them a lot for advice, as well as Paul,” says Michelle. “They are still very present, and I know I am not alone.”
Michelle says that her time in Bridge not only built her family’s resilience—it also inspired them to become more community-minded. “I will be a volunteer for the rest of my capable life, and my children will as well,” says Michelle. “My oldest was really touched by the generosity. She led a coat drive at school for Bridge families. And she helped collect toothbrushes, toothpaste and essentials to stock the resource closet. Bridge has inspired us to be better and to give back.”
Michelle is eternally grateful to you for supporting Bridge in her family’s time of need. “Thank you for giving families the opportunity to feel safe,” she says. “Without you, families like mine wouldn’t be able to function in society, to have the knowledge to be successful. Because of you, I’m not a statistic. And I can’t say thank you enough.”
Michelle now rents an apartment for her family, and began nursing school in January!