A year ago, Corinne Blair found herself in an unusual place — welcoming a life at the same time she was still mourning the loss of another.
Blair lost her 41-year-old mother in October 2010 to pulmonary fibrosis. Exactly a year later, the then 18-year-old learned she was pregnant.
Sharing responsibility with her father for the care of her younger sisters, Veronica, then 11, and Angela, then 5, was overwhelming to Blair. She went to the Youth Consultation Service’s Nurse-Family Partnership program seeking guidance during her pregnancy.
“I didn’t have my mom to talk to and I knew I needed help,” Blair said. “I didn’t know what to expect being pregnant and I wanted to be prepared to bring my baby into the world healthy and perfect.”
The Nurse-Family Partnership program is an in-home therapeutic service for at-risk first-time mothers in Essex County. The program matches an expectant mother with a registered nurse who guides her through the pregnancy. The nurse serves as a mentor of sorts, helping the mom-to-be with personal issues such as employment, housing and education in addition to providing medical advice. The agency also receives donations from the Greater Newark Holiday Fund.
For Blair, the program is more than a lifeline — it’s a family. The group meets each Thursday, and Blair said it’s a welcome reprieve. “It’s our little getaway where the babies and the moms get together,” she said. “We talk about any frustrations.”
Blair’s Nurse-Family Partnership nurse, Tesha Bright, describes her as extremely optimistic and mature.
For a young person “she asked a lot of questions and was very aggressive about wanting to take care of herself and her family as best as she could,” Bright said.
For now, Blair and her boyfriend, Pierre Odige, 27, the father of her son, both work full-time. Since they cannot afford day care, they share babysitting responsibilities while the other is at work or leave 7-month-old Tristan with Odige’s aunt.
“I want to show my sisters, (now 7 and 13), that even though I had a baby at 20, it doesn’t mean it’s going to stop me from being what I’m supposed to be in this lifetime,” Blair said.
Blair had planned to start school this spring at Union County College in pursuit of an education degree but said she cannot afford books, so she is saving to resume her education next fall.
“I am going back to school no matter what,” Blair said. “I’ll find a way.”
This holiday season has taken on new meaning for many people, since Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey. It’s been said the storm uncovered the class divide in our area, as Katrina did when it lashed New Orleans in 2005. But Sandy also uncovered great reservoirs of generosity and good will. People have pitched in to help neighbors clear debris and make repairs, raised money for those who lost everything or collected food and clothing for distribution. Others took in displaced families for Thanksgiving dinner.
For many who were struggling in life before Sandy, the road to recovery has been that much harder.
“If you were vulnerable before the storm, you were even more vulnerable after,” Reuben Rotman, executive director of the Jewish Family Services of MetroWest, told The Star-Ledger’s Janelle Griffith. Rotman’s agency is among the nonprofit organizations that serve families and children in need in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic and Union counties.
Jon’s wife recently died of cancer, leaving him with three children to raise alone and a heap of medical bills. Jon’s hours at work were cut in half. The financial pressure added further stress to the grieving family.
Jon’s children became depressed and withdrawn. His youngest son, just 8 years old, began having nightmares. Jon was both emotionally and financially drained.
A coworker referred him to Jewish Family Services of Metro West and his children now receive play therapy, helping them to better express themselves and cope with their grief. Jon is also in therapy, and the agency is helping him with the family’s expenses.
Ms. Sanchez, 28, has two daughters, ages 11 and 6. She is unemployed and battling depression. She also has an open DYFS case due to substance abuse.
Sanchez was referred to Catholic Charities’ Supportive Assistance for Individuals and Families (SAIF) Program to devise a plan for her future.
Sanchez works with a program case manager, receives counseling and has completed an outpatient substance abuse program. This year, she took the necessary steps toward becoming self-sufficient by enrolling in a training program and working as a part-time seasonal sales associate. Given her marked improvement, Sanchez is hopeful her DYFS case will be closed.
Kimberly is a young, single mother of an 8-year-old boy who suffers from ADHD. Due to her son’s condition, Underwood has had trouble keeping full-time employment because she’s had to leave work often to pick him up from school.
The Arc of Essex County provided Underwood’s son help with his ADHD, professional care that would have otherwise been beyond their reach. Kimberly came to the Urban League of Essex County’s Employment Center for help in finding work to care for her family. She is hopeful the agency will aid her in finding full-time employment.
Laid off from his pharmaceutical job and with two young children in day care and a wife on disability, Larry struggled to provide for his family. Months passed with few job interviews and no prospects. The family savings was slowly depleting.
Larry fell into a deep depression. He visited the Jewish Family Service, where he received subsidized counseling and psychiatric evaluation and monitoring. The agency also provided Larry and his family emergency assistance after he expressed concern about meeting his utility bills to provide heat and to pay their car insurance during the winter.
John is a 25-year-old veteran living in West Orange with his wife and baby daughter. He served two tours of duty in Iraq and spent four years with the Marine Corps. He earned combat medals and was honorably discharged.
After returning home, John was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled with everyday tasks. He suffered with anxiety, irritability and paranoia, having hallucinations and nightmares about the war.
Unable to work, John receives a monthly veteran’s pension to support his family. However, it only covers food and rent. Struggling to pay his utility bills, John sought emergency assistance from Catholic Charities’ Parish Access Center in East Orange.
The agency paid most of John’s bills and spared his family from having their utilities shut off. John’s wife has since found a job and is able to pay their bills.
Susan hasn’t received alimony payments from her ex-husband in two years and he’s disappeared without a trace. In that time, she lost her job and health insurance. She now has a low-paying retail job to support her family. Her two small children were quickly outgrowing their school uniforms and Susan was unsure how she would cover the cost of heat and other rising expenses during the winter.
When she came to the Newark Day Center, she met with a family worker who put her in touch with available resources such as health coverage, New Jersey Family Care, utility assistance and nutritional benefits. With help from Newark Day Center, Susan and her family were able to find some much-needed medical and financial help.
Two years ago, Ahmad emigrated to the U.S. from Morocco with his wife and 3-year-old son.
They are now permanent residents and live in a one-bedroom apartment in Essex County. Ahmad works at a gas station making minimum wage and has no health insurance.
He recently required medical services and an important X-ray, which he had to pay for. Ahmad came to Catholic Charities Parish Access Center in East Orange for help because his medical procedures left him behind in his rent.
Catholic Charities was able to identify financial assistance resources to cover the family’s back rent. With this financial aid, Ahmad was able to resume his normal rent the following month and his family was no longer in danger of homelessness.