BERLIN – At the end of July, Sarah Weiss was unemployed and she and her four children were homeless and getting a little bit desperate. Last week the five of them became Ocean Pines residents and neighbors, beneficiaries of a nearly perfect confluence of connections luck and communal goodwill.
The turnaround is such that Weiss is still a little dazed by the events of the last six months.
“It’s surreal,” she said. “I don’t think the reality of it has set in yet.”
Weiss moved in with a friend when she lost her home in July but as the school year approached she worried about getting her kids enrolled and trying to find her way back to independence. She called Diakonia in West Ocean City, explained her situation, and was accepted in a matter of two weeks.
Diakonia referred her to the non-profit Worcester County Youth and Family Services, specifically their Family Connections program, which helps families at all different levels of disadvantage navigate the different options for public services and opportunities as well as directs participants along the road that leads away from public assistance.
But among the most important of the services they provide is the little bit of personal guidance that tells families that are having a hard time that better times are ahead with a little bit of work, and that the work always turns out to be worth it.
“Two months after I lost my house I was able to get the kids into school,” Weiss said. “And next week my youngest begins at Head Start.”
But before she was able to secure a job or a place to live, the time Weiss and her family were allotted at Diakonia came to an end. As she set about trying to solve this new challenge with her WCYFS contacts — Donna Taylor, system navigator and Missy Smith, parent support worker — a golden opportunity presented itself.
“One of our board member said she and her husband had a place in Ocean Pines they wanted to have a family live in for a year,” Taylor said.
Jim and Reena Oettinger purchased the property with the intension of having it lived in by a Family Connections participant. As a board member Reena was able to make the deal happen.
The plan is to let Weiss and her children live in the house rent free for a year. It will give her a chance to get on her feet and find a way to take back her independence, a path Weiss relishes.
The Oettinger’s donation opened the floodgates of beneficence locally with everyone from a local furniture dealer to local businesses and neighbors deciding to pitch in to help Weiss make the most of her opportunity for reinvention.
Smith said the approached Joe Kendall of Kendall’s Furnishings in West Ocean City to see if he’d be willing to donate a couch and maybe a table to the family. Instead he insisted on donating the furniture for the entire home, including mattresses for the family.
Two restaurants — Pizza Hut and A Bagel And… — upon hearing the story donated welcome meal to the family.
But among the most touching parts of the already emotional month for Weiss and her family was the neighbors’ response. Several neighbors came by to donate televisions, VCRs and tapes and other ancillary household items.
Smith said that Family Connections even received monetary donations with which they were able to purchase bedspreads and other necessary linens.
Now that Weiss has a chance she’d have thought unimaginable even three months ago, she’s determined to make the best of it. She’s redoubled her efforts to find work — a task made easier now that all of her children are in school — and has committed to working with her councilors to make the transition to independence as smooth as possible. Among her biggest wishes is to get to a place where she can begin to pass on the good fortune allotted her.
Unfortunately, said Stephanie Gordy, WCYFS director of community development and relations, there are thousands of people who could use the kind of break Family Connections was able to provide Weiss and her family. “There are over 2,800 families we serve,” she said. “Sarah is one but she’s certainly not an isolated case.”
She encouraged anyone interested in contributing to any of Worcester County Youth and Family Services Causes to contact the main office at 410-641-4598.