Finding Support... and Sisterhood
Three years ago, Cathy was in a dark place.
Originally from Colombia, she had been living with her boyfriend and their two children, ages three and seven, in New Jersey until one day he brought another woman home and told Cathy she had to leave.
Although her mother and sister lived nearby, they refused to help her because they blamed her for the break-up of the relationship.
With no job and no place to live, Cathy was unable to get custody of her children. Devastated, and with nowhere else to turn, she went back to Colombia to live with her grandmother while she tried to figure out what to do.
While in Colombia, Cathy became pregnant with her third child, but the father wanted nothing to do with them, so she decided to return to the U.S. to give birth.
She managed to find a job as an office clerk, a daycare for her baby, and a small apartment she shared with a roommate, but she could never stop thinking about the children she had been forced to leave with her ex.
She tried visiting them, but he wouldn’t let her see them. She felt especially saddened each time one of their birthdays rolled around.
Cathy’s situation worsened when her roommate suddenly moved out, leaving her unable to pay the rent all by herself. She became so depressed that she couldn’t get out of bed. She lost her job and started living on the street with her youngest child.
Then she wound up in the hospital.
It was there that Cathy was diagnosed with clinical depression. She began receiving therapy, but most importantly, staff connected her with Volunteers of America-Greater New York’s (VOA-GNY) Community Support Services, our program that provides housing and other services to individuals who have been homeless and are struggling with mental health issues.
"VOA-GNY never gave up on me."
At VOA-GNY, she was introduced to Senior Counselor Andrea Balbuena, and from that moment on everything changed.
“To me, Andrea was like an angel sent by God to help. She was the only one there, calling me to see how I was doing. She helped me with everything,” Cathy says.
Andrea helped her apply for government assistance. It wasn’t an easy task, since the pandemic was in full swing and bureaucracy was moving slowly, but Andrea never stopped trying and the financial assistance that Cathy so desperately needed finally came through.
Next she helped her find a one-bedroom apartment and food vouchers. VOA-GNY also provided furniture and clothes.
Just as Cathy had begun to get her life on track, she received a phone call from her older daughter, now sixteen, who explained that things had not been good living with the ex and his new wife. Both children expressed an urgent desire to leave their father’s house and reunite with their mother.
Cathy was shocked... then overjoyed — it was a dream come true!
As soon as she explained the situation to Andrea, VOA-GNY set about connecting her with legal help so that she could seek custody of her older children. It was a grueling process of filling out forms and obtaining records, but Andrea helped Cathy through it all, and even accompanied her to the court appointment.
Cathy was so nervous she almost couldn’t stand it, but much to her surprise, she won custody easily.
For the first time in years, she could exhale.
Now that she had her family back, Cathy needed a bigger apartment so they could all live together comfortably. Once again, Andrea was there to help. She also connected the whole family to counseling and made sure that Cathy was taking care of herself, encouraging her not to miss her own wellness checkups.
And it was a good thing she did, because through one of these routine checkups, Cathy learned that she had a serious medical issue that required surgery. Andrea, prepared to support Cathy however she could, accompanied her to the appointment and even held her hand before the anesthesia was administered.
Today Cathy and the kids are thriving—each of them settled and progressing in school.
Now Cathy aspires to start her own cleaning business, and thanks to the support she continues to receive from VOA-GNY, especially from Andrea who she says is like a sister, she feels confident that she can achieve her goals.
Of the last few years, Cathy says, “It was hard, but it takes people to believe in you... and VOA-GNY never gave up on me.”