Danielle Carter never liked asking for help. “I was so used to people not caring and being self-absorbed,” she says. She was also inclined to solve problems on her own. But that changed when she and her year-old son found themselves homeless in Paterson, N.J.
Carter was married, working at a supermarket part-time, and in her first semester at community college when her world began to spin out of control. Her husband had lost his job and was living with a relative in New York while looking for work. Their relationship, already troubled, did not survive the crisis. Although her ex helped with the rent, their combined resources fell short. Rather than wait to be evicted, Carter notified her landlord that she would be leaving.
Carter went online to search for a shelter. The first place she found was full. But when she contacted Family Promise of Bergen County, New Jersey, “Their response was immediate. As soon as I told them my situation they asked me to come down to their office,” she says. “I was so thankful. I’d been desperate.”
Family Promise offered Carter a transitional apartment, where she and her son lived for two years. During that period she restructured her life, moving from a dead-end job into a promising white-collar career. Thanks to financial aid plus a scholarship from Family Promise, she enrolled in an accounting course at a technical school, where she earned a GPA of 3.9. Ongoing rental subsidies from the affiliate, meanwhile, allowed her to start saving money. Today Carter, 29, is the office manager at the Family Support Organization, a nonprofit in Fair Lawn, N.J.
Carter was overwhelmed by the amount of caring and compassion she found at Family Promise. “The case managers were also really hands-on. They were always asking, ‘Do you need anything?’ But I was still very reluctant to ask for help.”
Until one night. It was 5:30 p.m., when she was driving to work. Unknown to Carter, her car had a broken taillight. Police pulled her over and discovered her registration had expired two days earlier. They towed the car, stranding her on the shoulder. “I called my caseworker, who said she’d call the Executive Director, Kate Duggan, who lived in the area. She came and took me to work,” Carter recalls. “That’s when I realized, there’s nothing you can’t ask them for.”
Last May, Carter and her son, now 5, moved out of transitional housing into their own two-bedroom apartment. She remains in the affiliate’s After Care program. Come June though, when she’s due to receive a significant pay raise, she’ll be self-sufficient. “Without the help of Family Promise, I really don’t know where I would be,” she told an audience at a fundraiser last year. “They not only offered me material assistance, but more emotional support than I’ve ever received.”