CHATS WITH CARA | Hope Johnson Opens Up About Life in Quarantine

July 1, 2020

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Each week, Family Promise’s Chief Impact Officer, Cara Bradshaw, is joined on Instagram Live by a conversation partner to talk about topics impacting the Family Promise network, our guests, and supporters. Learn more by following Family Promise on Instagram.

In this episode from earlier this spring, Cara talks with Hope Johnson. Hope Johnson is a graduate of Family Promise of Hunterdon County, NJ, and a member of Family Promise’s Guest Advisory Council. Cara spoke with Hope about navigating life during coronavirus-induced quarantine.

A full transcript is available below.

 Hope Johnson Opens Up About Life in Quarantine

Cara Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me, Hope. So for those who are on, I’m Cara Bradshaw. I’m Chief Impact Officer at Family Promise National and we’re starting this Instagram Live. It’s a new way to have conversations and talk about families and family homelessness and how we engage volunteers and support people in our community.

So, I’m joined today by Hope Johnson, who I think we met about 5 years ago now, maybe 4. It’s been a few years and it’s been so great to know you. Hope is a member of our Guest Advisory Council. That’s a body that advises Family Promise board and leadership on program and advocacy and really brings the voices of families with lived-experience [with homelessness] into the conversation to make sure that we’re getting it right there. So, I’m really excited for Hope to be here.

Hope has a personal story and also a really great celebration in terms of — we realized it’s 10 years since her graduation from Hunterdon County Family Promise. Which is amazing. Does that feel like a long time ago or like it was just yesterday?

Hope Johnson: I think it depends on the day you ask me. Sometimes it feels like yesterday; sometimes it feels like ‘wow, ten years, wow, that’s it?’

Cara: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about how you got to know Family Promise and kind of what your role on the Guest Advisory Council has been?

Hope: Sure. So, 10 years ago, I had a — Olivia was, I don’t know, about a year old, a year and a half almost, and we became homeless when I lost my job due to health issues. And I entered the [Family Promise shelter] program and it was probably one of the scariest times of my life. Because you know, I had support, I had family, but I didn’t have enough support to go anywhere. So, someone introduced me. Who that someone is — I still call her the angel or my angel, but she knows exactly who she is and maybe she is watching, maybe she’s not — she is wonderful. She introduced me to Family Promise.

I got to know Geleen Donovan, who is actually now head of, the director of Union County Family Promise. It’s been like a whirlwind since everything changed because it was so different back then. We had actually kind of restructured our name from Interfaith Hospitality Network to Family Promise right after I think I had actually left the program.

I still remember getting my first apartment. I still remember like moving out and being on my own. Those feelings are still like new almost. I never feel like those go away. I feel like you’re always going to feel like that.

But I had started working at Verizon Wireless and I was actually still in the –I don’t want to, I never like calling it a shelter program — but the congregations. I was still sleeping in the congregations when I was working and didn’t really tell anybody until I think I had actually left the program and gotten my first apartment. But I remember that feeling of just being proud and like, of myself, not even proud of like — you know, I felt proud because I worked so hard to get to where I knew I could be. But yeah, it’s just been — it’s been 10 years. 10 years. I can’t even believe it’s 10 years.

Cara: And Olivia is growing up. She’s in 5th grade now? 4th grade?

Hope: Yeah, 5th grade.

Cara: 5th grade. That’s amazing and James is 3, so you have new members of your family. You have — you bought a house last year.

Hope: Yes. I bought a house.

Cara: That’s so exciting.

Hope: Yeah, we really wanted something that we, Bo and I, could work on together and kind of make it our own. And we will probably not do that [for] the next house we buy. It’s really fun. It’s super fun to like — we’re almost done with our kitchen. Our cabinets and our countertop are the last thing to do. But we have worked and we are doing it ourselves so its a lot of extra work.

Cara: It’s so much work.

Hope: It is. Yeah, but it’s fun because you get to pick everything yourself.

Cara: Yeah, so you’re, right now, you are quarantining, homeschooling, and remodeling.

Hope: Yeah. Yeah, I’m really lucky to have all of those things going on at the same time.

And it’s funny because we knocked down a wall, like, the week before we even moved in and we were like, ‘alright, that’s the last wall. We’re not knocking anything else in. We’ll just — you know — kind of move on from there.’ And then two more walls went down and I’m just like ‘OK, done.’ We’re done. I never want to dry or spackle, ever. Never ever again. We’re done.

Cara: It is so much work. It’s so exhausting and living in a home renovation project is like —

Hope: With kids who don’t get it!

Cara: No. So what has, you know, this quarantine and the health crisis been like for your family? I mean, I’m sure there’s been good things about being all together. There’s been challenges. I’m kind of curious because I don’t have small kids at home. And I can’t imagine trying to like get stuff done with little ones running around.

Hope: So, I got laid off the day after, actually, the kids got [sent home] — like school closed. And it was very scary because, you know, you step back, and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ You know, 10 years ago I had no job and now 10 years later I have no job. But I own a home and I have 2 kids now, instead of 1. Luckily, Bo is still working and still able to get a paycheck and that’s awesome. And I think the level of stress was — It’s more of a shock in the beginning. You get scared because, you know, yeah, I’ll have unemployment. But when will that happen? And luckily, you know, I applied for unemployment on March 15th. I now have just received my first unemployment check and that’s scary. That’s 6 weeks without an income and it’s overwhelming.

So like you said, Olivia’s in 5th grade, and James is in preschool. He goes to a special needs preschool. And I went from being a working mom to having a special needs 3-year-old and a 5th grader who — I don’t know if you’ve done 5th-grade math lately–

Cara: No, not lately.

Hope: So, it’s just, it’s a lot of extra work. And, you know, it’s funny because I was saying this to a few of my friends the other day. I feel very lucky to be home. And I don’t know how the moms who are working right now from home are doing it. I almost feel guilty because here I am saying like, ‘oh, it’s so hard, it’s so hard.’ But, there’s moms who are on conference calls, who are juggling.

And the teachers are very supportive. They’ll answer questions, but they’re not there to help. So, Olivia is asking me the questions. Luckily, she’s very, very, very self-sufficient. So, I very rarely have to get dragged into her work unless she doesn’t know how to do something herself. But James’s is a little different, just because James gets speech therapy. He does a lot of occupational therapy, so I became a speech therapist and an occupational therapist overnight.

Cara: Wow.

Hope: But things are going really well. It’s just overwhelming because you don’t want to feel like you’re failing. And it’s another thing to feel like you’re going to fail, but luckily there is no failing. It’s just, you do what you can to the best of your ability.

And I feel like a lot of the moms need to give themselves more credit and more appreciation. And not feel so bad when they start drinking at three-o-clock. That’s OK! I always say it’s OK to take a break. It’s OK to unwind and it’s OK to feel like, you know, your pajamas are an acceptable thing to wear Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I mean, maybe one day come out of them.

Cara: Right.

Hope: Or for the Zoom meetings.

Cara: You have to go with what feels good that day. I mean, I have days where getting up, going for a walk, taking a shower, getting myself, you know, like I’m going to work feels really good. And there’s other days where I’m like, I don’t have that in me today. I’m not getting on Zoom video.

Hope: And it feels good, right?

Cara: Yes.

Hope: It feels good. It’s nice to pick.

Cara: It is nice to pick. When you were working at Verizon and at your last job, you had a pretty decent commute, right? I bet it’s nice to not have that.

Hope: Yeah.

Cara: And to have time with the kids a little more.

Hope: Yeah. So, it’s nice and like the other thing is that I feel like we do have that structured family time now, where we lacked that either because of a commute or because I had longer meetings or because, when I started my new job, it was more where like I needed to be there all the time in order to learn. And you lose that time like, ‘Oh, I need to get home. I’ve been here for 10 hours.’

I need to be with my family, so I almost feel like coming out of this it will be so much better for my family and for my children. And I hope that more people also get that feeling, you know, where they have the time to sit down and have a meal. Even if it’s not dinner. Even if it’s lunch and dinner combined. I know how they run together now. I definitely feel like it’s important for other parents and moms and dads and families to know that you don’t have to feel so rushed. Bo constantly keeps reminding me that we have nothing to rush for. There’s no more rushing and that makes me feel better as a mom, too. There is no more. I mean there is routine. I definitely like have to keep my routine because it makes me feel good. Just like you said, sometimes you feel good when you wake up in the morning and you go for a walk and you go and you take a shower and you get ready, but there’s other days where I don’t need to rush and I don’t need to feel obligated to make that routine and to make my kids feel structured so forcefully sometimes.

Cara: Right. That’s become such a big part of our culture and our way of thinking is rushing from thing to thing and, you know, we’re just stopping and taking a breath now. We’re probably ready to get back into a little bit more of a routine.

Hope: It would be nice. It would be nice to just hug someone. I was saying that. I’m not a big hugger and I’m not overly emotional with a lot of people other than like with my kids and family, but I miss seeing people. I want my children — and my children are very affectionate. I feel bad that they don’t see their cousins. They don’t see their family. It’s hard.

Cara: Yeah.

Hope: It’s almost painful now for them.

Cara: Yeah. It’s hard and they obviously understand it to some extent.

Hope: Yeah, definitely.

Cara: Although, with a 3-year-old it’s hard to explain.

But when you think about re-entering the workforce and job hunting with all these other people who are unemployed now, like what is that like? I can imagine that would be like panic-inducing, right?

Hope: Yeah. Yeah, I’m a little nervous. And then, you know, some of me says, you know, it’ll just come. It’ll be what it’ll be and there’s really nothing forcing me to go back right now. I mean, I will need to go back. That’s how the world works. We need two incomes, but it’s going to be intimidating because there’s going to be millions of other people applying to the same jobs that I could have been applying for. Before COVID[-19] it would have been 30 applicants where now there’ll be 3,000. So I am a little intimidated. I try really hard not to think about it. I’m trying not to be scared.

Cara: Yeah.

Hope: It’s not scary. I’m intimidated. I’m intimidated when there’s so many people laid off. My hopes are that so many people get rehired at their jobs, right? I hope that jobs start to flourish when the economy starts opening back up, whenever that may be. And I know that in New Jersey, you know, it’s really not mentioned at all about when that could be.

Cara: Yeah.

Hope: So, I’m happy that we’re taking precautions, but I also miss the outside world and I’m sure you do, too.

Cara: Yeah, absolutely. I mean whether you’re introverted, extroverted, or ambivert in the middle, I think it’s still clearly challenging for everyone to have lost so many things and I think just the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen, when it’s going to open back up, not having testing, all of that.

Hope: Yeah.

Cara: I’m curious, pop question for you, not to put you on the spot, but I’m curious if you had your dream kind of job like what that would be now. Like if you got to design like whatever you were going to do, what that kind of work would look like for you.

Hope: I would say part-time. I really want this — my hope for the future and moving forward is that I can find a job where I can do everything I love, which is obviously helping people in one form or another. But also getting to spend that time at home. My kids are only going to be young once. And Olivia’s already 11 and James is 3. And James does need a little bit more hands-on than Olivia did at 3, but I don’t ever want to miss that again.

Whether that be a job that’s really, really close to home that allows me that flexibility, but I really see the importance of being here. I see it in my kids, too, every day, how much they’ve changed just in the month and a half we’ve been home. They like this.

Cara: Yeah.

Hope: I mean, they’re thriving because of it. And I don’t want to say they’re thriving, because my 11-year-old will kill me because she misses her friends like nobody’s business. But what is nice is she does get to Facetime her friends all the time now. And that’s nice, right? Because she still sees her friends, just not in the same way they would be. Because if they were together they’d both be on their phones and just looking up things while they’re sitting next to one another. So I feel like it’s very similar, but don’t tell them that.

Cara: Yeah. Absolutely not.

Hope: But I would love to be able to be home just a little bit more and just be more in tune with them because they’re what I need and they need me.

Cara: So one last question for you. Since you’ve been involved with Family Promise for 10 years and we’ve done a lot to try to elevate voices of families who have experienced homelessness or who’ve had housing instability, you know, if there was one takeaway for people what would you say that is in terms of what you wish people would understand about families experiencing homelessness?

Hope: Sure. That it’s anyone, not just people that are addicted to drugs or alcohol or who sleep on the side of the street in New York City. It’s everyone. It’s me. It’s your neighbors. It’s your friends and family. It’s kids your kids go to school with. I lost my job at the beginning of this and it’s very scary, you know, financially. Like we think about that all the time. We could lose our home. We have a mortgage. I’m not even renting anymore, so it’s very, very scary.

It’s scary on every level. So I really hope that more people see that this isn’t just a lower-class issue now. This is an everyone issue. This is the majority of our world is, you know, living paycheck to paycheck. Most of us can’t afford a $400 extra expense. The day before I got laid off I needed all new tires on my car which was like the worst time to need tires. And then I lost my job and I had no more paychecks. It’s just, I think, I hope that more people will see that this effects way more than just some people. It’s everyone. It’s a lot of people now.

Cara: Right. I do think that’s something that for better or for worse this health crisis has shown is how close a lot of people are to losing a lot of things and how housing is healthcare. You can’t self isolate, you can’t stay home if you don’t have housing.

Hope: Yes.

Cara: I’m hopeful that people will really start thinking about solutions, long-term solutions, outside of this crisis that can be more supportive to working families.

Hope: I hope so because it’s everyone. You know, it’s your neighbors now. It’s everyone. It’s your family.

Cara: Yeah. Well, thank you, Hope. Thank you so much for joining me and say hi to the kids.

Hope: I will. I’m sorry they didn’t beep in. Probably because I locked them out.

Cara: Yeah, right? It’s very hard to have a quiet conversation with two little kids around.

Hope: Yeah.

Cara: Awesome.

Hope: It was so good to see you.

Cara: You too. I’m going to give a shoutout. I saw Ted from Clayton joined so I want to say ‘hi, Ted.’ Clayton is one of our awesome partners who helps with a lot of our prevention and diversion work to prevent families from experiencing homelessness, to divert them from shelter. And we did three awesome home donations last year with Clayton and families moved into their very own new homes that they own. So that’s awesome.

Hope: That’s so great.

Cara: Alright, thanks, Hope!

Hope: Bye. I’ll see you soon. Take care.

Cara: Bye. Take Care.

Hope: Bye.

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