April 29, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all, including our Ladder Project families. Here is an update about them, and how we are helping during this stressful time.
David Corn was let go from his job at Studio Movie Grill in early March after the virus forced the closure of movie theaters nationwide. David and his fellow employees were encouraged to apply for unemployment from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), but the process was confusing and customer service help was non-existent. Ladder Project Executive Committee member Jeff Hoppenstein helped David file his application, and David received his first check on April 11.
In the meantime, the Ladder Project Executive Committee put out feelers for jobs, and on April 14, David began a new, full-time position at Tom Thumb Preston Forest. David is a member of the Drive Up and Go team, filling online orders and delivering them to customers curbside. Although David is wearing a mask, please say hello to him if you see him. He very much enjoys the job, most especially spotting our congregants shopping in the store -- most recently Cantor Zhrebker!
To help David through this period, we spent $250 in Ladder Project donations toward his April rent; we also purchased new work pants for him. But he will pay all his own bills in May. (After almost a year of financial self-sufficiency, David had also requested help from us in February, due to an unprecedented six days of missing work at SMG.) As always, your donations go directly to our families and serve as the ultimate safety net for them in times of emergency. This is a great comfort to our families, and a satisfying mitzvah for us.
Petrina Johnson also lost her job due to the virus. Petrina and her 13-year-old daughter Jacelyn had moved in February from a downtown homeless shelter to an apartment in Mesquite. They were sleeping on the floor in an empty apartment until our congregants filled it with furniture and purchased all 28 household items on an Amazon registry we created for them. The Ladder Project also paid for Petrina and Jacelyn to take the bus to Houston to empty a $83/month storage unit and bring their belongings back to Dallas in a UHaul. We also paid off a $60/month liability for a saxophone Petrina had purchased for her daughter several years ago. Petrina, who has a BA in journalism from Georgia State University and an MBA from the University of Phoenix, had aggressively applied for jobs and was delighted to start a $13/hour job at the Dallas Housing Authority in February, doing telephone screening of new clients, but she was almost immediately let go when the virus hit.
Since Jacelyn's middle school is closed, Petrina is looking for a job that she can do remotely. She is an excellent writer (she worked three years as a reporter at a suburban Houston newspaper), owns a laptop, and has wi-fi in her apartment. If any congregants have administrative work that she can do from home please email Laura Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Petrina's rent is covered through August by Shared Housing Center, the homeless shelter where Petrina and her daughter lived, through a Rapid Rehousing Program that pays six months of rent for departing clients. The Ladder Project is giving Petrina cash in increments of $60 for food purchases until she finds a job; Ladder Project Executive Committee member Sally Wolfish stays in regular touch with Petrina to make sure she and Jacelyn are doing well.
Patrice Bryson also lost her job to the virus. She had been working since November as a $17/hour clerk at the Frank Crowley Criminal Courthouse. Her two boys—Chase and Caeden, both 9—are not able to go to school while DISD is closed, so Patrice has not been looking for work. She is helping the boys complete their online school work, and Caeden is receiving extra help via Skype from a DISD dyslexia specialist. Like Petrina, Patrice's rent is being paid through August by Shared Housing Center, but she also had no furniture when she moved into her East Dallas apartment in February. Shearith Israel congregants fully furnished it and purchased 27 items on a Bed, Bath and Beyond registry. Earlier this month, we gave them $200 for food and their monthly phone bill. Ladder Project Executive Committee member Mindy Fagin, who lives just east of Patrice in Lakewood, has been especially involved with the family—last week, for Chase's birthday, she dropped off a homemade birthday cake and Mattel's UNO card game; she gave them face masks for virus protection, and before the pandemic, had taken the boys to Half Price Books, where she gave them each $15 gift cards.
Both women just received their one-time stimulus checks from the federal government, which should tide them over for the time being. (David did not get a check; he presumes it was sent instead to his ex-girlfriend's mother, who gets court-ordered child support from David for his 21-year-old son who still lives with his grandmother.) We will continue to monitor the women's financial situations, but we do not anticipate giving them cash for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, if any congregant has experience helping elementary school children with dyslexia, it would be a great mitzvah to augment what DISD is doing for Caeden. Please email Laura Miller if you can help at email@example.com.
Patrice Mackey is the third single mom the Ladder Project was helping before the virus struck. We had enrolled her in GED classes four days a week and we were paying for after-school care at the South Dallas YMCA for her two children while she attended classes. The plan was for Patrice to get her GED, in preparation for finding a job, and then we would move her and the children into an apartment (which the Ladder Project would pay for initially) as early as May 1. Shared Housing Center had agreed to let the family stay in the homeless shelter in the interim.
The virus changed everything: Patrice's GED classes were cancelled, and the children stopped going to school due to DISD 's closure. With no job lined up, no full-time child care available, and no way for our congregants to donate their furniture for an apartment during the stay-at-home order, we told Patrice it would be some months before we could move her from the shelter into an apartment. Again, Shared Housing Center was willing to allow the Mackey's to continue to stay with them until we were able to act.
Unfortunately, Patrice was not willing to wait. She decided to move back to an Oak Cliff apartment complex where she had been evicted for non-payment of rent last year and that we believe she cannot afford without income from a job. We again asked her to wait in place until stay-at-home orders expire. She was not willing to do that. We have told Shared Housing Center that we are interested in helping another of their families when it is safe to do so.
What we have learned over the past 18 months is that for the Ladder Project to be successful, we must strictly adhere to our mission: help the people who are also motivated to help themselves, through employment and a sense (even if it is newly acquired) of fiscal responsibility. We cannot be all things to all people. We don't have the resources or experience to become permanent lifelines for people. Instead, we seek to be that firm, critical lift that people need to get out of homelessness to be able to return to financial and emotional self-sufficiency.
Shearith Israel has largely fulfilled that goal in its work with David Corn, although we have come to learn that self-sufficiency can be a long process, as opposed to a quick fix, and that disaster is often one paycheck away for the people we help. We wanted the challenge of working with a family before publicly introducing our model to the local faith community, and we look forward to doing that later this year. In the meantime, please know that all of you who have contributed to the Ladder Project in any way over these past 19 months have performed the ultimate mitzvah in Judaism of saving a life.
If you'd like to support the work of The Ladder Project, you can make a donation HERE
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share