Friday, April 30, 2010

Community Response

This just in: the United Way of Greater Cincinnati--Middletown Area awarded the Butler County School Supply Coalition a $7,000 Community Response Grant! This money will go to the students in the Middletown service area (meaning Middletown, Edgewood, Madison, and Monroe School Districts). It will purchase school supplies for 1,273 students! Add this on to the money raised county-wide and the Kits for Kids Campaign is now up to $28,984, with more funds coming in every day.

Get in on the fun by mailing your tax-deductible donation to our lock box in Middletown--address listed on the right of this page -------------->

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The donations keep coming: yesterday we received $300 from St. Peter in Chains in Hamilton and Zion Lutheran Church in Middletown! Thank you so much for your generous support! To my Butler County church-attending readers, please encourage your pastor or congregation to donate this week! Every donation makes a difference.

Today Alex and I are heading to Darke County to meet with a potential OBB site. It's a bit of a drive, but it's worth it if we can get more sites on board in Darke County. There are only 2 or 3 active sites in the entire county, so the more sites there are, the more access residents of that community have to services. It has been a struggle to recruit sites in our rural areas. The agencies we talk to know of one site in their area and are afraid that by becoming a site they will step on that site's toes. They don't realize how much of a relief it can be for a site to have a little help in serving all of their clients, especially during tax season! And the truth is that some people will simply prefer visiting one site over another for whatever reason. We want our clients to feel comfortable and empowered--the more sites we have on board, the more likely they are to feel secure in the application process.

So fingers crossed! We hope today's mission will be a successful one.

Monday, April 26, 2010

We're in the money

The past couple of days have more than tripled the Butler County School Supply Coalition's fund-raising progress.

This morning, the Butler County Commissioners just authorized a $15,000 contribution to the Coalition! That donation alone purchases enough school supplies for 2,725 kids throughout the county. Now add that to the $6,584 from the Fairfield Rotary, Oxford Community Foundation, Miami Hamilton Student Government Association, Oxford Kiwanis, Oxford Rotary, MU Partnership, and Oxford Youth Empowered in Service, and we're up to about 3,900 kits.

Oh yeah, and guess what else? A few weeks ago I completed a mailing to more than 100 churches in Butler County, requesting that their congregations offer a contribution to the Kits for Kids Campaign. Fairfield Church of Christ answered the call with a $100 donation, received on Friday.

With May just around the corner, we can expect to hear back on thousands more dollars in grants over the next few weeks. Hopefully they are all favorable responses--I'll keep you updated. We'll also be launching our CoxOhio media campaign through the JournalNews across Butler County. But you don't have to wait to receive an envelope in your Sunday paper to donate! Just write your check to Kits to Kids and mail to:

Kits for Kids Campaign
P.O. Box 421545
Middletown, OH 45042-1545

Suddenly our $96,201 goal doesn't seem so huge. We still have a long way to go, but we're on our way. Help us get there! Your tax-deductible donation of $5.50 buys a complete school supply kit for a child in Butler County. You can't beat that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Life changes

When I started this blog, I ambitiously set a goal to write one post per day, maybe more if time allowed. Well time never allowed for multiple blog posts in one day, let alone a daily post. I don't think I've ever posted 7 days in a row--and I won't be starting now because...
  • I have about a month's worth of vacation, sick, and compensation time to take between now and June 18th.
  • Taylor and I are buying a house this month.
Yes, it is official--the bank has cleared us to close on our first ever home! Now, you may be wondering how a 22-year old and her new husband living in poverty could possibly be buying a house. I mean just 4 months ago we were still collecting food stamps. Well, to be quite honest, food stamps played a big part in this new adventure. Because of food stamps we were able to aggressively save more money than we ever could have if we had been paying for our groceries out of pocket. You'd be surprised how quickly that adds up. And when Taylor got his raise that made us ineligible for assistance, we already had a leg up to make the climb out of poverty: we had learned how to save.

(That, and the fact that we left some old savings bonds in tact, as well. By not cashing out my savings bonds to cover basic living expenses, we were able to afford a 10% down payment on our house.)

Some of you may also be wondering how we'll ever be able to afford a mortgage when we were counting our pennies just months ago. Well the bank wondered that, too. And they determined that because my AmeriCorps position is temporary (ending in June), only Taylor's income could count towards our loan eligibility. Still, the bank pre-approved us for a modest loan in January and we found an affordable short sale house in Cincinnati within our price range. We put an offer down on the house in February and then we waited. And waited. And finally we heard back at the beginning of April that our offer had been accepted. We met with our loan officer, crunched more numbers, had the house inspected, and voila! We were cleared to close on the house. After a little termite treatment this week, we hope to have the papers signed by the first week of May, just in time for the end of our lease on our apartment. Even with taxes, insurance, and interest, our monthly payments are only about $80 more a month than our rent right now, which we can easily float now that Taylor has paid off his $100 monthly car payments with his parents.

On paper we're good to go and we'll be even better off when I land a job that pays more than $4.83/hour. Despite our savings accomplishments and steps out of poverty, I still struggle with the idea that we "deserve" this house. Home ownership has always seemed like a dream for thirty-somethings established in their careers, not a couple of kids still working on their degrees. Deep down, I feel strange about buying a house less than a year after we were getting food stamps. From a societal standpoint, it doesn't seem to match up, does it? In my mind I know that the point of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is to help people cover basic living expenses so that they can advance out of poverty. Still, I can't shake this nagging feeling of guilt surrounding this success in our lives. I can't put my finger on it, but it's almost as if I am breaking the rules or cheating the system by breaking out of poverty. That because I needed help at one point in my life, I owe society some type of debt equivalent to, oh, a lifetime in poverty. Just looking back at the beginning of this post, I find myself anticipating readers' objections and offering explanations for my home purchase before this post even hit the Internet. Had I been a middle-class professional in my early thirties, I doubt I would be explaining myself to my readers. It would seem like a natural next step.

I wonder if others transitioning out of poverty feel this overwhelming need to justify, downplay, or otherwise apologize for their successes. Given the critical eye of service providers and society in general, I wouldn't be surprised. And we wonder why people don't jump at the chance to jump out of poverty--it's scary and uncomfortable! I am realizing how important it will be as a future service provider to encourage and celebrate similar leaps in my clients' lives, and not be so quick to subconsciously question their decisions.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Take a number

Today I worked with the Covering the Uninsured Medicaid enrollment event. I arrived at the Hamilton Kroger at 8:30 with our supplies (which I had to pick up in Hamilton on Friday), and found two people already waiting in line to apply. One woman had been there since 7:30 a.m.! I quickly set up our booth (located by the pharmacy), and got started, anticipating my partners' arrival at 8:45 a.m. But guess what? They never arrived (for many reasons, I would later discover). I did applications for Medicaid, Help with Medicare Expenses, Ohio's Best Rx, and assistance with hospital bills all by myself. To make this process even more exhausting, I had to do everything by hand on paper; I couldn't use the Benefit Bank (mostly due to printing issues). Then, after 4 hours of non-stop applications, I had to drive the supplies down to Cincinnati's Legal Aid office--an hour-long round trip. It was a long, frustrating day.

To say the least, today wasn't well-organized, but it wasn't a waste. I helped 8 families/households apply for help with medical expenses--and I heard a lot of powerful stories. One woman was taking care of her grandchildren when her husband had a heart attack several years ago. As he was recovering, he lost his job and insurance, but the hospitals still expected payment. In fact, the family is being taken to court over these bills and expects to file for bankruptcy this year. I did everything I could to help, but it was just too little too late. She already felt defeated by the system, and as much as I'd love to, I can't change how this system works. I hope legal aid will follow up with her case and help her move forward.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

New day, new goal

Good news on the Kits for Kids Campaign front--thanks to Angie Akers, our relentless negotiator with the school supply companies, it looks like we will be able to get all of our kits for $5.50. This is a huge difference from the kits quoted at $6 and $6.46, and as you can imagine saves us an average of $.75 per student--and at 17,491 students, that's a big chunk of change. The only catch is that we have to order the supplies in bulk, not in prepackaged kits. It won't be as convenient for distribution, but when it comes down to it, we're able to buy more supplies and serve more kids by buying in bulk, and that's really what it's all about.

This change has been reflected in the thermometer on the right side of the page. Our goal is still to serve 17,491 K-12 graders. But with supplies at only $5.50 per person, that goal just got a little cheaper at $96,201 total.

Between the efforts of Maureen Kranbuhl at the Oxford United Way and me, we have $4,784 raised so far, with thousands of dollars in grants still out there, waiting to be approved or denied. While we wait, I've taken to sending letters to all of the churches in the county asking for help. I designed a flyer and wrote a bulletin insert to include, as well. If you attend church in Butler County, be on the lookout for our request and help us out!

And remember, if you want to contribute to the Kits for Kids Campaign, please make checks payable to Kits for Kids and mail your tax-deductible donation to:

Kits for Kids Campaign
P.O. Box 421545
Middletown, OH 45042-1545

Your contribution of $5.50 sponsors one child with the school supplies he or she needs to successfully start the 2010-2011 school year. All donations will be distributed among the 10 public school districts according to the need in each district, unless otherwise specified.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cover the Uninsured

This Saturday, I'm helping out with a Medicaid enrollment event called Cover the Uninsured, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Every Saturday in April, there will be small teams of people at area Kroger stores ready to help people sign up for Medicaid.

Remember: Medicaid is health coverage for low-income people. But not just everyone can sign up. Medicaid coverage is only available to kids, parents of kids, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and people over the age of 65. If you are single and don't have kids, then you're out of luck, regardless of income. (That's our health care system for you.)

Below is an excerpt from the posters that Alex and I put up around town yesterday. Most people were cool about us posting the information, but others incorrectly viewed the poster as advertisement for Kroger and refused to post it in their business. Still, we're working to get the word out, and hopefully people will come out to get much-needed health coverage.

You may qualify for free health coverage!
Medicaid offers free health coverage to working families.

Children living in a family of four can have household
income up to $45,000/year and qualify.
Find out if you qualify.

Come to one of these Kroger locations
from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
For more information call 2-1-1 or go to

Saturday, April 10
Cherry Grove - 7580 Beechmont Ave
Ferguson - 2310 Ferguson Rd
Forest Park - 1212 W Kemper Rd (Alex will be here!)
Hamilton - 1450 S Erie Blvd (I'll be here!)
Hartwell - 8241 Vine St
Middletown - 3420 Towne Blvd
Norwood - 4500 Montgomery Rd
Price Hill - 3609 Warsaw Ave
Queen City - 4777 Kenard Ave
Woodlawn - 10595 Springfield Pike

Saturday, April 17
College Hill - 7132 Hamilton Ave
Ferguson - 2310 Ferguson Rd
Hamilton - 1450 S Erie Blvd
Maineville - 5705 S S.R. 48 Northgate - 9690 Colerain Ave
Norwood - 4500 Montgomery Rd
Queen City - 4777 Kenard Ave
Roselawn - 1864 Seymour Ave
Whitewater Twp - 4001 S.R. 128
Woodlawn - 10595 Springfield Pike

So help us spread the word! If you, or someone you know needs health coverage and lives in the Greater Cincinnati area, send them our way. You might also want to tell them to bring the following items for their application:
● Proof of income
● Proof of any other health insurance
● Proof of pregnancy (if applicable)
● Picture i.d.
● Birth certificate

And if health coverage isn't incentive enough, there are free Kroger gift cards for those who apply!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Where my peeps at?

The thing about weddings is that the planning doesn't end after the last bite of cake or the last of the rice has been tossed. It's over when Social Security says it's over.

I'm taking Taylor's last name, so for the past two weeks I have been signing emails and introducing myself as "Kaitlyn Wessels." But I can't sign checks, receipts or legal documents with my new name because in the eyes of Social Security, I'm still Kaitlyn Baker. I tried to change all of this last week by going to the SSA after work. I went home, grabbed our marriage license, two forms of ID (just in case), and the application for a new Social Security card, then immediately hit the road. The SSA office is several miles away, near the animal shelter and a remote little shopping center, so with traffic it took a while to get there. I pulled in to the parking lot at 4:02, but found the doors to get inside already locked. That's right--SSA is open from 9-4, Monday through Friday. No exceptions.

This isn't the first time I've learned how terrible SSA service can be. In college, I did a summer research project on accessing Social Security benefits on the basis of disability and income, and was shocked to discover just how convoluted the process can be. I had forgotten how much more difficult the process can be when you can't even make it into the office. All I need is a simple name change, but what about the parent of a disabled child who needs his SSI benefit to cover the costs of special therapy, dietary, and care needs? Assuming she works a typical 9-5 job, that parent would have to take off work just to make it to SSA by 4 so that she can sit and wait for half an hour (or more) for the possibility of being considered for benefits. I won't even get into how much time, paperwork, and appeals it takes to be approved for benefits, if at all.

It just goes to show how so many social service agencies aren't really serving anyone. But they sure are good at training people how to jump through hoops. If I wanted to jump through hoops, I would have joined the circus.

But hey, the sun is shining and spring is here, so life can't be all bad. Besides, these pictures of Peep dioramas make it hard to stay angry for too long! Happy belated Easter!