LIMA — Fifteen years ago, Michelle was on top of the world. She had just moved into a Habitat For Humanity-built home, a dwelling into which she had poured her blood, sweat and tears.
But a decade and a half later, that residence — which earlier this year added a pair of young, unexpected occupants — is in need of some major upgrades.
Chief among Michelle’s needs is a new furnace. And as winter approaches, the need for warmth was accentuated recently when Michelle gained temporary custody of her two young grandchildren. The children, James and Mary, are each less than 18 months of age, creating a new household dynamic for Michelle.
The children wound up in their grandmother’s care after their father (Michelle’s son) and their biological mother got caught up in the world of illegal drugs. In mid-August, after the youngsters’ parents and two other adults were found in a vehicle “looking like dead zombies,” in Michelle’s words, officials from Children’s Services removed the children from their parents’ care and gave temporary custody to Michelle. The biological parents were given six months “to get their act cleaned up,” but Michelle is uncertain if that will happen.
“In the beginning I saw it [gaining custody of the children] as a burden, but now I see it as a blessing in disguise,” said the deeply religious Michelle. “Now I get the chance to show my grandchildren what being a real mother is all about.”
But the arrival of her grandchildren nonetheless has presented financial challenges for Michelle. The furnace in her home is in need of repair or replacement. Electric heaters have been filling the void, but a host of other assorted electrical issues — including faulty wiring that started a small fire inside a wall in her home — keep Michelle awake at night.
“I pray every day. These electrical issues are scary. I don’t want to die in a fire,” she said.
Michelle’s income is limited to monthly Social Security disability payments. A former employee at a Lima hospital, she has experienced seizures since she was 19 that eventually left her unable to work. Michelle’s boyfriend of eight months, Bob, helps as much as he can from his meager paycheck from a local gas station. Children’s Services “have been helpful” in providing some financial assistance, says Michelle. But there are still needs that are not being met.
Asked what the family needs this holiday season, Michelle quickly replied, “Heat.” But also needed are beds for the kids and new carpet or floor covering for the youngsters’ bedroom.
Her grandchildren would enjoy “a baby doll for Mary and blocks or a truck for James,” and any educational toys for infants would be appreciated as well. Mary wears size 2T clothing and James wears 18-month clothes. Both children need boots and winter gear, Michelle said.