To escape an abusive partner, Sara moved to Rensselaer from South Holland to raise her 10-year-old son Cale and 4-year-old daughter Sorrel. Even though her family is in a safer environment, they are struggling with a new challenge, namely how to survive financially on their own.
A high school graduate, Sara could only find work at the Royal Oak Family Restaurant, where she is making $7.25, Indiana’s minimum wage, plus tips. That puts her family below the federal poverty line for an annual household income of three in 2020: $21,720. She qualifies for monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which is essential to keeping her kids fed and housed at Meadowood Apartments, a low-income housing complex in town that accepts federal housing choice vouchers.
“Don’t get me wrong, we like it here, and I’m grateful to have a job so fast,” she says. “But it’s just not enough.” Time and access prevent her from going back to school. St. Joseph’s College recently shut its doors, and closer
educational opportunities don’t exist. Lack of pre-K is also a barrier to taking classes; she has no one to care for Sorrel during non-work hours. She’d like a higher-paying job doing clerical work—she can type and once worked as a secretary back in Illinois—but there aren’t enough professional services companies in the area.
“Sometimes, I wonder why we moved here, but we had to get out of our old situation fast. When I got that job, it was like a way to plant some roots. But now that we’re here, I’m finding it difficult to climb up any ladder,” she says.
Sara has diabetes, and Cale suffers from ADHD; neither has seen a doctor or a therapist because of the cost. She takes both her kids to Bazz’s Roller Rink for fun, but there’s little else to do except going on bike rides and long walks.
She worries about Cale getting involved with gangs or drugs when he becomes a teenager, simply because it’ll provide a structure that she can’t find for him in town.
“Maybe before then, we’ll be someplace else,” she says. “If a better job and more opportunities are someplace else, we’ll go.