Voices of Everyday Leaders

by Bonnie Page | January 30, 2019 4:42 pm

My Story

Bonnie Page photo by Vy Vux

I grew up in the southeast area of Washington, DC and I attended Eastern Senior High School. The year was 1971, I was 15 years old and in my freshman year of high school. By the end of that year, I learned I was pregnant. In 1972, barely sixteen years old, I became the mother of a beautiful baby girl. I lived with my mother, my four younger siblings, my aunt and her daughter.  My aunt, who was just three years older than me, also had a three year old child. My mother was a single parent raising five children of her own and her younger sister with a child. She managed her house with a stern hand.

Now responsible for a life other than my own, my mother sternly advised me that every child in

her household had to finish high school. In order for me to give my daughter and to give myself the best chance in life, I had to continue going to high school. I also had to get a job so I could pay a babysitter to tend my child. Life has drastically changed since I was a sixteen-year-old mother. The Safety-Net Programs such as WIC, Child Care, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps and Cash Assistance were in place for needy families like mine. But, I was an underaged teen and until my eighteenth birthday, I could not seek any type of government assistance. In order to become an emancipated teen you had to demonstrate to a court that you could manage on your own financially and otherwise. However, since I was a minor, my mother could not get assistance for me but she was qualified to get assistance for my daughter. Since I was still her dependent I was covered on her health insurance at her job. It covered one hundred percent of my medical expenses but it did not extend to my daughter, her grandchild.

If she had not sought assistance from the state for my daughter’s care, I would have never been able to finish high school. When my daughter was four-months-old, she became very ill and needed emergency surgery.  

Because I was just sixteen years old, I could not authorize the hospital to perform surgery on my own daughter. I felt hopeless as a parent. My mother had to come to the hospital and give her signed consent for doctors to operate on her grandchild. With the assistance of Safety-Net Programs allotted to my mother for my daughter, I was able to finish high school and enroll in classes at DC Teacher’s Community College. While I attended high school, I also worked a full-time job as clerk at DC General Hospital and got a second job caring for a small child who was not my own. After high school I continued to work at the same job, and took college courses three days a week for the next three years.

I felt that I would never get ahead. Even with some college I still worked a series of low wage jobs. The only way for me to make ends meet was to work a second job or to have a job that I could work twelve to sixteen hours a day. At the end of my work day I was always exhausted but mindful that I was still a full-time parent. My child was my priority. I spent as much time as humanly possible with her.

I look back on that time and I note to myself that the number one reason I worked so hard was for a better life for my daughter. She is now forty-six years old. Having her as a daughter, one could never ask for more. She’s an intelligent, loving and caring, well rounded mother to three adult children and grandmother to three others.

In 2013, I suffered what would become one of two major strokes that ended my ability to work. I became disabled and had to rely on Social Security Disability Insurance to make ends meet. I had to learn to live off a quarter of what I had earned. Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps) became my life line yet I still struggle to survive. Through the DC Office of the Aging, I learned of The Genesis Program. Based on my age and my background of working with disadvantaged young people, I thought this program was a perfect fit for me.

In September, 2015, I became one of the seniors selected to live in Genesis. The program is a project based, Section 8 supported dwelling for low to moderate income seniors and young people. With the help of the Section 8, Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP Safety-Net Programs, I am able to afford to live and take care of myself. SNAP helps me buy groceries. Section 8 helps me pay my rent and Medicare and Medicaid help me so I can go to the doctor when I’m sick. My story is not so different from many other low-income people trying to survive. Safety-Net Programs were designed to help America’s poor and disadvantaged people.

I lived at Genesis for three years. During that time because of my background and life experiences, I thought I brought a lot to this program. In reality, I received far more than I had given.  I have nothing against an all senior way of living, but that was not for me. I just knew that I needed to be around the vibrancy that young people and children bring. To see children happily playing, young mothers managing their families and being able to support them gave me purpose. My job was to support their efforts.  In Genesis I was surrounded in an atmosphere that allowed me to grow and to thrive. My needs changed and I needed a larger unit but none was available. Housing moved me to another project based community that’s similar to Genesis but on a larger scale. The relationships I developed at Genesis will stay with me for the rest of my life but I’m ready to put my footsteps in the sand in my new surroundings.

In my lifetime having access to government resources helped me time and time again. I want the same for all families. Every child should have food on their table and every family should be able to seek medical care regardless of income. Medicare, Medicaid and SNAP should be afforded to all families when they need it most.

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