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Stories | FIRSTHAND: Living in Poverty

These five people are experiencing intergenerational poverty. They are struggling, but striving in the face of daily challenges that make their circumstances difficult to escape.

Five Stories

Patricia Jackson, her husband, and their children live in her mother’s basement in the Roseland neighborhood on the South Side. The family’s only source of steady income was Patricia’s low-wage job at a WIC grocery, until the coronavirus pandemic forced her to take time off. Now a remarkable opportunity has landed on Patricia’s doorstep: a nonprofit called the Family Independence Initiative offered her financial assistance with no strings attached. In the short term, these cash infusions will allow the family to keep their heads above water. Looking to the future, Patricia and her husband hope to get an exciting new business off the ground.

Andino Medina is determined to regain custody of his two-year-old daughter. But first he will need to contend with the criminal justice system and DCFS. Born in the Marquette Park neighborhood to a tight-knit, hard-working family, Andino’s lifelong struggles with addiction led to a cycle of crime and incarceration. During his most recent stay in jail, Andino’s girlfriend gave birth to Eva, who has given him a renewed sense of purpose. In order to get her back, he’ll need to pay off a mountain of court fees, and find the affordable, stable housing that DCFS requires. But he has a fighting chance, thanks to a social service agency and an exciting new job.

Melissa Fonseca has worked at a pharmacy chain for 16 years, but still barely makes enough to cover her bills. Meanwhile, the lifelong Humboldt Park resident sees her neighborhood being transformed by a wave of wealthy new residents who have been afforded the advantages that always seemed out of her reach. Will Melissa ever be able to get ahead? A reunion with her estranged mom might hold the answers she’s been looking for.

Gary Ladehoff is one stroke of good luck away from making it out of poverty, and one stroke of bad luck away from losing everything. He has been living with his two-year-old daughter in the economically-depressed city of Zion, Illinois. This is a critical moment for Gary: a new job, car, and apartment fall into his lap, while a workplace accident threatens to set him back. Gary’s past struggles with addiction and the criminal justice system have led to previous setbacks. But now he’s getting help from an unlikely source: a police officer who once put Gary behind bars.

Dominetrius Chambers seemed to be poised for success: the 20-year-old graduated third in her high school class. But the next steps that a middle-class woman her age might take – college, career, an apartment – have proven elusive. Then Dominetrius was introduced to My Block, My Hood, My City, a nonprofit that introduced her to mentors and exposed her to neighborhoods around the city. Will the excitement of new people and places lead to greater opportunity?

Watch their stories >