Cara Russo came to Circles not knowing what to expect. “It can’t hurt”, she thought to herself. “I’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
Cara, the single mother of two young daughters wanted to build a better life for her children. She wanted more than what her waitress job provided but how to go about making the changes she needed was the problem. It is hard enough to survive in poverty but to try and fight your way out – that is a different battle altogether. Cara knew she wanted a better future for herself and her family – she wanted the best for them and was willing to work hard to get it!
During the first year of Circles, Cara took a job at a bank in addition to continuing to waitress part-time. “I felt like I was stepping off a cliff,” she said thinking back to those days.
It was a concrete step toward her goals that actually made life more difficult for her family. By working 55 or so hours a week, Cara’s income increased, yet the increase in income was not enough to pay for the loss in benefits (loss of food stamps, access to food pantries, increase in child care co-pay and housing costs).
Cara continued to push forward despite the fact that life had gotten harder. The job where she was waitressing asked her to come back full time to train other waitresses and a few months later she was offered an assistant manager’s position. The increases in pay allowed Cara to get off all assistance and in April of 2010 Cara moved into her own home. It has been and continues to be a lot of hard work, but Cara was never afraid of hard work. She just needed some guidance and support. Cara has now turned her attention to educating the community and helping others. She now volunteers in Circles as an Ally, helping families like her fight their way out of poverty.
“I take full responsibility for the decisions I made that got me here,” said Cara, “but once I got here it didn’t seem to matter how hard I worked. I was stuck. That’s why I tell my story. If it changes one more person’s thinking, that’s one more person joining us as we work to change our community.”