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A Complicated Life: A better future

Nov. 30, 2009 - The sound of explosives and automatic machine gun fire spilling from the TV doesn't seem to bother a snoring two-year-old D'aizit who sleeps at one end of the couch.

But at the other end, Nicole Martin, a staff member of the Champaign County Urban and Regional Planning office's No Limits Program, seems distracted as she attempts to get through to First Call for Help, a family service agency that acts as an information referral program.

Martin keeps pressing the redial button in hopes of reaching someone who can help Yolanda Davis get the financial assistance she needs to pay this month's rent.

Eventually Martin gives up. "It doesn't look like it's going to happen today.'


On the floor nearby sits Yolanda, D'aizit's mother, who is using a borrowed cell phone to call Ameren IP about an extinguished pilot light in her rental house.

Late November has brought cold weather, but her house in southwest Champaign is without heat.

The furnace has not worked since last winter and Davis is concerned that her three children will suffer as it gets colder.

"I would like someone to come out and check the system because I have little kids and don't think it's safe for me to try to light the pilot again,' she tells the Ameren  representative on the other end of the call.

For a moment it seems like the tension mounting on the screen will spill over into her conversation.

She takes a deep breath then continues, "I need someone to come out and check the pilot light for me because the heat is not coming on.'

Eventually Yolanda is told that the company will send someone over later to check the system. But there is one complication: Yolanda does not have a phone number to give Ameren in order to process the work order.

A few awkward seconds pass before Martin offers to be the contact person and gives her number to the Ameren representative.

Yolanda Davis is no stranger to complications; with an estimated monthly income that ranges from $600 to $800, she is among the more than 32,000 Champaign County residents who live at or below the poverty line, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in November 2009. The report also states that poverty rates for Champaign County in 2008 rose to 18.7 percent, up from the 2007 rate of 18.2 percent.

The complications in Yolanda's life escalated last fall.

She lost her Link Card benefits, through which the federal government provides cash assistance for food and other necessities; she was fired from her 30-hour-per week minimum wage ($8 per hour) job at Taco Bell; and she lost her phone service.

During the same period, the 34-year-old mother of five, whose three youngest children live with her, was paid an unexpected visit by her oldest son, Anthony, 18, who had been living with his father and now intended to now live with her.Anthony's father made the decision to send him to Yolanda without her knowledge, she said, and the arrangement lasted only a few weeks before Anthony returned to Chicago.

Though she was happy to have her son, his moving into the household required adjustments, just as his leaving did.

Being out of work increased Yolanda's financial stress.

But even when she worked, her life was complicated as she constantly juggled her responsibilities as a parent with her responsibilities as an employee.

In order to work the late night shift she was assigned, Yolanda had to find childcare and transportation.

"I had to arrange with my children's school for them to take a school bus to my baby sitter's house after school. I would take the baby to her house before I went to work. I would call the shuttle service and have them pick me up and carry me to the sitter's house and collect my children, and have the shuttle bring us home,' she said.

Some nights Yolanda would have to wake her sleeping children and take them home far past their bedtimes.

Yolanda is also an on-call custodian for the Champaign Unit 4 School District, for which she is paid more than $11 per hour when she works.

While the custodian job pays well, Yolanda never knows in advance what her schedule will be.

When she is called in she usually works the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift.This requires Yolanda to contact her babysitter to see if she's available, and she must make sure that her two school-age children are able to get from school to the sitter's house.

Yolanda then has to either walk or take the bus to the sitter's house to drop off her two-year-old. Once her shift is over she has to find transportation to and from the sitter's house.

If things go well, she said, she will return home with her children around midnight.

The situation sounds overwhelming, yet Yolanda describes her life with an easy smile and infectious laugh.

The complications in her life date back to her childhood and include such obstacles as teen pregnancy, lack of parental support and limited education.

Despite it all, though, Yolanda remains optimistic. She believes she is working toward a better future.

By Will Atwater/For CU-CitizenAccess

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.