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A Complicated Life: One woman's optimistic journey through poverty and strife

CHAMPAIGN -- 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. This series follows Champaign resident Yolanda Davis as she juggles three children, school and a life on less than $26 a day. Produced by University of Illinois Journalism Graduate Student Will Atwater.

Part One: 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 offices 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.

Part Two: Lessons in love

Born Dec. 16, 1975, Yolanda lived with her mother and two sisters on Chicago's Southside. As a young girl, she remembers frequent altercations with her mother that grew worse as she grew older. Yolanda finally decided to leave home as a young teenager. "I emancipated myself when I was 14 from my mom's care," she said. "She used to beat me for no apparent reason. I would never leave my kids with her if she was alive. I loved her because that was my mom. But me calling her mom, I could never do that. I would call her by her name or her nickname. That was not my mother. That couldn't have been the woman that put me on this earth."

Part Three: Rebellious past

While living in Evanston Yolanda met Anthony Foster at Fleetwood Jordan Park, which was near where they both lived. They spent time talking and playing basketball at the park and became close, she said. Soon Yolanda was pregnant with her first child. She was put in touch with a person who gave refuge to teenage mothers and was invited to live in the woman’s home with her newborn, she said.

Part Four: Dark days

As a high school dropout with no job skills, Yolanda moved in with her paternal grandmother, who is now deceased. She struggled to earn money. Teen mothers are more likely to seek financial support from family or from public assistance and 75 percent of unmarried teen mothers go on welfare within five years of the birth of their first child, according to a March of Dimes study.

Part Five: Turning point

Around 1998 Yolanda developed a relationship with Izear Davis, whom she married and had two children with. But complications continued for her.

Part Six: First steps

Of her hardships, worrying about her children’s welfare is the toughest.  “Being on the street, being homeless, having to ask someone ‘could you feed my kids?’ Not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, or [what] the next day after that is going to bring.”

Part Seven: Tools to survive

Yolanda's resolve is being tested. She did not receive her monthly Illinois Link Card benefits last October.

Part Eight: Unresolved issues

Davis believes the issues Yolanda had with her late mothers are still not resolved. The death of her mother plays a big part in [Yolanda's] life ... as far as how she [acts] towards the kids because she does not want to treat [them] the way she was treated," he said.


Part Nine: The road less traveled

In December Yolanda’s public aid benefits were reinstated and though she doesn’t have a job currently, she is still in the No Limits program and continues to meet with Woodard on a regular basis.  An Ameren IP representative was able to ignite the pilot light and Davis and her family have heat. Since Jan. 10, Yolanda has been attending adult education classes on a weekly basis and she has also enrolled in Even Start, an educational program for mothers and their children.

Q + A: Urbana Adult Education

Dr. David Adcock, director of Urbana Adult Education, located at 211 N. Race St. in Urbana, sat down to discuss the center and some of the educational opportunities offered there.

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