The Little Things

When she arrived in Massachusetts with nothing to her name, Tamiko discovered that well-meaning people placed in her life at just the right time would give her more than she ever dreamed.

It’s the little things–or, rather, the absence of the little things–that make it so tough. Tamiko looks back two years when she, her 15-month old and her child in utero were calling a shelter home. Something as simple and overlooked by so many like having your own shower and your own bed—those are the things that sap hope.

It was December 2012 and Tamiko’s family had disintegrated. She had left South Carolina and the ruins of her old life and, so desperate to start over, arrived in Massachusetts with a rambunctious little boy on one arm, minimal belongings on the other and a baby in her belly.
Drawn back to the area where she was born, she spent the first few months attempting to re-engage with support systems, while couch-surfing where she could with friends and a few family members.

In February 2013, she finally found shelter placement, but the relief was fleeting. As the days rolled on, her homelessness began to take its toll. She had next to no material possessions and with a newborn in her near future, the last thing she wanted was to welcome a new child into a life of homelessness.

“I didn’t want to have my baby in that situation,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to go to the hospital, give birth and come back to a homeless shelter.”

In a life that had recently been comprised of a series of low points, this feeling of hopelessness represented the nadir. Yet a simple conversation began to change all that.

It was with another mom in the shelter, who told Tamiko about United Way’s Community Baby Shower. This annual event, organized by United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, welcomes low-income new and expecting mothers for an all-day gathering featuring parent resources, agency representation and gifts of baby essentials.

Initially Tamiko balked. That was not her personality, to go out to a strange place for a strange event hosted by strangers. Besides, the last thing she was looking for was sympathy.

“I didn’t want to be a charity case,” she said. “And I was skeptical of people who might just be looking to just get kudos for helping me.”

Eventually, she realized the benefits of attending the Baby Shower outweighed her trepidation. At the event she walked away with donations, a gift basket, and, more importantly, a connection with a new friend, United Way’s Alicia Adamson.

“She offered me reassurance,” Tamiko says, “which is what I truly need at that time. She uplifted me and helped me cope with things.”

Other members of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council pitched in as well, helping Tamiko move in to her own place in August. They filled the empty rooms and turned the space into an actual home for Tamiko and her children.

“I appreciate what they did for me,” she says. “I believe Alicia was there for a reason, and her reason was to help.”

These days, Tamiko is, in her words, “doing awesome.” She’s been working as a customer service representative for an insurance company for the past three months, her kids are doing well in child-care and she just got a car. Next up: pursuing a nursing degree at her community college.

And even through it’s been several years since she endured her worst stretch, in the quiet moments she still feels the sting. “The wounds are still fresh,” she says.

But instead of losing herself in the emotion, she looks at these echoes from her past as a reminder of where she came from and the new life she rebuilt from scratch.

“I don’t want to go back to my lowest point,” she says.

No matter: she’s found the perfect cure for when those emotional wounds begin to throb. A quick shower and good night’s sleep. In her own shower. In her own bed.