Two years ago, Valerie Gaines was everyone's Cinderella. While she and her family lived at a District shelter for the homeless, she was hired by a senator and then invited to attend an inaugural ball to celebrate George Bush's presidency.
Now Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.), the congressman who hired Gaines as a typist, is leaving office and Gaines, 36, could be unemployed again. Meanwhile, her husband, Robert, has been disabled by two strokes and is unable to work, she said.
"I'm quite anxiously looking and have tried to have a very optimistic view about it," Gaines said. "I try to look at it with high expectations that soon I'll be getting a phone call and it'll be a job offer."
She also recalled that she was in the same situation two years ago, and said her current problems bring back unhappy memories.
Boschwitz lost his reelection bid in November and leaves office next month. Gaines said she has not received offers from other members of Congress.
On Thursday, Boschwitz sent a letter to his colleagues, asking them to hire the woman he calls an "excellent employee."
"Valerie hasn't found a new job . . . and we need to place her quickly to avoid another debilitating bout with homelessness," Boschwitz wrote. "Valerie Gaines will be an asset to your office."
Before working for Boschwitz, Gaines worked for Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) for two years, but lost her job when he retired in 1988. She was out of work for only three weeks, but during that time the family was evicted and their belongings were stolen.
The family lived in a dim room at Capitol City Inn for 69 days, said Gaines, who used to count each one. After the story of her inaugural invitation was published, people donated money, the use of a car, clothes, a makeover and babysitting services for the glittering night.
Then someone found her husband a job that came with a discount on an apartment, and the family moved in. The couple has two daughters, ages 6 and 8.
Boschwitz later found her husband a job in the Senate too, though he's been too ill to work for some months. Throughout everything, Boschwitz said, Gaines has managed to keep her spirits high.
"She and her husband have been quite unlucky in many ways, he with his health and together with their other problems that led to their homelessness," Boschwitz said. "But they have a great religious conviction . . . and their spirits are always up."