Dani had a conversation with God when her 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2006.
“I said, ‘God take away everything, but just give me my daughter back,’ ” said Dani, a mother of two who lives in Northern Virginia.
She didn’t know God would take her so literally.
“I lost everything,” Dani said. “But I kept my daughter.”
I sometimes wonder how I would cope if one of my children faced a life-or-death health crisis. I hope I would rise to the occasion, that I would be like the parents at Children’s Hospital that I profiled for so many years. But perhaps I would just fall apart under the pressure. That’s what Dani’s husband did.
“Some people cope with it differently or face the situation differently,” said Dani, who asked that I refer to her by only her first name. “He just went almost under the bed, and he didn’t want to know anything about it. So it was desperate.”
Dani and her husband worked together at a wholesale auto parts business that he owned. As his older daughter was treated for the tumor growing next to her brain, he withdrew more and more. Three years after his daughter’s diagnosis, he abandoned the family, moving out of their six-bedroom house.
“We lost the business,” Dani said.
She cobbled together four part-time jobs — substitute teacher for special-needs children, Spanish teacher, waitress and census enumerator — but they weren’t enough to keep up with the mortgage payments on her house. She was underwater and was helpless as the house slipped from her hands in a short sale.
Facing homelessness, Dani was put in touch with Homestretch, a Falls Church-based charity that helps families in dire situations. She had an interview with Christopher Fay, Homestretch’s executive director.
“When I had the interview with Chris, I said, you know what, pretty much the house is gone, everything is gone,” Dani said.
But Dani’s determination wasn’t gone. Homestretch accepted her into the program, putting her family into a two-bedroom apartment and supplying much-needed support, from groceries to guitar lessons for her two daughters.
Dani reasoned that it would be better to cut back on her part-time work and invest her time in school. (“Because I wanted to update myself,” as she put it.) She kept one job — ironing for several families — and went to school, earning a business information certificate.
She paid 30 percent of her income to Homestretch as rent. She was required to save another 10 percent and to bank any tax returns she received.
“They helped teach me how to live with a budget,” Dani said. When her rattletrap car was on its last legs, Dani went to her Homestretch financial counselor, Heather Lynskey, for advice.
“I said, ‘I want to start a new job, and this car is going to break down any minute,’ ” Dani remembered.
Heather looked at Dani’s finances and said it was doable — if Dani could find a car that she could finance with a $100 monthly payment.
“I found one for $108,” Dani said. “It was a used car, but it wasn’t bad.”
Homestretch clients are typically in the program for two years, enough time to stabilize things, get some schooling under their belts or find a well-paying job.
When her time with Homestretch was over, Dani found a job doing administrative work for a health-care-related nonprofit group — and she just received a promotion. Her family moved into its own condo. Best of all, her daughter is in remission.
Said Dani: “Sometimes I say bad things happen because good things are coming.”
Along with Community of Hope and Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Homestretch is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, our new fundraising effort. So far, Post readers have donated $77,835 to the three nonprofit groups. Your gift can help put us into six digits.
To contribute by mail, send a check payable to “Homestretch” to: Homestretch, 303 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, VA 22046, Attn: Nan Monday. To give online, visit www.posthelpinghand.com and click where it says “Donate.”
Any amount will be gratefully accepted. Here are some ideas: $50 covers the cost of a physical for one child; $100 provides four pairs of shoes for children; $200 buys a week of groceries for two families entering Homestretch; $500 buys six months’ worth of dinners for 17 teens in the after-school Teenstretch program; $950 will send one child to Kidstretch, the charity’s licensed preschool, for one month; $1,200 provides rental assistance for one homeless family for one month; $11,000 will send one homeless child to Kidstretch for one year.
Act now to take a tax deduction in 2014! Thank you.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.