Elana never expected to become homeless. She and her husband Arthur worked hard to provide for their four children. Although there were ups and downs, they made sure the kids had everything they needed to grow up happy and know they were safe and loved.
Then Elana got sick. She couldn’t work, or even care for her kids. Arthur filled in, doing the work of two parents whenever he could while also taking care of Elana. All this took time away from his job, and he was let go. The family ended up living out of their car, with short stays in shelters when rooms were available.
Fortunately, the situation was temporary. Elana credits actions taken by the city of Atlanta to reduce homelessness with getting her family back into a house. However, the experience had a profound effect on her. Elana never forgot what it was like to be sick and in desperate need.
So, when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Elana became both caretaker and chaperone, making sure she never missed a dialysis appointment and that she was cared for until she passed. When her oldest daughter became extremely ill with complications from Crohn’s disease and worried that she couldn't adequately care for her own children, Elana and Arthur offered to become their legal guardians for as long as it took their daughter to get back on her feet. As long as she has a house, Elana says, so will they: “Being a grandmama means staying by them, no matter what the situation may be. I’d never let my grandkids go homeless.”
Although Elana’s health doesn’t let her work outside the home, there’s still plenty for her to take care of during the day while the kids are at school and Arthur is out working. Most nights, she tries to put a meal together so they can eat as a family. The tradition is important to Elana.
“This is where everything leads back to, the table,” she says, spreading her hands over the long wooden table in the center of the family’s kitchen. “My grandma always said, ‘Eat at the table and find out what your kids are doing that day. Make sure you talk to them.’ You never know what you’ll discover.”
Feeding growing kids isn’t cheap. And although helping others comes readily to Elana, asking for support proved more challenging.
“You don’t want to be the one to go ask people for stuff,” she admits. “That’s just the pride that my mom and grandma instilled in us. But everybody needs help every once in a while. You've got to be able to say, ‘Okay. I can't do it.’ God put people here so you can ask for help.”
One of the people who Elana reached out to was Dr. Eric Merriweather, founder of the African American Association of the USA, a Feed the Children community partner.
“Everything that I needed, they brought. Everything that the kids needed, Feed the Children and AAA USA made sure they had,” she says.
Your support has made a world of difference to Elana. Without the fear of homelessness for herself and her grandkids looming over her, she can dream of their brighter futures.
“I want them to finish school,” Elana says. “That's number one. All of them are very smart. I’ve told them... whatever you got in your life and what you want, you grab at it. Don't let it go. You hold on to what you want.’”
What Elana wants is simply to be in her grandkids’ lives for as long as possible, to continue to help them as much as she can. But her health is declining. Age has taken its toll, and recently she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She knows that there will come a time when she can no longer take care of everyone, so for now, she’s working to instill her own spirit of compassion in her grandchildren. The family volunteers for a program that helps feed Atlanta’s homeless – a program also made possible by people like you. It's important to her to give back what she’s been given, and she has a message for everyone who gives – whether their gift is monetary, material, or simply their time:
“Please, please keep doing what you do,” Elana says. “This world is so unpredictable. The stuff that’s going on now, we need you all. Give from your heart, and that makes everything a whole lot better.”