Jessica’s House

Jessica’s House

My baby sister came to our family through adoption when she was only 3 days old.
My parents specifically asked for a child of color. At that time, a child of color had a more difficult time getting adopted. My sister’s biological parents are Native American.

Until my sister was about 6 years old and started going to school, she was just my sister, my little sister. I thought she was beautiful, she had dark skin and black shiny hair and was funny and cute and she loved to play with and take care of her baby dolls.

For a couple years, my brothers & sister went to a public school in Ohio. That is where I learned that all people are not color blind. Walking to and from school, kids would throw glass bottles at my sister and call her names which I will not repeat. I felt terrible but I can only imagine how it made her feel. Especially since she didn’t know why they were saying and doing those things.

Fast forward many years… My sister always struggled with being different, had a more difficult time getting a job, her confidence and self-esteem was not very good. She worked fast food jobs and any other types that she could get
Fast forward some more years…

She had 3 kids, no support from the father ever. She was a survivor, she took care of those kids despite not having any help, she worked hard, she managed. One time a neighbor who was a blatant racist and didn’t like my sister, called social services and reported that her kids were being neglected. If there was anything more untrue about my sister it would be that she neglected her kids. Then the unthinkable happened, the state took 2 of her girls (2 and 3 years old at the time) away from her and placed them in separate foster homes. It was a dire situation. Both girls ended up losing their front baby teeth due to foster care neglect, and one of them was made to sleep on the front porch on a couch… and the stories go on. Nearly a year later, after fighting every ounce of energy she had to get them back, a judge dismissed the case and said it never should have happened.
Fast forward several more years, she got a really good job that she loved working at Home Depot. She was finally feeling worthy and was finally off state assistance which was a HUGE boost for her self-worth. She was 37 years old. After less than a year of working at Home Depot, she started to have blackouts at work… Soon after that, she was diagnosed with an incurable disease that would take her life 8 short years later.

In and out of the hospital, she was not able to work anymore and went back on state assistance and then permanent disability. She deteriorated to the point of not being able to walk. Her girls took care of her.

They were evicted from their apartments multiple times for not being able to pay the rent. The only places that would take her were run down non-compliant housing. Because she was in a wheel chair she should have only been on the first floor of the building (there were no elevators), but that was never the case. One house she lived in, caught fire when she lived on the 3rd floor from a faulty ceiling fan. She was rescued/carried out by a neighbor but lost all of her things and had nowhere to go. A local shelter helped them out. The landlord of the burned house didn’t do anything. Another time she had come back from a 3-month hospital stay where she almost didn’t make it, and one week after coming home, was evicted with her 3 girls because rent hadn’t been paid. Her girls were taking care of themselves while she was 2 hours away in the hospital, they were just barely getting by. When they were evicted that time, desperate, they went to a shelter who turned her away because they couldn’t accommodate her disability. That night they ended up in a hotel, and then the next night. And then for a year. There was no housing available for them so the state kept them in a one room hotel room with a microwave and little fridge for an entire year.

Because of her illness/disability, my sister had the opportunity to go into full time care provided by the state. The only catch is that she could not have her girls with her. She chose to stay with her kids, I would have done the same thing.

My sister passed away in 2015, 2 weeks before her 45th birthday. Her daughters have been amazing survivors like she was. They are all doing OK now, but every day is a challenge. The youngest one just turned 18. She has plans to go to college and get to a better place in life. The older 2 are working and one is married with 2 kids of her own.

When my sister was suffering the most, she never told me. I helped when she needed it but she only called me when she was desperate. She was embarrassed that she had to ask for help, so most of the time, I didn’t know what she was going through.

Late last year after volunteering at House of Refuge handing out donated Thanksgiving dinners, I just felt an undeniable urge to do something bigger than donate part of my commissions or donate bags of clothes to House of Refuge. I decided to Adopt a House. All I kept thinking about was what if there had been a program like this for my sister and her family. Maybe she needed something different ultimately because of her disability, but there were many times before she got sick that this would have been a sanctuary for her and her girls to help them get on their feet and give them some dignity and help.

That is my story, Jessica was my dear sister and inspiration to help families in need of exactly what House of Refuge provides.

Rebecca Atlee