I am a single mother of three wonderful, smart, beautiful, kind children. In 2008, I was lucky enough to get housing through the Watertown Housing Authority, which was a huge relief. My kids had a safe home that I could afford, close to their schools and in a great community.

I worked full-time as a human resources manager, sometimes working a second job to make ends meet. I was lucky enough to have a good education that allowed me to provide for my family without too much struggle. Money was always tight, but we weren’t starving.

Then, in June of 2013, I got laid off from my job. I lost my income and health insurance. I was stressed out and having a hard time finding another job when, on October 13, 2013, at 43 years old, I suffered a massive heart attack.

I was clinically dead for about 7 minutes. I woke up from a coma in the hospital with a stent in my heart and a severe brain injury. I didn’t remember my name, my children, how to read or write, or even how to feed myself.

My kids were 17, 14, and 11 at the time. The medical staff talked to them about nursing homes and palliative care, things they didn’t have the slightest clue about. The doctors told us that recovery from the degree of brain injury I had suffered was almost impossible, and that I woke up at all was a miracle.

My recovery was difficult and very long. A brain injury is a horrific and devastating condition, and only now when I look back can I understand the scope of physical, emotional, and financial tolls it takes on a family.

I spent months re-learning how to walk and talk and not to throw things at the nurses out of frustration. When I came home, the real horror of my situation began to sink in. I had three emotionally ravaged children who were terrified of me and for me. We were completely broke and had mounting debt due to medical expenses. Our car got repossessed, eviction notices piled up, and all the bills went unpaid because Mom couldn’t remember how to tie her shoes never mind how to care for a household. It took two and half years to get disability benefits.

Short-term memory was and still is a struggle. Our house filled with post-it notes and reminders, alarms and timers. My son gave up his full scholarship to college to go to work so we could all eat and keep a roof over our heads. My younger two children really felt that they had lost me. I would not wish that situation on the devil himself.

I am many things… but mostly, I have discovered, I am a fighter. I got ANGRY, and instead of fighting everyone and everything in my vicinity, I began to look for ways to fight for myself. I was broke and sick and sad and most of all I felt ashamed. I began to look for light, any light, to guide me out of the hell I found myself in. Just when I was in my darkest place, during a casual conversation a friend mentioned a meeting she had gone to at Watertown Housing about a mentoring program that helped with finances and education and self-esteem. At this point even dialing a phone was a challenge, but I called Watertown Housing and asked if it was too late to sign up. I was told there were two spots left, so I joined the program.

Slowly, with baby steps (incentives for making doctor’s appointments, taking some classes, organizing my bills, advocating for myself with medical care), Charmaine and the MassLEAP team helped me begin to see some light. Although there were a lot of bumps in the road in the beginning, I got a part-time job working as a cashier in a hardware store. I made minimum wage, but it gave me back a rhythm and routine to my life.

I worked there for a year, and with encouragement from my EMPath mentor, I started recognizing my own skills again. I didn’t make enough money not to have to worry, but I did gain other things – my mind was beginning to sharpen, my physical coordination began to improve, my personality started to return, I began to exercise, to regulate my diet and my daily routine so that I had enough energy to get me though my day. I even lost 80 pounds!

My EMPath mentor encouraged me to enroll in a communications course, and I realized that I still had a very valuable set of skills – I was an excellent communicator! My self-esteem was roaring back to life, and I began to take on more responsibility at work. I was organized, practical, and could even talk the most dissatisfied, angriest customer down. I asked for a raise and got a small one.

Again, with EMPath’s encouragement, I reworked my resume and wrote a cover letter explaining my work history and the five-year gap in my employment. Then I sent it out into the world.

In early 2019, I was offered an office manager position at a multi-billion-dollar company with an office three minutes away from my house. I get to work with engineers and physicists with doctoral degrees. I work in the company’s research and development hub and I make more money than I ever have in my life. I make my own hours, and I get to talk to people from all over the world. I love my job. For Administrative Professionals Day, my coworkers bought me gorgeous black leather boots.

My children are adults now and we are very much a happy, loving, harmonious family. My oldest son is a manager now at the company he began working at after high school, and he wants to continue his education. My middle son is a designer and a musician who just signed his first recording contract. My daughter recently graduated high school.

With EMPath’s support and mentoring, I have:

  1. Healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually
  2. Got an AMAZING job that I love
  3. Paid off almost ALL my bills, including over $10,000 in back rent and $4,000 in past due utility bills
  4. Paid off my car loan
  5. Continued my education
  6. Opened a savings account!
  7. Learned to budget and manage my money and household
  8. Begun the process of repairing my credit
  9. Learned to love my life again
  10. Donated to charitable causes that are important to me, for the first time in my life

EMPath has taught me to focus on the positive, the magic of believing in myself, the rewards of setting goals and working hard to accomplish them, and the value of starting with baby steps and progressing to leaps and bounds. Where I am right now in my life would truly not be possible without EMPath.