Family Caring Center - Deanna & Eric
Eric, Deanna, and their three young children found themselves at the Family Caring Center after being forced from their current living situation due to unforeseen circumstances. Eric served his country in the U.S. military for four years and found employment in law enforcement and security, but recently found himself struggling with unforeseen disabilities. The family, along with Eric’s certified service dog Aries, was welcomed to the FCC with open arms. The kids enjoyed computer time, new backpacks for school, field trips to local attractions and swimming pools, and the monthly birthday parties. After participating in our programs, both Eric and Deanna found news jobs and a three-bedroom house they now call home.
When my wife, my two children now ages 6 and 11, and myself were suddenly forced out of a family living situation, the future, even each day, was filled with uncertainty.
It wasn’t that I was unfamiliar with transition, being on the move, or thinking on my feet. I’m the third generation of a military family; my grandfather served in both the Army and Marine Corps, my father was a Marine. I was born on a military base, and grew up knowing that home base is temporary, and exists somewhere else when need and duty call.
I took that call to protect and serve to heart from a very young age. I joined the Army National Guard at the age of seventeen, which required a home visit from the sergeant and my parents’ signatures. I was enlisted as a Forward Observer in the Field Artillery Corps, responsible for mapping missile coordinates. The weight and responsibility of defending family and country, defending our sense of home and security, is second nature to me.
After serving 4 years in the military, I returned to civilian employment in law enforcement and security, never far from that calling to defend what I hold dear. Practicing martial arts has also always been a passion of mine, so much so that I was recognized by the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame seven times. I began sharing my calling to defend and protect through martial arts instruction, specializing in anti-bullying programs and women’s self-defense courses. This was how I met my wife Deanna twelve years ago, then a student of mine. Together, we even opened a martial arts studio. But, unpredictability crept in, with disabilities and difficulties I didn’t foresee putting a stop to my practicing my passion and making employment in law enforcement no longer possible.
Admitting that I needed help was uncharted territory for me. In fact, it was almost impossible. My entire life, I hadn’t needed help, I freely gave help, and gave it my all. My first helper came in the form of a guardian angel with four legs. My service dog Aries hasn’t left my side since. He is obviously now part of the family. When the living arrangements of our family had to change drastically and overnight, I was genuinely afraid we might all be separated. The Salvation Army Family Caring Center, ever true to their calling, made certain that would never happen.
That night we found ourselves homeless, we all piled into the car and booked a hotel room. We went from sharing a house to living in one room, with one bathroom, and sharing two small beds. Within a week, what little savings we had left was exhausted. The closest family members who might have taken us in lived in the states of North Carolina or Indiana, and Deanna would have to leave her job. The possibility that we might be living out of our car for awhile was becoming very real. I knew I had to reach out, make some calls, and try to protect and shelter my family before that reality set in.
I didn’t realize at the time that there was a different type of army out there ready to help me, to have my back. I didn’t know I could call upon The Salvation Army and their litany of staff and officers, soldiers and majors, Envoys John and Nancy Barnett at The Family Caring Center. I never could have guessed I would be forever grateful for their loving tactics of compassion, faith and support.
When I was connected to Sister Shelley at the Family Caring Center through the Allegheny County DHS, I was feeling defeated and hesitant. I wasn’t leaving any member of my family out in the cold, including Aries. Anyone offering shelter had to realize we were a package deal, that it would be all or none of us at all. Sister Shelley assured me immediately that the Family Caring Center was devoted to keeping family units intact and strong, and that Aries would be completely welcome. The Family Caring Center was honorably true to their word.
We truly were welcomed to FCC with open arms, arms that never stopped reaching out to us with help and support. From that single hotel room, we moved into FCC quarters with a bedroom and two beds for the kids, a bedroom for my wife and I, and two bathrooms…something many of us probably take for granted in the mornings! When our son Sloan who attends the Milton Hershey school returned to stay with us, we were accommodated with even more spacious quarters. After the kids were off to school each day and Deanna was at work, I would work with Sister Shelly and the social worker Sandy, who never tired of referring me to available resources to help my family, and assisting with endless housing applications and leads, determined to find the perfect new home for us. But the Family Caring Center really was becoming home base for us in all the positive ways; there were so many fun and educational activities for the kids, including birthday parties, time on the computer, arts and crafts, help with homework. They received backpacks for school, and Deanna and I were even given gifts for Mothers and Fathers Day. Deanna and I attended church on Sundays. All of the residents respected Aries, and no one questioned his role. It was all the little things that added up and were meaningful. Everyone was truly family…and cared.
After four months and nearly forty housing applications and funds generously provided by FCC for a security deposit, we found our home. It was because of the proactive mission of the Family Caring Center to focus on the unique needs and requirements of families…our family…that we didn’t languish in a temporary shelter stowed away in a church basement somewhere, just hoping to make it out. The Family Caring Center truly changed our lives, because they unfailingly believed that we could indeed find our way home again.
It’s a good thing for me to reflect upon where we were then, to look back upon that uncertainty now, and see a much brighter future unfold. We just re-signed the lease on our three-bedroom house for another year. We have a fenced in yard for the Aries and the kids to play in. I couldn’t ask for a nicer neighbor; he’s an old Navy veteran, in his nineties, and he understands some of the personal challenges I face; like Aires, he’s always on duty and on watch for me. It is those little things that mean so much. I’ve been able to put up birdfeeders and watching them is relaxing to me. I realize several of them are embarking on a new journey for the winter, changing with the seasons, but I’m comforted in knowing they’ll find their way back home, just like my family and I did, because of the Family Caring Center.