Persistence, perseverance and overcoming obstacles are motivating Camillus House Verde Gardens resident, Melissa Ebanks in her quest to escape poverty. She has worked hard to turn the circumstances of her life around, completing her GED and graduating from Florida Career College with a degree in medical billing and coding.
“I’m trying to inspire my daughters to pursue their education so they can work in the careers of their choice,” said Ebanks. As the single parent of 7 kids ranging in ages from 6 to 20, two of whom are disabled, she struggled to achieve her goals and lovingly refers to her family as “her own cheerleading squad.”
With her parents as a young child, she immigrated to the U.S. from the Grand Cayman Islands. After her parents chose to return to the islands, her grandmother raised her alone. Although she had a happy childhood, Ebanks was forced to grow up early when she started having children of her own at a young age.
The family faced homelessness numerous times with it became increasingly difficult to make ends meet where they had to stay with friends and family and facing evictions over and over. Ultimately, Ebanks and her daughters returned to living in the shelter for 7 more months before settling into Verde Gardens, a facility featuring townhomes for families, operated by Camillus House.
When they moved into their Verde Gardens home, she was happy to leave the shelters and felt like she was living in her own “Buckingham Palace.” As things were nicely progressing, one day, she noticed her monthly water bill began multiplying and then grew to an exorbitant amount. Alarmingly, she was unable to pay and suspected there was an erroneous mistake.
Unbeknownst to Camillus, her water was cut off, and “my kids all accepted the situation as I had to take them to a hotel for baths. And for some time, my older daughters’ father assisted us by providing bottled water so we could bathe and cook,” she said.
With the help of Camillus House case managers, Ebanks applied for utility bill assistance from partner agencies. The bill was so high however, that Camillus also contributed to lowering the debt and then provided counseling on how to maintain household expenses and keep an eye on water consumption. Thankfully, Camillus House was there to not only house, but help Ebanks during this unique and challenging time.
Looking back “we have had many hungry days and there was no one to lean on.” Through it all she attended college and interviewed for 12 jobs landing one in food service. Now with this new certification, she can aim for a career in her field of study. The road that led to graduation hasn’t been easy but she continued to be a role model for her kids so they could see their mom was not giving up. Ebanks admits she cried on the bus, and in her back room, away from her girls. “I’m a Christian and I was praying the whole time for the problem to be solved,” she said.
Ebanks is thrilled with her accomplishments and feels great about finally gaining her independence. “I think about how I came to the U.S. at a young age, being coddled by my grandmother and not culturally acclimating. I needed the support and tools Camillus gives to obtain my citizenship and ultimately overcome all the milestones I needed to succeed,” she said.
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