Faith, Hope...and Charity

Against all odds, this nine-year-old has been voted the most likely to succeed.

Lisa is grateful for all the strong people in her life, but says she would never have made it this far without her faith in God. When Lisa's not working, she runs her kids to school, to practice, to games, to the doctor's office, the eye doctor's office, the dentist and back to school. She cooks dinner every night and makes sure the kids pray before they eat. She washes their clothes, bathes whoever needs it, helps with their homework. Then they all watch TV together for a while before Lisa puts her children to bed.

"My kids come first in every way," Lisa says. "I'm a for-real Mom. I'm everything to them, and they're everything to me. My kids adapt to things very well. We've been through a lot."

Her ex-husband sent money for a while, but he got sick last summer, and Lisa had to apply for welfare for the first time in her life. By the time her paperwork went through, it was December. She got a temporary job helping enroll the elderly in Medicare that month and received a second welfare check in January, but then the checks stopped. Instead, Lisa got a letter saying that her welfare aid had been canceled per her request -- a request she never made. At the end of February, she suddenly received her first court-mandated child-support payment from her ex-husband. She hopes those checks keep coming.

Jim J. Narcy
All in the family: Lisa Norwood and her children (from left) Autumn, Essence, JoVaughn, Micah, Majesty and Charity.
Jim J. Narcy
All in the family: Lisa Norwood and her children (from left) Autumn, Essence, JoVaughn, Micah, Majesty and Charity.

These days, Lisa works as a personal-care provider about twenty hours a week, doing everything for her elderly clients, from helping them get out of bed to washing them to doing their laundry, cooking and cleaning, and sometimes changing their diapers. It's just like what she does at home -- although here the recipients of her care are at the end of their lives rather than the beginning. She's looking for a better-paying job as a medical assistant, work for which she's been certified.

With her current job, Lisa thinks she can afford $400 a month for rent, maybe even $500, but her credit isn't good after the divorce. She's keeping an eye out for Section 8 properties in case her number comes up, hoping for a small house to rent.

"Our greatest need for housing is for those people who earn between zero and $21,000 a year, and we don't have a sufficient number of housing in that category," explains Jacky Morales-Ferrand, director of housing and neighborhood development for Denver. "We are out of balance for providing housing for the lowest income. The challenging thing about low-income housing is you can't just walk in and move into a home the day you need it."

"I'm not trying to work the system; I'm not trying to sit up here and be lazy," Lisa says. "I'm not out clubbing every weekend, drinking, doing drugs. I'm just a mom who got in a situation that I didn't bring on myself, and I'm trying to get out of it, but it's hard. Do you think I like to see my kids laying on the floor when they were used to having their own bedroom? Do you think I like seeing my kids wearing one pair of shoes when they're used to having seven or eight pairs?

"When I'm struggling, my kids are struggling, too. They're going through this with me. You have to understand what they've been through. Some days they're like, 'Mom, why don't nobody love us, why does everybody hate us?' I feel like there should be a better system out there to help single moms and their kids."

Over the past four years, Charity and her sisters and brothers have seen their father only twice, both times for a couple of days. But this summer, he's supposed to take all five of his children, and maybe even baby Majesty, to his place in Oklahoma. They're planning to go from the first week of June all the way until school starts in August, when he will drive them back to Denver.

"It's going to be a nice break for me, because I haven't had a break from my kids since they were born," Lisa says. "I stayed at home with my kids. None of my kids have been in daycare. I stay with my kids every day of their life."

Charity, who was nicknamed "Tank Pot" by her father, is looking forward to spending time with him again. "I used to love him a lot, but now we really don't have that connection," she says. "I still love him, but not as much as my mom. My dad's got the money, but my mom's got the heart."

She knows her mother's life is "kind of miserable" because the odds are stacked against a woman with six kids, no man and no money. "I love my mom really, really, really much," Charity says, "and I'll never, ever, ever be mean to her, because I love her so much."

By April 1, Lisa's mother has had enough, and they move to their seventh home in four years: a hotel room that costs $51 a night. The six kids and Lisa share two beds in the single room, and by morning, a couple of kids are always sleeping on the floor. Charity likes the hotel room because it's their own space and they don't feel unwelcome, but she doesn't like it as much as she liked the shelter.

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