MIDDLEBURY — It was shaping up to be a dismal Christmas for Megan Wood, her partner Robert Costa, and their three young children.
The young family had recently moved back to their native Vermont after some extended time in Florida taking care of Wood’s ailing mother. When Wood’s mom died last year, they had come to a crossroads.
“There was nothing down there for me anymore,” said Wood, 25. “I was in a deep depression and decided I needed to get back with family.”
So that’s what she, Costa and the children did, this past July. Wood’s sister was able to accommodate the clan for around a month, but it was close quarters and they needed a place of their own. Unfortunately, a poor credit history and a single income precluded them from finding affordable shelter.
With no other recourse, they received state assistance in landing a room at an Addison County motel.
It was crowded and was intended to be a temporary fix, but days, weeks and then months passed.
“Everyone told me to ‘keep the faith, things will get better,’” said Wood, who is earning her high school diploma through an education program at the Addison County Parent-Child Center.
“But it kept getting worse and worse.”
But things started to look up when Parent-Child Center and Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) officials huddled over how they could join forces to find housing for the family.
First, they helped them obtain a Section 8 housing subsidy through the Vermont State Housing Authority. The program ensures that qualifying low-income families do not pay more than 30 percent of their household income for rent.
Next, CSAC and Parent-Child Center officials looked at potential rental units for the family. They noted that one of CSAC’s former group homes on Lower Foote Street had been vacant for six months. The two previous residents — who had been receiving care for developmental disabilities — had been placed in individual homes, according to David Andrews, CSAC’s director of development and community relations.
“We basically decided to stop using it when we had the (budget) rescissions a few years ago,” Andrews said of the group home, which CSAC has acquired in 1994. “It was expensive to staff it.”
Donna Bailey, co-director of the Parent-Child Center, said a tour of the home showed it would be a good fit for the family. Ultimately, the center, the family and CSAC agreed on a one-year lease. Throughout the family’s tenancy, center workers will help the family adjust to managing their own household, from budgeting skills to recycling.
“Neither the children nor the (parents) have had a permanent place to live,” Bailey noted.
Having a stable living situation will help Wood and Costa sort out their future scholastic and work plans. Once she earns her high school diploma, Wood wants to take college-level classes and become a sign language specialist.
“How this helps the family will be huge,” Bailey said of the arrangement, which she called “a win-win for all of us.” The family gets an affordable shelter; the Parent-Child Center gets to help a young family transition to self-sufficiency; and CSAC receives income from a once-vacant asset.
“This has been a good example of collaboration between two social service agencies in Addison County,” Andrews said.
Wood and Costa plan to move into their home during the next few days. Bailey said the family could use donations of some basic furnishings and kitchen supplies. Anyone in a position to offer such items should call the Parent-Child Center at 388-3171.
There’s still more than a week to go before Dec. 25, but Wood, Costa and the children already feel like they’ve received a big Christmas gift.
“I am overwhelmed; I’m excited and thanking God that I’ll be able to put a roof over my kids’ heads that is bigger than what they have now, and knowing that we’ll have a real Christmas,” Wood said.