Overdue. Way overdue. Yes, I know.
I’ve seen a quite a few friends and acquaintances whose blogs I follow take somewhat of a hiatus for a few months. I fell into that category, too. However, I’m unapologetically me and I know that I have nothing to say I’m sorry for. I’m far from perfect. I’m not so perfectly imperfect, and I’m grateful for being so.
As many of you have seen from my social media posts over the last two weeks, I’m in the midst of another professional transition. I’ve shed tears, I’ve had many laughs, and my heart is bursting with gratitude for what lies ahead as I honestly and wholeheartedly “achieve my truest self.” More on that another day and another time. That’s not the purpose of this blog.
I’ve taken on a lot (a loooooooooooooot) this past month, maybe a little much, but these are callings I have chosen to answer just the same.
If you follow or have friended me on Facebook, you’ll see that I have made several posts about a family in Fayette County that has been enduring heartbreaking circumstances for quite some time. Over the course of a few months, I watched the posts increase for this mother’s 10+ MLM companies (sales have not been terribly successful in any of them), and for requests of $10-20 each day to cover costs for food for her children or for transportation to appointments.
(*The following information is being shared with permission and blessing.)
I have witnessed a hell of a lot of cyberbullying as people privately (which she has occasionally shared) and sadly publicly questioned the validity of her family’s situation, ranging from terrible accusations of drug use to childish name calling to even suggesting that maybe she go stand on the corner and strip if she’s so desperate.
This woman has a name, and I’m proud to call her a friend – a fellow warrior in the autism community. She’s not a user, a stripper, or a liar. Her name is Lisa Armstrong.
She has a husband, Keith, and three children, James (19 today), Kevin (13) and Jayla (12). All of them … I repeat, all of them … have a disabling condition.
Keith was injured on the job a while back and cannot work. The family has been fighting for disability payments for him … and for SSI payments their three children. Lisa has her own health issues and because she is so busy trying to care for everyone else, she struggles to take care of her own troubles. You see, all of the Armstrong children … I repeat … all of them, fall along the autism spectrum. Two of them are non-verbal and not toilet-trained.
They don’t have transportation aside from what the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) will take care of – and that only goes so far. That doesn’t take them to food banks, grocery stores, government offices, etc. They have no money for a vehicle or even bus passes. Bills are months behind, including an outstanding water bill.
How did it get this way, many have wondered? And how did they survive for so long? Their savior and rock, Lisa’s father-in-law was who took care of them all – provided money and advocacy until his sudden passing last September. No longer helping them along a difficult road, Lisa and Keith have had to try to fend for themselves, and have clearly struggled to do so. One thing that have not lost along the way however is the love and devotion to somehow surviving and finding footing to thrive for their children. They make it by the skin of their teeth – but this is not a way to live.
The items they have asked for are simply to give their children food, clean clothes, safe places to sleep and a clean home. The washer and rug scrubber are needed because the children have daily toileting accidents. What does Lisa do now, you might be asking yourself? She stands on swollen purple legs and feet and washes their sheets and blankets and clothes by hand in her kitchen sink. Furniture, toys and devices are needed because couches, chairs, iPads, tablets, toys and beds have been broken due to meltdowns and tantrumming behaviors. Originally asking me to list out just a few things to get by, I insisted that Lisa give me the whole story and list of what her family truly needs to find some sense of normalcy and stability.
I have created a public Google Document to track and edit donations for everything they are in need of, which you will find here. To make a monetary donation, Lisa has a PayPal account (which is her account linked to the MLM companies she is joined with).
The family also needs a lot of help when it comes to advocating for services and supports. Any resources, places and people are appreciated. So much work needs done, but I believe, I have hope, that they will find their way.
I have received an overwhelming number of messages regarding the Armstrong family – some genuinely wanting to know the back story, some asking how they can help, some who have asked “why you?” and why all of this effort, and others who sadly have called me a f*cking sucker because they believe I am being taken advantage of.
Let me stop “yinz” right there in your tracks.
Because I know what it’s like to struggle.
I did not grow up in a rich home, and neither did my parents. My father and his siblings grew up extremely poor in a tiny house in Clairton, often wore torn used clothing and often went hungry. My mother, though better off than he was, was the only child to a secretary for the Office of the Blind and a painter for a manufacturing company. They didn’t take lavish vacations, drive flashy vehicles or live in a fancy house.
Growing up, my parents blessed me in every possible way with what they had, which was not much. Mama Betty (that’s what everyone calls her) gave up her teaching career to raise me while Dad took a job at the post office to make more money than he would teaching. They often had to beg my grandparents for help with bills, grocery money, or my back to school clothes (because I had Guess taste on a Walmart budget). We never took a vacation – EVER – as a family. We went to Kennywood, Conneaut Lake or Sandcastle with either money gifted from my grandparents or from Dad’s “found money” savings. If you saw my Facebook post a few weeks about coins on the ground, you have already seen me talk about “found money” a bit.
Dad was the king of “found money.” He would spend time after work – yes, after carrying mail all day long in all elements and then after stopping at the store – pacing sidewalks and parking lots looking for change on the ground. What he found, he would save. Oh how excited I would get when he found dollar bills or a handful of change in a payphone! Some of his change would be given to me on a piece of paper in the mornings after he left for work next to a piggy bank gifted to me from my Godfather and his wife. “Piggy Poems” – the antics of Miss Piggy and Merry Mouse, her imaginary woodsy friend – were the start to my day. They made me happy. I recently found some of those old poems cleaning out the garage. I cried happy tears, because they took me back to a humbling time that have shaped who I am today.
Because I know how important it is to give endlessly and without question.
My parents and my grandparents instilled gratitude in me, and they also instilled the importance of giving. I have been taught to give to others before giving to myself, perhaps to a fault (ok, definitely to a fault as self-care has been a physical and emotional struggle throughout my life). Heaven knows we’ve given to people who don’t appreciate what we’ve done, or maybe some who others would say didn’t deserve our help. We have also given to many deserving people who need us because no one else stepped up. We’ve given things as simple as crackers and a can of “pop” to furniture and money. We’ve given the shirts off of our backs (figuratively and literally).
Why us? Why NOT us?!
I’m the Caffeinated Advocate, that’s why.
I don’t need to explain myself. I am who I am, and I am proud of the gladiator I have chosen to become, and continue to be. I have fought for my recovery from many demons, I have fought for my son, I have fought for my family, and I have fought for communities I love. I fight for people. People matter, after all. Even if I found out tomorrow I was being taken advantage of, I would know that I my actions were made out of love and kindness.
If you have items you are tossing aside, or want to give to the Armstrong family in some way, please view the Google Document I linked to above, or make a donation.
Feeling inspired and generous? Continue to pay it forward. Give a water bottle to the mailman on a hot day. Give your sandwich to the homeless man who hasn’t showered in weeks you pass at lunch walking back to your air conditioned office. Buy coffee for the person behind you at Dunkin’ Donuts. Pay for the pencils and paper that a teacher is buying for children in her classroom because she doesn’t have a supply budget. Cut the grass for the elderly man up the street who is paying someone probably way too much out of his retirement check to do it.
Go. Just … go. Go do something. Anything. Do it now. Don’t question it – do it. We were put on this planet to bless others. At least, that’s how I was raised and I am so grateful that I was.
Give. Give. Give some more.
I’ll say this again (and if you’re sick of hearing me say it on social media, well that’s just too damn bad): I am nothing and no one special in the words of Bill Stillman, an autistic adult who is an author, advocate, medium and true giver. I am simply a crazy overly caffeinated woman who advocates to make this world a better place before she leaves it than when she came into it.
I’m just me.
I’m just a mailman’s daughter.