Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Pondering a Mother’s Day away from her kids

Pondering a Mothers Day away from her kids
Joseph Squillante

In today’s world, those struggling financially can be one paycheck away from homelessness.

That was the case for Edna, a divorced mother of three and almost 10-year veteran of the Yonkers’ schools, where she worked as a special education teacher’s aide. After falling on hard times, the former Yonkers resident is temporarily living at the Jan Peek House shelter, spending her first Mother’s Day away from home.

Edna, 63, who asked that her last name not be used, agreed to share her story with the Peekskill Herald to raise awareness for how easily single women can fall on hard times. She also wants to bring attention to shelters like Jan Peek House that was there for her when she had nowhere to go. She’s staying here while waiting for an affordable senior apartment to be available near one of her sisters in Newburgh.

While Edna earned enough money to pay her monthly $1,200 rent, when school was out for the summer and the paychecks stopped, she couldn’t meet all expenses. She asked her landlord to work with her on a payment plan, until school resumed in September, but didn’t get an empathetic response and had to move.

Previously during the summers, she would get baby-sitting jobs to supplement her income, but last year, none were available. Without summer work or a place to live, she turned to the Westchester County Department of Social Services, which suggested she go to the Jan Peek House, and helped move her things to storage.

“I never thought I’d find myself in this situation,” says the affable Edna. “You need to make like $60,000 to find an apartment in Yonkers.”

Edna sits by the river on a recent sunny day. Photo by Joseph Squillante

Last October, she arrived at Jan Peek House, the only shelter in northern Westchester for all genders, and will spend her first Mother’s Day here. Her biggest heartbreak as a mother is not spending it with her kids, ages 39, 38 and 28. “Even though they’re all grown, you’re always a mother,” she says, holding back tears.

Before arriving at the shelter, one of only four female residents, Edna spent two weeks with her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter, 18, at their home in Yonkers. One son lives in Florida, and her youngest son shares an apartment with a relative in Yonkers.

Growing up in the Bronx, of Irish and Puerto Rican descent, Edna was an Army brat and family is very important to her. She recalls spending Mother’s Days with her mother, when she was alive, surrounded by children and lots of food. “I miss cooking for my family,” she says, recalling how she’d ask her single son what he wanted for dinner and was always happy to whip it up. “I cooked all kinds of food. Steak and mashed potatoes, barbecue chicken, whatever you wanted.”

Food at the shelter is very good, she adds. All meals are brought in, either donated by local restaurants or purchased since there is not a commercial kitchen at the shelter.

Edna also lauds the shelter for making holidays nice for its 30 residents. “They gave us little gifts at Christmas, and always have nice giveaways as Bingo prizes, like personal care items, and other things,” she says. “Holidays here are not so bad. We had plenty of food and played games.”

“We know holidays can be a particularly difficult for some,” says Cynthia Knox, CEO of Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CCHOP), which runs the shelter.

Edna doesn’t know what the shelter’s Mother’s Day plans are, but she intends to text her daughter Happy Mother’s Day wishes.

Not one to sit around and wait for help, the resourceful Edna has been researching permanent places to live. “I’m divorced 30 years; I know how to take care of myself,” she says. With her sister’s help, she found affordable senior housing in Newburgh, applied for an apartment, and is awaiting word. “I’m going to get my life back. You have to believe in yourself.”

On a leave of absence from her job, since she doesn’t own a car and a long bus ride from Peekskill to Yonkers isn’t practical, Edna hopes to find similar work when she moves to Newburgh.

Edna likes to joke and tell stories, attributing her resiliency, in part, to her good sense of humor. “I start joking when I’m nervous,” she says with a smile. “How do I get through this? I put on my headphones and listen to music, and color in those adult coloring books. That’s how I get through this.”

Her message to others facing tough times: “Focus, breathe, believe in yourself, and not worry about what everyone else is saying. I know it’s easy for people to get depressed but get yourself back up and keep going.”

“Enjoy your life and love your kids,” she adds.

Edna enjoys the camaraderie and friendships she has made at the shelter. “Everyone has a story and I’m a good listener.”

It’s easy to see that Edna is a people person as she humorously recollects stories from her life: teaching her sons how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey while recovering from a broken ankle one year. “I sat in a chair in the kitchen and told them you have to put your hand in the carcass and pull out the gizzards,” she recalls with a laugh. Or remembering fun moments from her school job, and building relationships with the kids she cared for during summer breaks, taking them to the city’s parks and pools.

But living at a shelter hasn’t been easy, according to Edna. Living with almost 30 residents – mostly men — took some getting used to. “It took me a while to get comfortable with it. But the men are protective of us. We all get along and everyone is respectful of each other.”  The 11:30 p.m. curfew, lights out at 10, and not sleeping well all took some getting used to, she says.

The residents, she adds, all look out for each other, and she praises the shelter for providing whatever they need: clothes, personal items, joint activities with organizations like Westchester Jewish Community Services, transportation to religious services, and individual counseling, which Edna begins soon.

“They tell us that instead of bottling up feelings and emotions, to let it out. I have a habit of bottling things up,” she says.

“Every person who comes to CHHOP for assistance has their own very personal story.  The Jan Peek Shelter staff are well-equipped to provide the support, respect and advocacy they deserve. We wish this work wasn’t needed, but we’re glad to be there for these individuals as they work through difficult times on their journey to regain independence,” says Cynthia Knox, CEO of Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP), which runs the shelter.

The shelter is especially grateful for CHHOP’s many volunteers, and invites those interested in helping to visit the website for opportunities, both monetary and skill-based. There are a variety of ways to help, including offering workshops on job search, interview or resume-writing skills. Classes on wellness, nutrition or yoga are also appreciated. The shelter is always looking for people to cater a nutritious hot lunch or dinner, or take a resident to lunch. It suggests chipping in to cater a meal with a group of friends.





About the Contributor
Wendy Healy
Wendy Healy, Feature Writer
Feature writer Wendy Healy began her reporting career at the Peekskill Evening Star, the daily newspaper that covered life in Peekskill until 1985 when it was purchased by the Gannett newspaper chain and moved to Yorktown. Healy went on to a career in journalism and communications and is returning to Peekskill at the other end of her career to write feature stories about the fascinating people who call Peekskill home.