Voices of AmeriCorps: Betsy Quakenbush


MFPC-Member12Though my AmeriCorps time has been full of file keeping and database entry activities, the things I will remember more are the life stories I have heard; I have a whole file cabinet in the corner of my brain with the label “Crazy life stories.” This cabinet has slowly been filling up with the stories I have heard, and continue to hear, as I meet with foreclosure prevention clients at ICCF; it continues to be a very interesting time. I hear all sorts of stories and listen to people tell me things that are sometimes hard to hear and sometimes hard to process. Some days, I can listen to the stories, file them away in that cabinet in my brain, and continue to go about my day. But sometimes, I have to leave the file open on the desk right next to the cabinet, unable to file it away quite yet. I have to spend some time processing what I have heard and trying to make some sense of it before I file it away.

One client’s story in particular from this past quarter of my AmeriCorps time was like that. We’ll call this client Kelly. Kelly had been referred to me and called me one afternoon. I answered. Her taxes were behind on her house and she was looking for help-a very normal start to a triage and intake conversation, but the conversation quickly dove into a deeper retelling of Kelly’s life story.

Kelly told me about the deep depression she had been stuck in for a number of years- the onset caused by her mother’s death. Kelly had been able to keep her job the entire duration of her depression, but that was all she was able to do. She got up, went to work, came home, and went to bed. She did not realize how low she actually was. This went on for years, when finally Kelly decided to go to the doctor to see if anything could be done. The doctor prescribed some antidepressant medication right away. Kelly asked the doctor, “Well, doesn’t everyone’s mother die?” The doctor answered, “Yes.” Kelly replied, “So is the whole world on antidepressants?” The doctor replied, “Yes.” This was not a satisfying answer to Kelly. She refused the antidepressants. There had to be another way.

Since that visit, Kelly’s life has really been on the upward climb. She is going to school and getting a college degree, still working her steady job, and also encouraging others to let their mothers know how much they love them. Kelly not only experienced a recent change in attitude towards life, but also towards our housing counseling. She did not want to write her hardship letter when she first came into our office, as she knew it would bring up all of her hard emotions all over again, but by the time she was done meeting with our housing counselor, she was willing to write one. She slowly began to relax and allow the counselor to try and help her with her situation. Kelly is still working with our housing counselor, and though the outcome of her situation is unsure, trust has been built and Kelly experienced a drastic change of attitude.

My own mother lives in the Philippines, just about as far away as you can get from where I live, here in Grand Rapids. After that first conversation on the phone with Kelly, I knew I had to write an email to my mom to tell her I loved her. I did.

Betsy Quakenbush is an AmeriCorps member at Inner City Christian Federation in Grand Rapids.

This post is part of a blog series highlighting the viewpoints of Michigan AmeriCorps Foreclosure Prevention Corps members serving at different foreclosure host sites around Michigan. View information about the program or see more stories in this series.