The American Dream, unraveled

July 2, 2019

Marie and Bob worked all their lives to become homeowners. They lived comfortably on their two stable incomes. But six years ago, their hard-earned American Dream started to unravel before their eyes.

They found out they had been victims of predatory lending, and they were forced to foreclose, declare bankruptcy, and move out of their home. Now in a financial hole, they started accruing debt. On the heels of this heartbreak, Marie had a major stroke that forced her to retire on disability. They settled into a shaky new normal, which included a lot of debt.

Fast forward five years. Bob had a stroke. They had never quite recovered from their previous financial woes and were still living paycheck to paycheck. At first, they thought they could manage things on their own because Bob had plenty of paid family leave, but eventually it became clear he was not going to be able to return to work. Marie applied to get Bob on long-term disability, but the process was delayed when the doctor’s office staff filled out a form incorrectly. It was too much for them and time was running out. Bob’s paychecks were going to stop coming soon, and they had rent to pay. Marie realized she needed help.

After a discouraging search for community resources, Marie called Catholic Social Services and was relieved that someone cared and could help. Within a week, Kassie, a Catholic Social Services Money Management social worker, was at Marie and Bob’s house, helping them tackle their budget. With a choked-up voice, Bob told us, “She came and basically opened up our eyes.”

We are in debt to Catholic Social Services for life.


Kassie saw that the couple had an immediate need and a long-term need. Bob’s first disability check was finally confirmed—but it would be another two months until he got it. The couple simply did not have the money to pay two month’s rent without Bob’s income. The good thing was that Kassie saw ways Marie and Bob could cut back, consolidate debt, and put themselves on a path to stability once they started getting Bob’s monthly disability check.

With help from Catholic Social Services’ partners, Kassie secured an emergency financial Gift of Kindness from The Columbus Foundation. This filled the gap, allowing Marie and Bob to pay their rent and avoid eviction. But the work wasn’t done. Kassie helped the couple with the hard work of emptying storage units, selling their RV, switching to a cheaper cable plan, and consolidating their debt. She showed them ways they could meet their budget they had never thought of before. Kassie knew it was these skills that would allow Bob and Marie to remain stable and independent in the long run.

When we interviewed Marie about her experience, her eyes welled up every time she talked about the difference CSS had made. Marie and Bob had never expected to be in the position to need help. As Marie stated, “How could we have anticipated these strokes?” Bob added that, no matter how much you plan, you can be “unprepared for how life treats you.”

At her lowest point, Marie thought she and her husband had failed so many times that no one could help, but Catholic Social Services came through and “made me feel like someone really cared.” Furthermore, Catholic Social Services presented both short-term assistance and a concrete, long-term solution.

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