Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Finally, a Home Peace of mindBetsy Brooks Went through Tough Times but Never Gave Up

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Finally, a Home Peace of mindBetsy Brooks Went through Tough Times but Never Gave Up

Article excerpt

SERIES: SEASON OF SHARING

SARASOTA -- Betsy Brooks walked into the Greyhound bus station in Miami with her six children and three garbage bags in tow -- and no place to go.

By chance, the first bus leaving was headed to Sarasota. She and her children got on it.

It has been a bumpy ride since that frightening day three-and-a- half years ago, but Brooks has fought to rebuild her life from scratch.

Brooks, 36, has worked in dietary services for half of her life, including her current job at an assisted living facility.

In Miami, she worked for the school system. Her children played organized sports. And she tucked them into the same beds every night.

It was a stable household with one glaring exception -- an abusive boyfriend.

The day Brooks hurriedly boarded that bus, she was scared.

"It was either get away, or he was going to hurt or kill me," Brooks says, "I didn't know where to go, how to do it. I just knew I was going to do it."

And she did. Brooks left behind a violent relationship and anything else that didn't fit inside one of those three bags.

It took time and determination, but the family -- Brooks' children range in age from 3 to 18 -- moved into a four-bedroom, two- bathroom apartment in Sarasota at the end of September. Jewish Family and Children's Services of the Suncoast covered her security deposit, using both private and Season of Sharing funds.

Now in its 17th year, Season of Sharing has helped thousands of families in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties stay in their homes during difficult times, or -- as with the Brooks family - - find housing after being displaced.

Last year alone, contributions to the Season of Sharing fund topped $2 million. That money was distributed to more than 50 area social service agencies, which in turn helped more than 2,800 families like the Brooks.

The money may be used for rental assistance, utility bills, child care, transportation, food vouchers and other expenses associated with helping families weather setbacks and get back on their feet. It may not be used for medical bills, cigarettes, alcohol or personal items other than food and clothing.

Families that receive Season of Sharing money are assigned a caseworker, who advocates for the family and helps everyone regain a measure of stability. But ultimately, those caseworkers say, it is up to the family -- in this case Betsy Brooks and her children -- to find the resolve to turn their situations around.

"I commend her efforts as well as her sacrifices," says Deondrick Anderson, who is Brooks' case manager at JFCS. "No one handed them anything; they actually earned it."

The family stayed at motels and, when money ran out, friends' cars. The cars were cramped, but motels posed their own problems for a family of seven because of occupancy caps. At times, Brooks' two oldest children stayed in youth shelters and with friends. …

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