Woman dedicated to service amid own struggle

EDITORS NOTE: Poverty is an equal opportunity offender, touching nearly every demographic group. One group is affected more often: single women who head households.

 

These households experience the highest poverty rates nationally, in Georgia and South Carolina, and in the three-county Augusta area.

Thursday and today, The Augusta Chronicle profiles some of the women facing poverty and their difficulties, youths who come from these households and what can help decrease the high poverty rate of a city such as Augusta.

Most people would never guess Linda Mickens' financial situation by looking at her.

The 46-year-old Augusta woman is polished, well spoken and volunteers almost full time at Helping People Start Over, a Christian nonprofit organization on Gordon Highway that assists people in need of food, clothing or other services. She has a two-year associate's degree in early childhood care/education and has taken college-level business and psychology classes.

She regularly attends church at New Life Christian Center and is the mother of a teenage daughter, Christian, a high school senior. She also has an adult daughter and two grandchildren.

She's also living at the poverty level. Because of illness and life circumstances, she is unable to work. Her economic problems started six months after her divorce nine years ago, when child-support payments from her ex-husband stopped. She was married for five years, Ms. Mickens said.

"I was robbing Peter to pay Paul. The only thing that stayed current was the rent, to keep from being evicted. The electric was behind one month, gas one month, water -- just kind of keeping things afloat to keep anything from being turned off," Ms. Mickens said.

Things had gotten better for a while, but she's back in the same situation again. She lives in a rented home and uses EBT to provide food for her family. She said that she pays her "bills through blessings," sometimes getting donations from church, people she knows and some she doesn't. God's timing is not our timing, she said, but a day or two before things are due she'll either receive a donation or something works out in her favor.

She receives child-support payments sporadically. Her daughter has a good relationship with her father, but the financial support isn't always there, she said.

"I think he thinks it doesn't matter anymore. I won't say that he has not tried to help out, but to say he's paying child support -- he's not coming close to what they've ordered him to pay," Ms. Mickens said.

Ms. Mickens suffers from migraines that have rendered her unable to work. She is receiving extensive medical testing, and her headaches are so severe that she has the physical symptoms of Bell's palsy, such as paralysis or weakness on one side of her face. Her medicine has added to her difficulties, with side effects such as hallucinations and memory loss. She also has back problems and relies on Medicaid for her medical care.

"I think finding any kind of employment would be difficult because of the medical problems that I'm going through," she said.

She's debating whether to apply for Supplemental Security Income. She said she believes if she did it would be like giving up and accepting that she will never get better. To keep from accepting defeat, she tries to fight through her current situation, she said.

During her marriage, she worked in the public school system as a paraprofessional and later became a substitute teacher. In 2005 she began having migraines that lasted all day, she said.

Two years later she was working as a customer-service rep at a local cable company when she had to go on short-term disability for her migraines. At the same time her daughter became ill and needed surgery to remove a tumor in January 2008. Ms. Mickens needed to stay with her daughter at the hospital, but her employer wanted her to return to work, so she was fired. Since then she has tried unsuccessfully to find a job.

SHE'S VOLUNTEERING to help the same group of people to which she also belongs. Ms. Mickens said she relies on her faith in God for strength. Many days she cries and prays. The situation has both tested and built her faith, she said.

"I had to get to the point of looking at where I was in my walk with the Lord and looking at who my source is. That makes all the difference, even when the times are hard and you don't really see it in the natural, knowing in the spiritual that things will be OK," Ms. Mickens said.

She calls her work at Helping People Start Over her ministry. She has been volunteering with the organization since October 2008. She hopes it might turn into a full-time job, but that's not why she keeps coming back.

"I think I've actually found my calling. I really don't see myself doing anything else. God gave me a vision a long time ago of helping people," she said.

On a typical day, she operates the front desk and prepares boxes of food for those in need. Before they leave, she prays with them. In the future, she wants to have a facility to assist women and children.

"I never knew there was such a need for food and clothing and people needing to be ministered to. The hurt that people carry around makes your problems seem so minute," Ms. Mickens said. "Not to diminish what's going on in your life, but to realize, 'I have to do something. Whatever it takes.' It keeps you coming back. ...

"I tell them, 'It's for me, too. It's not just for you.' It's an amazing thing."

IT HELPS THAT her daughter is understanding, Ms. Mickens said. Despite the typical challenges of the teenage years, the mother and daughter have a close relationship. On a recent Saturday afternoon they were at home cooking chicken wings, talking and listening to contemporary gospel music.

Ms. Mickens said she has always tried to keep her daughter in a decent neighborhood so that she wouldn't grow up with negative influences.

"She's actually made the comment that she's spoiled, that she's never went without anything that she wanted, and she shocked me when she said that," Ms. Mickens said. "I figured that she's gone without lots of things that she's wanted. I felt so bad that I couldn't give her the things she wanted and needed."

She said her daughter doesn't realize, however, what she's had to go through to make ends meet. Christian is a senior this year, so there are extra expenses they can't afford, such as senior pictures.

"It's affecting her more this year than it has before," she said.

Still, her daughter remains on track. She's 11th in her class and wants to attend college and become a neurologist. She's a varsity cheerleader and belongs to numerous academic clubs, including the debate team and academic decathlon. She is also in training for youth leadership positions at her church.

Ms. Mickens fights to remain positive.

"God allows us to experience things," she said. "If I had not gone through the struggles of not knowing how my bills were going to get paid, where my next meal was going to come from or facing eviction, or going through pain or waiting and not knowing, I wouldn't know how to help these people. I wouldn't have this true compassion for them. Since I've walked that walk, I can relate."

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.

AREA FOOD PANTRIES

True Vine Missionary Baptist Church
1780 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd
"6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday"
(706) 722-4011

Faith Outreach Christian Church
"2664 Willis Foreman Road, Hephzibah"
by appointment only - 9 a.m. to noon Monday and Friday; 8:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesday
(706) 261-5043

Beulah Grove Bapitst Church
1446 Lee Beard Way
"first 10 applicants each day - 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; 1:30-3:30 p.m. Wednesday"
(706) 722-4999

Catholic Social Services
811 12th St.
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday; closed noon to 1 p.m. for lunch
(706) 722-3661

DCCM (Downtown Cooperative Church Ministry)
430 Eighth St.
picture ID required - 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; beginning Dec. 1 Monday-Friday
(706) 722-9065

Tremount Temple Baptist Church
1363 11th St.
10 a.m. to noon Thursday except first Thursdays - they go out on community visits
(706) 724-1264

Crawford Avenue Baptist Church
507 Crawford Ave.
"social security card and picture ID required - 10 a.m. to noon fourth Mondays, except Dec. 21 (third Monday)"
(706) 738-2527

Hillcrest Baptist Church
3045 Deans Bridge Road
"for residents of south Augusta and Hephzibah, social security cards, picture ID and proof of residence required - 10 a.m. to noon Mondays"
(706) 793-3104

Victory Assembly of God
2030 Olive Road
picture ID required - 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. second Thursday; other times by appointment
(706) 798-7742

Gracewood United Methodist Church
2117 Tobacco Road
"picutre ID, proof of residence and proof of income required - first 30 families living to the south of Windsor Spring Road or in Blythe, Hephzibah or McBean - 9:30-11_30 a.m. Tuesday"
(706) 798-2200

Broad Street Ministry Center
20 Broad St.
"picture ID and social security cards for recipients and their dependants required; work requirements also - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday"
(706) 722-5999

Shiloh Comprehesive Community Center
1635 15th St.
"for ages 60 and over one time per month, picture ID required - 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday"
(706) 738-0089

Asbury United Methodist Church
1305 Troupe St.
picture ID required - 9 to 11 a.m. first and third Tuesday
(706) 736-0061

Augusta Deliverance Evangalistic Church
2028 Roosevelt Drive
"one visit per person per month - noon to 2 p.m. Tuesday, except fourth and fifth Tuesdays"
(706) 736-7015

Augusta First Church of the Nazarene
2044 Lumpkin Road
"picture ID required; if on public assistance, bring paperwork - 10 a.m. to noon second and fourth Tuesday"
(706) 793-2251

Living Word Christian Center
3018 Old McDuffie Road
"call in advance - picture ID required - 9:30-11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday; emergency walk-ins 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday"
(706) 798-0123

First Baptist Church of Augusta
3500 Walton Way
"first 36 residents of Richmond and Columbia counties, call for other requirements - 9:30-11 a.m. Tuesday"
(706) 733-2236

Everfaithful Missionary Baptist
314 Sandbar Ferry Road
"picture ID required - food bank, not pantry - no cooking - 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. third and fourth Wednesdays and third Saturdays"
(706) 722-0553

The Hill Baptist Church
2165 Kings Way
"referral from EOA required - food bank, not pantry - no cooking - 10-11:30 a.m. or until food runs out Dec. 16 "
(706) 736-8446

Christ Episcopal Church
1904 Greene St.
first 60 clients - picture ID required - 10-11 a.m. first and third Thursday; soup kitchen 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays
(706) 736-5165

Vineyard Church Augusta
3126 Parrish Road
picture ID required - noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday
(706) 863-9766

Bible Deliverance Temple
1857 Fenwick St.
for emergencies only - by appointment only
(706) 736-1600

Williams Memorial CME Church
1636 15th St.
10 a.m. to 1 p.m. first Saturday
(706) 733-9430

Grace Street Church of Christ
120 Grace St.
picture ID required - 9 a.m. to noon fourth Saturday; emergency assistance at other times by appointment
(706) 736-0222

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