ALICE stories from across Louisiana:

Mother of two and teacher facing challenging decisions.

Chelsea SmithMy name is Aneecha Bradley. I’m a school teacher in the Baton Rouge area and the mother of two great kids – Amaya, who’s 13, and Antonio, who is 12. I am ALICE.

Today, I own my own house and I’ve paid off tuition for my teacher certification. I went from being a daycare teacher to a paraprofessional to a full-time teacher. I already had a college degree. 

Before I made changes, I used to have to take out loans to get me through, and I would pay them off with my tax rebate. Even now as a teacher and homeowner, it’s still hard. When I have to say no, I do. Or I pay a bill late. I don’t qualify for assistance because I’m right above the annual salary, and it’s OK. I don’t like asking for help. 

I have known people who prefer to work part-time in order to access assistance, but that’s not the path I wanted for myself or my kids. 

To have the ability to make a better living for myself, I had to prioritize. I was working, raising kids, and paying for my own teaching certification. To do this, I had to prioritize, and a lot of people weren’t raised with that type of thinking, to look at everything and think, how am I going to make this happen?

I’m here today to speak to you because I want people to know that the cost of living is changing,  and unfortunately, the pay is not. Even though, yes, I have improved in my career goals and have the ability to make a better living for myself,  it still presents a challenge. Eventually, I will see the rewards of my labor. But the transition to improve is hard, and not everyone is taught how to prioritize money or improve their credit score.

I’m practical. One paycheck each month goes mostly to my mortgage. The other paycheck is for the light bill, car insurance, life insurance, food and to pay off a few things I needed to improve in the house after I bought it. My kids’ health insurance is through Medicaid. I can’t afford to put them on the school’s insurance.

I don’t have a fancy car. After my car was ruined in the Great Flood of 2016, I went without a car for a while and then eventually used the payment from insurance in order to purchase a car in cash. That way, I have no car payment, only car insurance. 

I teach my kids about saving and spending wisely, as my aunt taught me when I was a teenager. If they receive a gift for a birthday, I let them spend some—but the rest is savings. 

My son Antonio developed food allergies. He can’t eat many fruits and vegetables raw. They have to be cooked. He also likes to get food from a restaurant. One month, when we didn’t have money left in the food budget, he asked me if he could use savings to order food. I said, no, that’s not what savings is for. Go defrost something to eat. 

Amaya developed a passion for gardening thanks to the Black Family Initiative. I found out about them during the pandemic when they offered online tutoring. Amaya, who struggles to focus and be organized due to ADHD, now grows her own vegetables for her salads.

Daycare is too expensive. Thankfully I discovered the Boys and Girls Club summer camp program that provides camp at a reduced rate. They partner with the YMCA to do field trips and teach life skills, like healthy relationships. 

This year has been rough and a little tight, but I made it through, Praise God. I can start saving again. Now I can start saving again. With my income, there is very little room for error or for an emergency. 

Everyone who has interacted with my children tells me how they are truly amazing kids and I'm doing a great job with them. It makes me happy to know what I'm instilling in them shows when they're not around me. I consistently tell my children to always have integrity which means doing the right thing even when no one is looking because it's easy to do right when eyes are on you and it's a lot harder to do right when it's just you. 

My goal for their future is for them to continue through the magnet program that they're in through high school and go to college and not have children as I did in college—explore the world and live and build their savings and get ready for what they want to be– before they think about having a family. Education first. Explore. Live your life then have children and settle down. It makes it a little easier not to have to worry about providing for your family or having to decide whether to pay a bill or buy food or get gas for the rest of the month.

Some struggles are preventable for the most part if we consciously teach our kids to always strive for the best. Do your best no matter what. Just because your parents and family members are going down one route, you can always be better. Always try to be better. That's what I want for my children. Even though I'm doing better than my mother, I want them to do even better than me by being financially stable.

Mother of five navigating our world's new normal.

My name is Chelsea Smith. I am 33 and the mother of five children, ages 14, 8, 7, 2 and 1 — four boys and one girl — Khalil, Nichole, Andrew, Nicho and Ayden.

Chelsea SmithIf you’re wondering, the answer is yes — they are a handful. Being home with them through this strange experience has been eventful — and tiring, exhausting, nerve-wracking, with some wonderful thrown in too.

I lost my job as an administrative assistant just as the COVID-19 pandemic started. I’ve been looking for a job since. I’m happy to say that the reason I’m not here with you today is that I found a new job that I started this week! I am so grateful to be working again.

For the record, I am ALICE. Trying to make ends meet with my crew has been a challenge. Just keeping them all fed is tough. Fortunately, my kids all love Ramen noodles. Honestly, that helps. I mix up the menu, but they would eat Ramen noodles for every meal if I let them.

My older kids help with the younger ones. They go outside. They watch tv. Two weeks ago,  my seven and eight-year-olds started working on their reading with some workbooks to get ready to go back to school.

If you’re curious, with the stimulus and unemployment, I was making more than I had been when I was working full-time. I also get child support. I have to pay my rent, electricity, car note, car insurance, cell phone bill, student loans and some past bills that we are working on to get in good standing.

I’ve also saved a little bit here and there; thanks to the work I’ve done with my financial counselor. She’s helping me get on track and get a better credit score so that eventually, I can achieve my ultimate goal — home ownership. Anywhere we are is home, but I want a place that belongs to me. One of my dreams is to decorate the home that I own.

In the first month I worked with Florence, she helped me improve my credit score by 75 points. I make my financial decisions carefully, but that means making some difficult choices. For example, before everything changed, my seven and eight-year-old were in football and cheerleading. They were happy. They loved it. Andrew was playing football and Nicole was cheering him on. There were uniform fees that I couldn’t pay — and at the same time we were about to get evicted from the apartment where we were living. Someone offered to pay their fees so they could be a part of the teams. I went ahead and used the money offered to pay the fees so my kids could stay involved with something they both loved. We left the apartment to find a new home.

Sometimes people ask me where do I get my strength. The answer is easy. I get it from my mom and my grandmother. My mom is one of the toughest people I know. Now, I am doing my best to realize my own strength so my kids will one day be able to say the same thing.

The hard-working ALICE household you’ve heard about.

My name is Kelsie Belgard. I’m the mother to two beautiful girls, Marlee and Sadie. Marlee is 5. Sadie is almost 2. My husband, Robert, works at least 50 hours a week, most days from 2 a.m. until 10 a.m., for $11 an hour driving a forklift for Procter & Gamble. By the end of the year, we hope he’ll be up to $12 an hour, which will make a big difference for us.

Kelsie and Robert BelgardWe are the hard-working ALICE household you’ve heard about.

I used to work in home healthcare, but we finally figured out that even with both of us working, we just couldn’t afford daycare for our girls. Financially, we are better off with me staying home to take care of them. Plus, I was in a car accident last year and now my doctors haven’t cleared me to go back. They’re not sure I’ll be able to lift the patients. So, I’m not sure what kind of work I’ll do when I’m able — but that hasn’t stopped me from trying to figure it out or trying to contribute now.

One thing that we have going for us that many other ALICE families don’t is that my husband’s grandmother gave us an acre of land when we got married. At first, we rented because we couldn’t afford to do anything with the land. Then, we moved in with Robert’s grandmother so that we could save the money we would have spent on rent and were able to put down a payment on a manufactured home last year. We used the land as collateral. For us, mortgage is much cheaper than rent. Now we pay $409 a month for our 3-bedroom, two-bath house, compared to $550 a month when we rented a two-bedroom, one bath trailer.

The other good thing that happened is we used the tax return money to pay our debt. we had left over after getting out of debt to start a little business I can run out of our house while I take care of our daughters. I used the $500 we had left and bought a Cricut machine to make customized t-shirts, decals and stickers. I make about five shirts a week, but I have six this week — and six decals. I probably clear about $50 a week on it — but that $50 is helpful. I put between $5 and $10 aside. We’re saving that on our trip. We want to go to Disney.

Usually, after we get our taxes, we’re doing pretty good for a couple of months. Then our bills start getting behind until we get our taxes again. This year, we hope my little business will help us break that cycle.

Thank you so much for listening to my story. It’s important to me that each of you understands how hard we’re working not to be poor. We are doing our best to get ahead, but it’s not easy. Just like you, we want our dreams and our children’s dreams to come true too.

Hard working, single mom of a son who is going places.

Since the day my son was born, I’ve been determined to make things work. I want him to have the best so that he doesn’t struggle the way that I have. That’s why I’ve worked a full-time food service job in Patterson since graduating high school in 1990.

Bernadine GarrettI’ve made difficult choices along the way. I made a decision early on that the light bill had to come before making groceries. That meant sometimes I didn’t have lunch. With a child, I knew I just had to have lights at night. When I couldn’t cover the bills, sometimes I’ve had to call and get an extension.

I’m 46 years old now. Through the years, I don’t know what I would have done without my parents — even though I worried about them because they were also on a fixed income. I knew we could go to my parents to have a meal when we needed to — and my mom would offer me a plate to take home.

To pay my car note, I did housekeeping on the side. When my son needed math tutoring, I stopped getting my hair done — and if you know me, you know that was a big deal! Paying my car off meant not having to work two jobs.

After nearly 15 years, I got a promotion to deli supervisor. I was scared to accept the position because I wasn’t sure I had what it took for the job. I knew the promotion was a way to get out of the awful apartment I had been in for 20 years — so I took the job. I was able to get a good deal on a used trailer and move to a better place.  

Shortly thereafter, my paid-for car was totaled by a guy who was texting. Finding a car that was affordable and reliable wasn’t easy. Plus, the insurance payment wasn’t enough to replace my car – forcing me back into a car note. But with my family’s help, I made it work.

Now, my son is a long way from home playing football on a scholarship for a college in Texas. I’m just so proud. He’s my heart. These days, I work extra hard so I have a little something extra to put in his bank account. I believe he can have a better life that isn’t just about making ends meet.

I’d do it all again for him. I’m a go-getter. I once was ALICE, but things are looking up!

A hard-worker doing his part to make his community a better place.

I recently turned 40 and have been wondering just how I got to this place in my life. Growing up, I excelled in academics and music, and I had big dreams and plans for my future. I was attending the University of Louisiana Lafayette, focusing on Acadian and Creole History, when my mom was diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer. With one class short of graduation, I withdrew from school to take care of her.

Michael LavergneI incurred a lot of bills taking care of her and ended up defaulting on my school loans. I need to save about $2,000 to go back and finish my degree. I feel like that $2,000 is standing between me and so many better job opportunities.

What is my life like? I have a car with 240,000 miles for which I am grateful. It gets me to work and back. I have a number of chronic medical conditions.  I have finally qualified for free medical care at University Hospital and Clinic, which has been an answered prayer. With the medical care, I’m able to work hard and keep a job. Without it, I’d be in rough shape and unable to work.  I live simply and within my means. I have an old school, “dumb” flip phone, and that’s fine with me. I’m a thrifty shopper and love a good bargain.

I currently work as a server at a casual-fine dining restaurant. I did well with that work until the local economic slump in late 2015. In the past, I qualified for food stamps, but the up-and-down nature of income as a waiter caused me to get bumped off. With the downturn at the restaurant, I’m not able to keep up with my bills, but I still make “too much” to re-qualify for public assistance.

Last fall, my roommate was laid off from an oilfield job. We had to give up the house we were renting. I moved in with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews. Moving back in with family at 40 was humbling, but I am grateful to have a place to go.

Definitely one of my biggest regrets is having given up music. I want to turn that regret around and look forward to the future. I’m tired of making excuses and resolve to return to playing and performing music this year.  

I focus on the positive. I am blessed with amazing family, friends and a church group who always encourage me. Many of them have supported me when I’ve needed a helping hand. Not that any of them are rich, but it’s the old Stone Soup scenario. We all pull together because our resources combined add up to so much more than any of us has on our own.

I try to be the best individual, neighbor, and friend possible. Yes, I’m ALICE, but I am also a contributing and thriving member of this community — and I want to do more!

20-something single mom, coffee barista living in Lafayette.

Ashley DuranBecoming a single mom was my decision. Now, my son is 5-years-old, and I’ve had to make some tough decisions to do my best to make ends meet. When he was younger, it was easier because I had more help. When my mom moved back to Texas and my son started school, I decided to give up the career I had been building as a restaurant manager and go back to being a barista. It was the only work schedule I could find that would allow me to work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. while he was in school. Some people might say you would make enough to hire a babysitter, but babysitters often make more than I do. I make a little less than $8 an hour.

Now, I watch out for every dollar I spend and when I spend it. If my car breaks down, I’m not sure what we’ll do. I’m not asking for pity or even help, I’m just trying to do my best to make it work.

When it comes to paying things, I’m on time with my rent and car insurance, but everything else is usually a month behind. I look forward to income tax season. It’s the only time I can catch my breath. And then I do it again for another year. We have a strict budget at the grocery store. We go to the library a lot for books and movies. I try not to stress my son out about all of this.

I actually applied for food stamps twice but was denied. They told me I could come back and talk to one of their counselors about why I was denied, but I can’t take a day off work. If they had something open at night, maybe I could go. I’m not ripping off the government. I’m not feasting.

I would love to go to school to change my situation, but again, I can’t take a day off work. Sometimes people just need a little extra help — even just moral support. I’m happy to learn about ALICE. I'm happy that there’s a name for me now.