Pat LaPier is a mother of three, grandmother of six, and has been a foster parent to hundreds of children. She has lived in the Emma community of Asheville since 1986 with her husband, Ted, who is now almost completely bedridden due to a disability. She now lives in a small three bedroom house with her husband, grown son, and three grandchildren, ages 11, 14 and 17. “It gets crowded,” she says with a laugh. Pat is also the president (an unpaid, volunteer position) of Buncombe County Foster Care Association, whose mission is to bring together foster parents, agency representatives and community members to improve the foster care system and enhance the lives of all children and families.
Pat and her family live on the limited income provided by her husband’s disability and the minimum-wage income of her son. Due to her own health problems, Pat is no longer able to put in the full-time hours running the party-supply business she started years ago. During the difficult times, Pat has been able to get assistance from the Children First/Communities In Schools Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE), where she receives a food box twice a month, occasional emergency financial assistance for utilities, clothes for her children and grandchildren, holiday assistance, resources and information to help with medical assistance, house repairs and food benefits. Jodi Ford sat down with Pat LaPier and Lisa Barlow, the coordinator for Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma, to find out more about Pat’s story and issues facing families living on a limited income here in Buncombe County.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Pat: My name is Pat LaPier and I am originally from a little town in New York. I am in my young 50’s and we moved down here in 1986 because my brother lived here. He said Asheville was a great place, and we came here and never left! I have three kids—- my oldest is 38, the next is 36 years old and another age 34. I have six grandchildren plus one adopted daughter and she has a daughter.
Can you tell me a little bit about what challenges you are experiencing?
Pat: Well, now that I’m feeding three grandchildren, being able to come to the food pantry makes a big difference in my life. My husband is disabled now, he hardly gets out of bed. My knees are in bad shape [and I can no longer work]. I am raising my grandchildren and we have six people living in a three bedroom house. My son wants to raise his three children on his own, but he is working a third shift in a minimum wage job. He needs help with childcare and with the bills, so he has moved his family in with us. He can’t get want he needs on his own because there isn’t enough affordable housing.
What kind of services have you had here at the FRCE?
Pat: The food pantry, parenting classes, emergency financial assistance. Right now, my roof is in desperate need of repair and Lisa has been trying to help me find funds or some way for us to put that together so the house will stop leaking. She has been working really hard on that.
Lisa: We have also been working a long time in helping her secure income through Social Security benefits.
Pat: Lisa has been helping me fill out the forms and do the proper procedures. When I first came to her, I was lost. She pointed me in the right direction.
If there was one thing you would want people to know about your situation, what would it be?
Pat: My life has changed over the years, from when I was doing foster care to now. My husband’s health has changed, mine has changed. I know if I get into a real problem, I can come to Lisa and she can get on her computer and show me which way to go and ways to solve the issue. I could stay home and try to do it myself and it could take me days, or I could come here and she could do it in minutes. So that’s a major help.
Lisa: The relationship between Pat and Children First/Communities In Schools is give and take. If I need something or the community needs something, be it a bouncy-house for a special event, or a storage trailer for our rummage sale, she is always there. It’s a great relationship we’ve created together. And that’s how a true resource center is built. It’s being there to support the community, but having the community support you as well. Here she is with all of this hovering over her, and most people would say ‘I can’t do any more.’ But not Pat. She is the president of the foster care association where she is getting ready to host a holiday program for over 600 children in our community.
What would you have done if the organization hadn’t been here?
Pat: I would have struggled a lot more. Lisa helped me get signed up for Medicaid so I could have knee surgery a year ago. I could barely walk and I had no health insurance. She put me in touch with Medicaid and helped me fill out the forms. I’m walking a lot better now than I was a year ago.
What do families like yours in Buncombe County need today to be healthy and happy?
Pat: There needs to be more affordable housing in good neighborhoods, easier ways to get healthcare coverage. There’s a lot of people who can’t go to the doctor because they don’t have the funds and they aren’t eligible for Medicaid or Medicare.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the FRCE?
Pat: I just think it (the FRCE) is a great outlet. If you have an issue or a problem you can come here to get the answer. The fact that they are in the school, too, is a wonderful thing.[Lisa is also placed in Emma Elementary School as a Communities In Schools Success Coordinator, where she works with a site team to make sure each student’s needs are being met] Getting financial assistance if you can’t pay your bills, if they can’t help you, they will point you to someplace that can. It’s definitely family friendly. There’s books and toys so the kids can play while the adults discuss the problems they have. That’s not an easy thing to do—to bring the little ones while you discuss important stuff. Here you can do that. With the food pantry, it’s great to be able to get fresh vegetables and enough food to stretch through the week, because the price of groceries don’t seem to be going down. I wish they were, but they’re not.
Children First/ Communities In Schools provides direct services for economically disadvantaged children, youth and families in Buncombe County, while also engaging the community in creating a better future for all children through advocacy. To find out more about Children First/CIS, go to www.childrenfirstbc.org.
Pat LaPier and Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma Coordinator, Lisa Barlow talk about some of the challenges facing her as she supports her family of six on a limited income.
Pat picks out a jacket for her grandson at the Children First/CIS clothing closet.