Danielle Lewis poses for a photo with her kids
Danielle Lewis (left) and her family.

It all happened so fast. In the blink of an eye, we Americans are facing a real pandemic. We talked about it a lot in the past, but now that it’s happening, we are struggling to face it. Kids are out of school, people are losing jobs, limited help is available. The bigger question is, “How will we overcome it?”

I have faced many challenges during this time. I find time each day to figure out ways to make things work better for me and my family. Because I was already a work-from-home agent for a Tennessee insurance company before the pandemic, I really was not affected by the “Stay at Home” order.

My four kids mean the world to me, but I did not expect them all to be here at home with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I have three girls ages 8, 6 and 2, and my son is 3.

The schools and daycares closing affected me the most. There are more household chores now because they’re there all day making messes I have to clean up. My husband, who has lost his job, does what he can to keep the children occupied, but they are always calling my name, wanting me to be there.

I just started working a month before everything shut down, so they didn’t understand it was a real job. I work in my bedroom. They have their own rooms, but they’ve stayed in my room forever watching TV, because they broke their TV. They’re always wanting my attention and fighting each other.

Working from home is easy and reliable because of the computer equipment provided by my job. But there are rules and regulations that I must follow — things like no background noise, no people in the room with you and keeping my equipment from getting damaged.

My kids are very active so keeping them quiet has been the hardest challenge so far. My husband and I came up with a plan, where he would take the kids to a relative’s house while I work. That has been working since then. But it also stretches my monthly income.

At first this family member was doing it for free and then she wanted to be paid for it. Before the pandemic, I was getting child care free for the three little ones and the oldest was going to school. Now, just for the two younger children it’s $80 per week, and it would be twice that for the older two if their dad didn’t keep them sometimes.

My husband lost his restaurant job as a cook due to COVID-19. He is still not working as of today, and it took months for him to get approved for unemployment.

I have taken budgeting classes before and it has been a benefit for me during all of this. I keep track of all spending and make sure we take care of needs first. I write everything in a notebook.

The only negative thing my job has done was drop our weekly hours — first down to 37, and just recently they dropped it again to 32. Now we work 4 days a week instead of 5, and that will lower my income by almost $400 a month.

I pay for insurance for me and my husband, and the kids have TennCare. The reduced paycheck will be about $800; it used to be over $1,000 every two weeks. But it is still a blessing because I look at my husband’s situation and think, at least I am still working.

Apart from working, I am also a full-time student at Strayer University, which is all online. My daily schedule is so hectic, I barely have time for my kids and family. I try to explain to them why I am working so hard. Their future is what matters to me. So, if I have to stay up all day and all night to make sure my kids are set when I leave this earth, I will do just that.

Strayer is also a great school with great professors who understand what is going on, so they are willing to accept late work with no points deducted. I am working on getting my BS in accounting. I hope to be done by 2022.

I am grateful for my job, my school, my husband and everyone who has been helping me keep my head above water during these hard times. My main support has been my church, River of Life in Memphis; my pastor; and my mom. If I fall short, I know she’ll help me pay something. The Collective Blueprint has been giving out incentives and recently did a food drive for people in need.

My support system is a major part of my life. I’ve met people who would break their backs to help me. Being a part of The Collective Blueprint and Teen+, LeBonheur’s teen parent program, I have had access to the many resources here in Memphis.

I’m 26 years old, and I’ve been in the teen parent program since I had my 6-year-old. Both groups have offered incentives, utility payments, and so many other things. They have provided female products and pull-ups for my 2-year-old, and toilet paper, which has been so hard to find.

I also have a career/life coach at The Collective who has been one of my many inspirations. We all need someone in our corner to lean on in times like these. Without some of this help, I wouldn’t be where I am.

To help our budget, we are looking to move out of our four-bedroom home into something smaller and cheaper than the $1,000-a-month rent we are paying now.

COVID-19 has caused people so many headaches, but faith and hope will take you a long way. I feel like God makes no mistakes and everything happens for a reason. I just plan to keep working and doing the best I can as a wife, mother, student and full-time employee.

The Collective Blueprint is a nonprofit organization that strives to eliminate barriers and create new avenues toward economic self-sufficiency for young adults. The Collective works with schools, employers and community stakeholders to establish career pathways and ensure equitable access to support, resources and opportunities that allow young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 to thrive.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.

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