By Alfred Lubrano
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet three Philadelphia women who have overcome crushing obstacles to survive and thrive in this thing we call life.
One was abandoned by her parents.
Another, just to live past 15, had to block out large swaths of her childhood.
A third believed that her toxic upbringing made suicide preferable.
What follows are stories of three resilient women born into poverty, a handed-down legacy of choked-off hope.
Yet somehow, each overcame crushing obstacles to advance from a hard beginning to a happy ending — or, at least, an ongoing progress report of: so-far, so-good.
When your mother’s a Camden drug addict who dies of an overdose, and your father didn’t even know you were born, what do you think your chances are of getting somewhere in this world?
“I was in foster care my first four years,” said Kellam-Walker, 21, one of eight siblings.
Her father eventually heard about her and moved her to Northeast Philadelphia. She dropped out of Abraham Lincoln High School in the 11th grade because the baby growing inside her became a distraction from precalculus. Teen pregnancy in her family was as inherited a trait as brown eyes.
“Well, you can’t stay here,” her father exploded, throwing her out of the apartment the day she told him. She was carrying her phone and a charger, and nothing else. “You’re old enough to have a baby, so go figure life out,” he said.
She went to an aunt, who, before slamming the door, offered a hater’s prediction of how things were going to go: “You’re like your mom,” she said. “You’re not gonna be nothin’ in life.”
Her boyfriend told her to live at his aunt’s place in Chester, where she slept on the couch for five months. The boyfriend stayed for one.
The aunt ordered Kellam-Walker to apply for federal aid, then sucked up the benefits, working the teenager like a slot machine.
Miserable and eight-months pregnant, Kellam-Walker connected with a program run by PathWays PA, a nonprofit headquartered in Folsom, Delaware County, that helps women and children.
The agency secured Kellam-Walker an apartment for 18 months. It taught life skills, parenting, and household management.
She now works 50 hours a week — full time at a CVS, part time at PathWays, counseling pregnant teens. She earned her GED, and is taking classes at Community College of Philadelphia, working toward a four-year degree in social work to make things easier for her and Leionni, now 3.
“She’s really motivated, and she’s helping other young people,” said Cristina Lim, a PathWays program manager.
“I pay for my own apartment in West Philly, and I bought a 2000 Plymouth Neon,” Kellam-Walker said. “I just woke up one day and said, ‘Gotta man up, gotta grow up. I want things.
“And now I’m proving my aunt wrong: I’m not nothin.'”
At night in Chester County, homeless families sleep in churches.
A dearth of shelters in the 21st richest of America’s 3,100 counties makes it necessary, the arrangement coordinated by the local affiliate of a national outfit called Family Promise.
For four months, Alyssa DeAngelo, 23, of Oxford, slept on cots with her fiance and two boys, ages 2 and 4, in one of the white-steepled sanctuaries amid million-dollar estates.
What brought them there was poverty, family abuse, clinical depression, teen pregnancy, and the awful luck that attaches like a parasite to a hard life.
“I have severe anxiety, diagnosed when my parents split,” said DeAngelo. “And things happened to me I block out.”
Alyssa, according to Susan Minarchi, executive director of Family Promise of Southern Chester County, “had a very rough childhood. But she wants to get things right for the family.”
Sometimes, DeAngelo said, she feels herself slipping back into depression. “It’s dark,” she said, “and scary in a way you can’t express.”
But DeAngelo is fighting.
With the help of Family Promise, she got a bank teller’s job for $13.75 an hour.
She splits rent in an apartment with another teller. DeAngelo’s fiance manages a Philadelphia Burger King and sends money. The ultimate family goal is marriage and a house.
She is working on an associate’s degree and plans to get a B.A. as a certified sign-language translator. A chance encounter with a deaf customer in the bank inspired her choice.
DeAngelo believes God has a plan for her. “But those two baby faces always looking at me” provide enough rocket fuel to propel her, just in case she’s wrong about input from the divine. “Failure,” she said, not smiling, “is not an option.”
Today’s the day to drive the car off the Schuylkill and die, Amanda Dobbs resolved eight years ago.
“Your suicide would be such a positive thing for others,” Dobbs, 42, of Eastwick, told herself.
Till then, she had done everything right: waited until she was married to have her son, Robert; attended trade school and community college; worked a solid job as a surgical tech.
But a childhood of abuse, of her now-dead mother’s multiple men touching her, of frequent moves in and out of rundown apartments, caused Dobbs’ brain to crack apart, she said.
“Post-traumatic stress, major depressive disorder,” Dobbs said. She could no longer work. Her husband, Robert, lost his nursing assistant job at the same time, and the family squatted for three months in an uninhabitable house.
Then came the day on the Schuylkill. Dobbs edged the car toward a drop-off near Route 1 when she heard a sound: Robert, a toddler in the rear child seat, had murmured. In her melancholy, Dobbs had forgotten he was there.
“He saved my life,” she said, tearing up.
Dobbs institutionalized herself, and has continued treatment. An adept cook, she heard about Philabundance Community Kitchen, a culinary-training program run by the hunger-relief agency. Dobbs thrived, becoming class valedictorian. As part of the group, she appeared on ABC-TV’s The Chew in 2016.
Robert now works three jobs (for a security firm, a limo service, and school bus company). Meanwhile, with contacts she made, Dobbs started her own catering business, Virtuous Food and Events. Recently, she cooked for 200 people at an event at the Philadelphia Ethical Society.
“Amanda is amazing,” said Philabundance spokeswoman Stefani Arck-Baynes. “She went from homelessness to business owner.”
On Christmas, Dobbs and her son, now 9, expect to feed the homeless. “It keeps my son humble,” she said. “And helping others gets me out of myself.
“That’s a blessing.”