Two years ago, Helga's son, Angel, left home for the last time. He had been living clean for years, but one setback ended his life tragically when he overdosed on drugs. Since his death, Helga has cared for his children as her own.
During the school year, Helga’s grandkids attend the ECS OST program in Feltonville. “My day is never done,” Helga said. “If it wasn’t for the program and the school … I’d go crazy. No breaks. Some days I say I wish I could get [rest].” But when you’re the beating heart of your family, rest is scarce.
Helga serves dinner for up to 30 family and friends each night. This past year, she participated in the Healthy for Life series, an initiative led by ARAMARK and the American Heart Association, where ECS participants learned budget-conscious food shopping tips and recipes. “It was real nice. I always cook nutritious anyway,” Helga said, but thanks to the program, she’s stopped cooking barefoot to avoid accidents.
People wonder how she manages everything, but Helga’s house is no free-for-all. She runs a tight ship and everyone has chores. “When we’re cooking, I tell them, ‘somebody pass me the tomatoes!’ … and everybody runs to the kitchen because they want to [help],” she said. “Everybody cleans at one time … and they hang their own clothes. You go to my house and everything is neat.”
Helga’s been in her house since she was 18. She owns it, but last year, fell so far behind on taxes that her home was nearly sold at a sheriff’s sale. Because of the trust she has built with ECS over the years, Helga turned to staff. With the emergency funds ECS sets aside each year, she was able to keep her house from foreclosing. “That was such a big blessing,” Helga said. “It saved my house … and paid the rest of my water bill, so I’m up to date with everything.”
In the room where her son last slept, everything remains the way he left it. “One day I’ll have to get rid of it, but [not] right now,” Helga said. Each week, Helga takes her grandkids to visit their father, Angel, at the cemetery.
“We sit there and eat, and the kids play games … if we go on a trip, we go visit my son before we leave,” she said. “He gets new stuff put up on the holidays.” Rain or shine, they’re out there. “We’ll make him a snowman … or sometimes we’ll do snow angels.”