Life Changes for Everybody After You’re Gone

Life Changes for Everybody After You’re Gone

The cosmetology classes Yasmine Moss was taking at her high school were supposed to be a way to learn a trade she could use when she needed extra spending money for clothes or going out with friends. She didn’t anticipate that soon they would be her main means of support.

When Yasmine was 17 years old, her father, Tex, a construction worker, died of esophageal cancer just four months after receiving his diagnosis. In a cruel twist of fate, Yasmine lost her mother, DieDre, to ovarian cancer just three months later.

At the time, Yasmine and her older brother, Prevace, had been living with their mother at their grandmother’s house. Neither parent had life insurance, and their grandmother was on a fixed income. So amidst their grief, Yasmine and Prevace were suddenly responsible for supporting themselves financially. Prevace sums up the struggle that stretched out before him: “I live day by day—trying to just make it.”

A tough lesson learned

Being under 18, Social Security survivor benefits helped Yasmine, but they weren’t enough. She found a job in a hair salon as a shampoo assistant, working 30 hours a week. All the while, she continued to focus on her studies, graduating near the top of her class and being named to the National Honor Society. Now in her second year of college, Yasmine continues to do well academically. Loans and grants help her pay for school, but she still works long hours when she’s home on break.

These young adults are now wise beyond their years and share a lesson learned. “Life insurance is essential,” says Yasmine. “If our mom and dad had bought life insurance, our stress over finances would be dramatically reduced, especially during our time of grief.”

You can help students like Yasmine make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

The American Dream Put on Hold

The American Dream Put on Hold

Adel Abouelnaga and his wife, Mahassen, came to the United States from Egypt in search of a better life. An entrepreneur to his core, Adel worked long hours selling souvenirs at street fairs. Eventually, he opened his own shop at a prime location in midtown Manhattan. The couple was living their American dream: a successful business, five boys ranging in age from 16 to 1, and a comfortable apartment they owned.

Their life, however, was about to change. Adel was diagnosed with lymphoma. He died nine months later. The store was the family’s sole source of income, but Mahassen couldn’t run it and raise five boys on her own. She was forced to close the business, and sold off the inventory to pay for the funeral.

With no life insurance to help the family make a transition, life became a struggle. The family sold their home and moved into a small two-bedroom apartment. The three oldest brothers share a small room dominated by their three beds; Mahassen and the two youngest children sleep in one bed in the other.

The older brothers are the family’s primary breadwinners. When not in school, they work to support their mother and younger siblings. When she’s not home cooking, cleaning and managing the household finances, Mahassen works part-time in a public school.

It’s been three years since Adel died, and the family is doing better. Moez, 19, attends a city university and plans to start his own business. Karim, 18, maintained a 4.0 GPA in high school and attends college on scholarships he earned. Monzer, 17, a high-school senior, has his sights set on an opera career.

“We were forced to grow up sooner than most kids,” Karim says. “But we’re going to make it.”

You can help students like Karim make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

Learning From a Parent’s Mistake

Learning From a Parent’s Mistake

Unloading boxes off of a semi in the predawn is not how most 20-year-olds envision spending their mornings, but for Chezerea Ortiz this job offered her a way to keep her family afloat.

It wasn’t always that way. Her father, Mark, worked as an HVAC technician and, along with his wife, Tiffany, created a loving and stable home for Chezerea and her brother, Marcus. But this idyll was broken when Mark suffered a stroke, most likely related to his undiagnosed diabetes. Eight months later, he died at age 45. Because he couldn’t work during his illness and didn’t own any life insurance, his family found itself in a dire financial situation.

Tiffany had her own health issues at the time and couldn’t work. It was then that something deep inside Chezerea shifted. “I put the survival of my family above any plans for my future,” she says. That meant backbreaking work just so she could make the weekly payments at a motel for her mother and brother.

Three years later, the family’s income still hovers at the poverty level, but they are doing a little better. The family was able to move to a small apartment. It’s a bare-bones existence, but the family is happy that they no longer have to move from place to place. Chezerea also had the chance to continue her education. With scholarships and some help from her grandparents, Chezerea recently completed a certification program to be a dental assistant. In addition, Marcus, now 20, got his GED and is about to start community college.

These recent achievements belie the difficult road that the Ortiz family continues to walk. “If my father had made preparations for his death, things would be different now. It’s a sad fact, but children must sometimes learn from their parents’ mistakes,” Chezerea says.

You can help students like Chezerea make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

A Mixed Legacy

A Mixed Legacy

Always ready with a joke, Young Chang Kim was the life of the party when friends gathered at the family’s home in Queens, N.Y. He also taught Bible at church, enjoyed soccer and played the guitar. To earn a living, Young Chang ran several sewing workshops. The businesses provided a comfortable middle-class life for his wife Sun Ae, a homemaker, and their three children.

That life was drastically altered in 2004 when he suffered a stroke, and could no longer work. With no disability insurance to replace his lost income, the illness left the family scrambling. Because of her poor English, Sun Ae took any job she could land. She drove car pools, worked as a janitor, babysat and prepared meals. Hannah and Esther, the oldest children, stepped in to help, too. Academically gifted students, the sisters worked as tutors. They lined up back-to-back tutoring sessions and taught until 9 at night. Their own schoolwork came later. But it still wasn’t enough. The Kims moved multiple times, each apartment shabbier than the last. They qualified for food stamps and got help from their church.

In 2008, they left New York for Atlanta, where the cost of living was less. A month later, Young Chang was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. He died two months after that. The Kims could only afford a plain funeral paid for by donations from their church.

Today Hannah and Esther are attending college with the help of scholarships, and their younger brother Paul hopes to follow in their footsteps. But the financial hardships continue. “I hate how each remembrance of my father is through each bill that I pay, rather than through the memories of the healthy, loving father he so deserves to be remembered as,” Esther says.

You can help students like Esther make their dream of a college education come true by donating to the nonprofit Life Lessons Scholarship fund. Donate here.

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