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From Hopelessness to Hope: the Story of One Low-Income Springfield Resident's Struggle to Get By

Daisy Tolliver can finally look forward to the rest of her life.  The 73-year-old northwest Springfield resident has struggled for years trying to make her income last through the month while raising two great-granddaughters.  She adopted seven-year-old Aerith as a three-week-old infant.  She took Jaliyah, six, home from the hospital just after the baby was born.

It’s people like Tolliver that the City of Springfield's  Zone Blitz initiative is designed to help. The program is aimed at lifting people out of poverty through neighbors working together to address challenges.

Tolliver has experienced a lot of sadness in her lifetime and especially in recent years.  She was blindsided by a divorce after 39 years of marriage, her son committed suicide in 2004, but the hurt is still raw, she grieved for her mother, and her sister passed away last year.

But thanks to help from community organizations, her infectious laugh is now genuine—it no longer masks the pain she didn’t want anyone to know about.  She’s a regular at the Fairbanks Community Hub--a place she was referred to by the Community Partnership of the Ozarks.  She cries easily, but now they’re tears of joy—not tears of sadness.

"I actually told them for the first time--I said, 'you know, since I've been coming here, you all have given me hope.  You've given me a chance to not worry as much as I normally do,'" she said.

After living in a thin-walled apartment with her babies below a tenant who she said was constantly swearing, she lives in a beautiful new home in Fulbright Springs II, a subdivision north of Dickerson Park Zoo.  She applied to get a home there a year before she got the call that she’d been accepted.

"And, girl, when they called me and I came over here--a brand new home out of an apartment.  Can you believe it?" she said.

She credits God who she says “makes a way out of no way for you.”

Not too long ago, she was struggling—constantly worrying about how they’d make it through the month.  She’d run out of soap and laundry detergent and not have money to buy more.  She was saddled with a payday loan with 30 percent interest that took about all her income.  Wendy Brazeal, who provides social services for the residents of Fulbright’s 71 homes, suspected that Tolliver’s smile hid problems she didn’t want anyone to know about.

"I laugh to keep from crying a lot of times, and I told her, 'oh, it's nothing wrong.'  And she looked at me and she said, 'you can talk to me.'  I told her, I said, 'girl, the bottom's falling out of my life,'" she said.

Brazeal hugged Tolliver and asked her what she needed.  She was able to provide the family with household items and also referred her to the Fairbanks.

Tolliver was hesitant at first.  But once she started attending programs, offered by the Drew Lewis Foundation and the Northwest Project, she quickly realized that most people seeking help there are all in the same boat—they all have families, they have little money, and they are just trying to get ahead.

By the third meeting she began to open up.  She needed an oil change—someone working at the Fairbanks is a mechanic and offered to do it.

Other needs have been met, too.

"A lot of things we need--there's somebody over here that can do something.  There's somebody that has a skill that they can help you, and they're willing to do if for little or nothing, you know?" she said.

The programs at the Fairbanks have taught Tolliver how to budget, so she can now see where her money is going.  They helped her get rid of her payday loan with a 10 percent interest bank loan, so she can pay the debt off more quickly. 

She has $163 left after expenses are paid each month, and that’s meant freedom to treat themselves now and then.

"I can make plans.  Me and the girls--we can go to McDonald's, you know?  We can go to the movies," she said.

And occasionally she can say “yes” when the girls ask for a treat at the grocery store instead of saying, “no, we just don’t have the money right now.”  And she has a savings account for the first time in a long time.

"At 73-years-old to all of a sudden have a savings account--that means a lot to me because I have always been under stress and strain since I've had the girls of trying to make do," she said.

According to Tolliver, she can look farther than just the moment now.

She looks forward to the rest of her life and gets annoyed when the mail brings advertisements for funeral arrangements.

(laughing) "I'm not ready to die.  I'm just beginning to live again," she said.

She loves her girls—the pride she has for them is evident--and knowing they love her, she said, is the greatest blessing she could get.  They keep her young and help take her mind off her problems.

When Brazeal learned of Tolliver’s struggles she felt the programs at the Fairbanks could help meet some of Tolliver's financial and temporal needs.   But she knew it could also help in other ways.

"To find some camaraderie and to be with people that were like her--that were trying their hardest and just couldn't seem to get to where they needed to be," Brazeal said.

Before that, Tolliver didn’t leave the house because she was trying to save gas.  Through the Drew Lewis Foundation and the Northwest Project as well as the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, which employs Brazeal, she’s received gas cards and minutes for her phone.  And she’s learned to text to save minutes.

"I'm in the technology world now, you know," she said.

Brazeal calls Tolliver “an amazing asset to the community,” and she said Tolliver doesn’t even know it, “which is even more amazing.”

Tolliver jokes that she’s leaving Brazeal and Amy Blansit at the Fairbanks in her will, and she said, when she wins the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, she’s giving a million dollars to the programs at the Fairbanks.

Until then, she plans to give back in other ways.  The folks at the Fairbanks Community Hub are helping her enroll in real estate school so she can renew her broker’s license (she had to let it go inactive while dealing with the trauma in her life).  Once she gets her license, she plans to serve as a real estate advisor for the Fairbanks' programs.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.