Widowed Mother Tries to Maintain Optimism

A pair of large dogs follow Donna Paul around her modest, two-story home in Elkins Park, keeping her company and offering a sense of comfort as she spends her days looking for a job.

Reminders are everywhere that life for her and her three grown children — they're between the ages of 17 and 24, and all live at home — was once very different. Once, she'd aspired to be a concert pianist; the grand piano her father bought for her 32 years ago occupies much of her living room.

On a nearby shelf are numerous family photos, especially of Warren, her husband of 22 years who was killed in a car wreck on Dec. 4, 2005. After that, the life they had led quickly unraveled.

Two years later, Paul, now 52, thought that she'd finally turned a corner. JEVS Human Services (formerly the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service), a Jewish agency that specializes in job-training and counseling, helped her find a position as an administrative assistant at a Montgomery County synagogue.

Paul said the job was terrific.

"It was like a pair of shoes that, by some lucky chance, you get a perfect fit," she said. "For the first time in a very long time, I felt a bit of serenity."

Then, last September, after a little less than a year, she lost the position.

Now, she's one of millions of Americans — and one of a growing number of Jewish Philadelphians — who are unable to find work in these tough economic times.

Paul's challenges pre-date the current downturn. Under the best of circumstances, it might have taken years to recover from the loss of her husband. But the soaring unemployment rate is compounding her woes as she works to make ends meet.

To make matters worse, no one in the household currently has health insurance, added Paul.

"It's a heavy load to carry — to take charge of myself, to set an example for the kids so that they can see that adversity can be overcome," said Paul, seated on her couch and speaking in a slow and subdued manner.

After her husband's death, she discovered that he didn't have life insurance; two months later, unable to meet the mortgage on one salary, she sold their home and moved with her kids into a far more modest rented house.

At about the same time, the home health-care company where she'd worked for 15 years closed down.

Paul, who belongs to Beth Sholom Congregation, sought and received help from numerous Jewish agencies. In addition to JEVS, which coached her on interviewing techniques and helped her design a résumé, the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia assisted her in purchasing food.

She has also turned to the Jewish Relief Agency to receive a monthly box of some $20 worth of food.

In fact, she often volunteers with JRA, helping at its distribution warehouse in Northeast Philadelphia, knowing that one package will eventually be delivered to her own home.

"I thought it was something I could do to give back," she said.

She tries to remain optimistic, insisting that every day, she's one step closer to finding something.

"I'm still standing on my own two feet. My motto is: 'Never give up and never give in.' You are not alone; there is a hand out there. I don't know what I would do without all the institutions that have helped me. I fear I would be lost."




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