As I went to meet Marta, I overheard her listing several new resources in town to Amherst Community Connections’ (ACC) director, Hwei-Ling Greeney. Hwei-Ling has been a community advocate in this area for quite some time now, so I am always impressed by anyone who is able to inform her about resources. Marta and Hwei-Ling met after one of Marta’s friends and neighbors was having difficulties with rent payment. Determined to help her friend, Marta took to the internet to research different resources and came across ACC. She referred her friend and eventually connected with Hwei-Ling over their shared resolve to make their communities healthier, safer, and happier. Marta recognizes that, “We all struggle, we all go through that,” but she chooses to focus her energy on helping others rather than just her own challenges, and she has faced some formidable ones in her life, including a failed kidney and 15 years of dialysis.
After she experienced kidney failure, Marta qualified as disabled by the government and received SSDI benefits, but she longed to be active and work. No stranger to researching resources, she once again searched for more information about working while receiving disability benefits and discovered the Ticket To Work program. Ticket To Work affords Marta and others like her the independence of being able to work and earn an income, while still receiving federal benefits like SSDI and MassHealth as long as the income follows the program’s guidelines. She is passionate about encouraging other people with disabilities to reclaim their agency and independence, two things she feels they are often stripped of. “I understand that I have a disability and need treatment for it, but that has never stopped me from doing anything I want. There’s life after treatment! Sure, it takes 12 hours each week, but there are so many more hours in the week than that. Focus on what you can do and find your support systems.”
For Marta, support has come from her loving family and her housing complex. She shared a story about an event in the complex that brought everyone together for a day of food and frolicking outdoors. She also shared that she is very close with her neighbors, and they can usually be found spending time in her home as she cooks for them. Her story reminds us that housing is not just a place to rest one’s head, but can also be a space of empowerment, community, and support. When I asked her about the future, Marta said she would continue to enjoy her part time job as a grandmother while she continues to apply for other jobs through the Ticket To Work program. In addition to striving for financial stability, she is awaiting a kidney transplant and will continue empowering communities with resources and information. “I want people, especially disabled people, to stay motivated. Disabled people feel so defeated sometimes, but it is important to stay aware of resources like this program that give you independence. Tell yourself, ‘things are going to get better! I overcame a lot so I know I am going to overcome this!’”