The Hope Project: When the Baileys’ costs went up and the income went down
Special to The Aspen Times
Organizations that helped the Baileys
Aspen Community Foundation
Colorado Mountain College Gateway Program
Eagle County Health and Human Services
Editor’s note: This is the third of four installments in a series of stories created jointly by The Aspen Times and the Aspen Community Foundation. The Hope Project aims to raise awareness of all the emergency services available to needy families in the Roaring Fork Valley.
It all started in 2013 with a detached retina. At least, that’s when Carl and Gina Bailey’s current troubles began.
Sixty-six-year-old Carl’s health problems were ongoing by 2012. He’d had one angioplasty already to restore the blood flow in his coronary arteries, and his diabetes certainly didn’t help things. There were frequent doctor visits, dietary rules to follow and a constant regimen of prescription medications to take, but it was the detached retina that specifically led to the loss of a well-paying job.
“Before I had to retire, we were doing OK financially,” said the longtime master electrician. “But when I lost my job and lost the vision out of my right eye, I couldn’t work. Nobody could hire me. I couldn’t drive.”
The loss of income coincided with an onset of medical bills and some family problems that brought both of the couple’s grown daughters and their children to live temporarily in Carl and Gina’s trailer in El Jebel. These rotating house guests ranged from Denise and Tamara, the Baileys’ 40-plus-year-old daughters, to their 3-year-old great-grandson, Santiago. When adult children and grandchildren were in the house, they pitched in to pay bills and buy groceries, but the net financial impact on Carl and Gina was a gradual drain on their savings.
Simply stated, with up to seven people in the home at any given time, the Bailey’s costs rose as their income plummeted.
“Everything happened at once,” Gina recalled, shaking her head. “My electric bill is at least $50 or $60 less per month now than it was back then.”
As much as they enjoyed having all those family members around, the Baileys had neither the physical vigor nor the financial resources to raise grandchildren and great grandchildren. They went on food stamps and every form of public assistance they could find, but Carl and Gina gradually sank into serious debt.
“We didn’t know retirement meant raising our great grandkids,” Carl joked.
After nearly 40 years in the El Jebel Mobile Home Park, they fell behind on their rent and utility payments. Despite decades of steady employment — Carl was an electrician and Gina held both office and housekeeping jobs for multiple employers — they found themselves asking for favors they’d never before imagined.
About three years ago, Carl and Gina came to know Camila Stefli, program support coordinator at Eagle County Health and Human Services, who helped the family take advantage of all the federal food and medical assistance programs she could. When that didn’t quite do the trick, Stefli contacted nonprofit organizations like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army for additional resources.
She says the Baileys typify the kind of middle-class family that often comes in the door.
“Most people walk in here when they’ve had everything and then lost it — either a house or a job,” she said. “They come in very embarrassed that they need help. It’s very hard (for them) because they don’t know what to expect and they’ve never needed assistance before.”
Carl was paying out-of-pocket for expensive prescriptions before Stefli stepped in to help. “Medicare … basically saved our life,” he said.
While taking advantage of all the government and nonprofit assistance they could, members of the Bailey family also made every effort to earn their way back to solvency. For example, Jordain, the Baileys’ 22-year-old granddaughter, is a student of Colorado Mountain College’s Gateway Program, which provides educational, training and employment support specifically for single parents. Recognizing the severity of the Bailey’s situation, Jill Ziemann of the Gateway Program reached out to Aspen Community Foundation’s Direct Emergency Assistance Program which helped the family catch up on rental payments.
Karen Lee, case worker at The Salvation Army in Glenwood Springs, also helped the Baileys with rent and utility assistance on several occasions, knowing that Carl and Gina were doing all the right things — especially regarding their kids, grandkids and great grandkids — but just needed a few hundred dollars to pay for an electric bill or medication.
“The idea is to keep people in their homes,” Lee said. “They have a history of success, so let’s keep them afloat and they’ll get back on their feet.”
At this point, it appears the Baileys will eventually climb out of the hole where they’ve been stuck. With help from a debt solutions company on the Front Range, they’re on a schedule to pay down their credit cards and other bills in two or three months.
They also praised their landlords, the Crawford family of El Jebel, for being patient about rental payments. “They’ve been wonderful,” Gina said.
In Carl and Gina’s driveway sit a truck and a boat on a trailer, neither of which has moved in two years, according to the couple. If they can get their bills paid by this coming spring, however, they hope to pull the boat up to Ruedi Reservoir on a sunny summer day.
“We’re going through hell now, but we’re getting close to the end of the tunnel,” Carl said. “We might not be totally self-sufficient, but we might not have to be so dependent.”
The Aspen Community Foundation and The Aspen Times are collaborating on a series of stories collectively titled “The Hope Project.” The Emergency Assistance Fund has been established at the Aspen Community Foundation to help families like Southard’s in times of need and to support the agencies mentioned in this article.
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Roaring Fork Fire Rescue held a ceremony on Friday to honor a retiring firefighter and paramedic who answered the call for 24 years as both a volunteer and paid staff member.