Deshaye was in a tough spot.  Employed as a caregiver for an elderly and disabled man, Deshaye’s employer passed away in October 2013, leaving her without any income to support herself or her two children, a six year old boy and a 21 month old girl.  In addition, Deshaye’s nephew had moved in with her family that summer.   Already struggling to support her expanded family on her caregiver’s income, including her growing teenage nephew, things turned from hard to nearly impossible in a matter of weeks.

A ward of the state and a foster child herself who was moved from house to house and family to family, Deshaye had nobody she could turn to for support when the bills started to pile up.  Deshaye knows she can only depend on herself to keep her family together: “Literally, there is just me.  My kids have no grandparents, uncles, aunties.  I didn’t stay long enough to get a family I can call my own.”

With a staggering bill of over $1000 that was transferred over from a previous address and without work, Deshaye found herself at Centerstone seeking help.  She discovered she only qualified for $275, as she hadn’t lived at her current address for the 12 months needed to give her a grant based on her family’s personal energy usage.  The $275 would not prevent her impending disconnection from Seattle City Light.  After Deshaye left in despair, she received a phone call only 30 minutes later informing her of a Bridge the Gap donation of $400 to her account.  “The extra donation allowed my lights to be kept on.  I cried when I found out. I don’t know how to express my gratitude.  It is a blessing that there are people out there who are able to help,” Deshaye reflected a few weeks later.

Now Deshaye is fighting to get back on her feet and look for work, “any type of work,” so that she can keep her family together and provide a better future for her nephew and children.

Music is Qian’s life.  A professional concert pianist and survivor of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Qian studied piano at Beijing’s premier musical college in the 1970s, despite losing his eyesight at age 13.  Playing by feel and by ear, Qian is a prodigy, as he cannot read the notes written on the page.  His immense talent helped him qualify for the Royal National College for the Blind in England, where he received a full scholarship in the 1981 to continue his musical training.  Once out of China, Qian never went back.  After he graduated, Qian settled in Europe and traveled around playing in hotels and in smaller venues until 1998, when he immigrated to the United States.

But life in America was not as forgiving as life in Europe, and Qian struggled to keep himself financially sound as he began to struggle with mental illness.  Soon Qian lost almost everything.  Now he relies on disability payments, and lives in a small, subsidized apartment without a piano. His radio is his solace, to listen to music.

Qian relies on grants from Centerstone to keep his heat turned on, as he has had it shutoff twice in 2013 for past due bills.  Living on $710 a month, it is hard for Qian to get caught up on his past due bills, until Centerstone’s Bridge the Gap campaign stepped in with a pledge of $300 to help pay down the balance.  Now Qian can start over with a clean slate and hopes for better fortune in 2014.  He also has hopes of a new surgery that might restore some of his vision with advanced stem cell treatment, making 2014 a very auspicious year for Qian.

Qian was touched by the Bridge the Gap campaign of anonymous donors to help those less fortunate.  As his way of giving back and giving thanks, Qian offered to play music for any donors as an expression of his gratitude.

Life has been hard for Opal W.  Now in her early 60s, Opal is unable to work due to crippling arthritis in her knees.  She walks painfully with crutches, because there is no cartilage left to cushion the blow, so each step causes her shooting pains.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Opal moved to Seattle at the age of 18 in 1971, where she raised her two sons and daughter as a single mother.  Working various jobs to get by, including at a daycare and at the Seattle Union Gospel mission, Opal was barely able to keep her family afloat over the years.  Tragedy seemed to strike at every corner: first her oldest son died, and then her younger son was sent to prison, leaving all of her grandchildren fatherless.  Sadly, Opal sees her life mirrored in that of her daughter, who also lives in Seattle struggling to raise her three children as a single parent. Opal’s joy comes from the successes of her grandchildren, one of whom is at college in Utah on a football scholarship.  When he graduates, he will be the first in their family with a Bachelor’s degree.

Barely able to scrape by most months living in subsidized housing on her Supplemental Security Income, things got even harder with the cuts to food stamps at the end of 2013, which coincided with Social Security reducing Opal’s monthly check due to an “overpayment,” a common practice that affects many of Centerston’s clients.  When you only receive $1000 a month, losing 10% of your income hits hard.  The $100 that could have gone towards her light bill evaporated, and Opal found herself relying on Centerstone’s Energy Assistance to prevent her disconnection from Seattle City Light.  $210 from Bridge the Gap maintained Opal’s electricity after she qualified for only $52 in federal funds.

When Opal discovered she received an anonymous donation to maintain her power, she was very grateful for those whose generosity keeps her warm.  “Thank you so very much, and God bless,” Opal wants all the donors to know.

“The struggling musician” is a stereotype that holds true for many trying to make it in the music industry, as performances are unpredictable and gigs can be feast or famine, subject to the whims of public tastes.  Jody is just one of hundreds of struggling musicians in Seattle who previously made a decent living.  He plays the drums in some smaller bands, but the economic downturn hit the small to medium-sized music scene hard.  A man who made music in many of Seattle’s famous venues such as The Tractor, El Corazon, Neuoms, and The Crocodile, when he wasn’t travelling to California or Las Vegas with the bands, Jody has been struggling to keep himself afloat for the last five or six years.  When he isn’t playing, Jody works refurbishing drum sets, but those services aren’t as necessary when his customers can barely afford to pay their own bills, let alone fix their instruments.

To complicate matters, Jody has severe inner ear problems and needs another surgery to fix the tumors growing there, but if he gets the surgery, he will be unable to play the few gigs he has, leaving him without any income.  It was in this situation that Jody found himself applying to Energy Assistance at Centerstone at the end of 2013. With his federal grant only covering about half of his electric bill, Jody didn’t know what he was going to do, until he got a call from Centerstone informing him of a Bridge the Gap donation of $315 to keep his lights on.  A proud man used to taking care of himself since he left home at 16, Jody struggled with the decision to come in to apply for assistance, and was appreciative but uncomfortable with the anonymous donation made to his account.  “It is not a common thing for me to accept charity, but I appreciate it,” Jody said, his tone of voice distant as he reflected on how much his life has changed in the last few years.

Nuvia C. received a disconnect notice from Seattle City Light while her daughters were home from school on Winter Break. Nuvia, whose ten and six year old daughters are in elementary school, worried how her children would spend their much anticipated days off without electricity and heat. “I can’t afford to send my girls to after-school activities and they spend the majority of their afternoons and weekends at home playing together,” she says.

Nuvia, who immigrated to Seattle from Mexico almost a decade ago, holds two jobs as a caregiver to the elderly to support her young family as a single parent. In addition to her daughters, she has a rambunctious two-year old son. Nuvia has struggled to find permanent work, and her current hours are inconsistent. Some weeks, she is only asked to work a couple of hours, and a good portion of her paychecks go to cover her transportation costs, as she often has to drive over an hour to get to her patients’ houses.

Nuvia has relied on Centerstone’s Energy Assistance Program in the past to help pay her electric and gas bills, and she was relieved to learn that she received $250 through the Bridge the Gap program so her children would have a warm house to come home to from school. She hopes that this new year will bring steady work and will enable her to enroll her daughters in after-school ballet class.

A former administrator at a local nonprofit helping some of Seattle’s poorest residents, Michelle is very familiar with the services that exist for low-income families.  But Michelle never thought she would need those services until she suffered a devastating accident in 2012 that left her permanently disabled.  With a broken neck, collar bone, severe spinal damage, and a loss of vision in her right eye, Michelle suddenly found herself unable to work, without an income, trying to raise her two children on her own.

Michelle struggled through intensive rehabilitation and training, eventually regaining enough skills to get back on the job hunt, despite her physical limitations.  Applying for work also gave her a very necessary form of temporary income, unemployment benefits.  But December 28, 2013 ended emergency unemployment benefits for over 25,000 Washingtonians, including Michelle.  Any money she had to pay her utility bills evaporated with the unemployment benefits, and in early January 2014 Michelle submitted an Emergency Energy Assistance application to Centerstone, hoping to stave-off disconnection.

With a daughter still in high school and a son completing his general education requirements at local community college, Michelle is so thankful for the $250 she received in Bridge the Gap funds.  This money allowed her to maintain her electricity so her children can continue to study and do well in school.  With no local family to help her in hard times, Centerstone and other nonprofit agencies are stepping in to help Michelle rebuild her life and maintain her independence, honoring her years of service to the community by supporting her in her time of need.

All programs have rules and regulations to ensure that people are receiving the services they need, but the rules don’t always capture the “human” factor, and there are exceptions to every rule.  Camille M. was one of those exceptions.

Two years ago Camille had a good life.  She and her husband, baby-boomer parents in their early 50s, worked full-time.  Their daughter was just starting graduate school, and their son lived at home.  But 18 months ago, Camille’s world began to crumble when her husband died. As she was just starting to recover from the shock of losing her partner and the father of her children, Camille’s daughter was diagnosed with terminal cancer in March 2013.  She lived only 7 more months, before passing away at the end of November 2013.  With no health insurance, Camille racked up thousands of dollars of medical debt, forcing her to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  In addition, she needed to use her available resources to pay for her daughter’s funeral. Taking care of her utility bills was the last thing on her mind when she received a disconnection notice from Seattle City Light.

Only weeks after her daughter’s funeral, trying to get back to her job as a dispensary technician at a local medical clinic in order to have any type of income (even though half of it is being garnished for her bankruptcy case), Camille received a phone call from Centerstone’s Energy Assistance Client Advocate Molly Smith and found out she didn’t “qualify” for federal Energy Assistance, because Centerstone cannot take into account income that is being garnished due to bankruptcy. Yet again, this was another agency designed to help people that was turning away those in the most need, she thought, as she hung up the phone.

But help came through for Camille.  Due to generous Bridge the Gap donors, Camille received $250 in Bridge the Gap funds to prevent her disconnection from Seattle City Light.  In the darkest time in her life, Camille found a glimmer of light to help keep her and her son going.  “It is just a blessing,” Camille whispered between her tears when informed of the anonymous donors who made this possible. “Thank you so much.  I really, really needed it.”

A 28 year old student at Seattle Central Community College pursuing degrees in psychology and business, Ann was forced to drop out when her financial aid expired. Nannying and cleaning houses does not provide much of a living and the hours are unpredictable, so when Ann’s roommate moved out in August, she knew she was in trouble.  Alone in Seattle, without any family to turn to for financial support, Ann struggled to make ends meet this fall, only to have her power shut-off abruptly in December as she was trying to make payment arrangements.

Cold for several days before finding her way to Centerstone, Ann is just starting untangle the complex web of social services available for low-income individuals in the Seattle.  Currently in a market rate apartment with no prospect of a roommate to help her split the rent, Ann hopes to move into lower-income housing soon, but each time she gets waitlisted after her interview, with so many people in similar situations.

When Ann found out about the anonymous donors who gave $220 in Bridge the Gap funds to help her restore her electricity, Ann paused in shock.  “Does this happen often?” she asked, touched that somebody would be so generous, without even knowing her.  “Words can’t describe what a help this is.  It is going to keep me going, give me the extra time to save up for future bills.  It is such a huge help.”

While much of Seattle celebrated the two-week winter break from school, spending quality time with their families and enjoying a pause in the daily ritual of school, homework, and bed, for Felisha and her four children, winter break is a time of anxiety and stress.   A 41 year old crossing guard and bus monitor for the Seattle Public Schools, Felisha works as much as she can to keep her family in housing and pay her bills, despite suffering from sickle cell anemia.  But times are tough for Felisha’s family when school is out.  As an hourly employee, Felisha doesn’t get vacation pay.  To compound matters, the Seattle Public Schools took the entire week of Thanksgiving off for the first time ever, meaning that Felisha was down to only three work weeks in a six week timeframe.

For Felisha, maintaining her electricity is a matter of life and death.  Her oldest son is 17 and has severe asthma, so he is constantly hooked up to a breathing machine powered by the electricity.  Should she lose power, her son wouldn’t be able to breathe. Without family or close neighbors, Felisha doesn’t know what she would do to keep her power on and her son alive, except possibly pawn as many items as she could.  Felisha’s 10 year old son also suffers from asthma, but fortunately is able to manage his condition with inhalers much of the time.

Luckily for Felisha, she was a recipient of $230 in Bridge the Gap funds, allowing her and her family to maintain their electricity through the Christmas Holiday, and squeeze by until she starts receiving her paycheck again in January.  When informed of the anonymous donors who made this possible for her, Felisha was shocked, and thankful: “I am just so grateful,” Felisha reflected.