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Couple triumphs over financial ruin

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POSTED: October 18, 2010 10:54 a.m.
Kathleen Lancia knows a thing or two about being too proud to ask for help.
The United Way administrative assistant says the depressing state of the current economy brings back too many painful memories for her, but she tells her story anyway. Lancia hopes she can bring a glimmer of inspiration to those who are struggling, because at one point, she was there, too.
During the late 1970s, Lancia lost her job working for a security agency at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
“I was given a choice,” she said. “I was told that I could do what they told me to do and work 24 hours a day or I could leave. So I left.” Lancia was eight and a half months pregnant at the time.
“Because I chose to leave, I didn’t get unemployment. So there was no money coming in where my paycheck was,” she said.
A week and a half later, her husband, Ray Lancia, was laid off along with 400 other employees from his position as a wire fabricator at United Wire in Rhode Island.
Due to inflation and economic stagnation that led to a severe recession in the 1970s, layoffs weren’t uncommon. According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, unemployment was at
7.9 percent from 1974-1979. The U.S. jobless rate today stands at 9.6 percent.
After the couple lost their income sources, they had little savings to fall back on, too many bills and a growing family. Lancia said many visitors who come through her United Way office have similar stories.
“It (being homeless) doesn’t necessarily mean not having a roof over your head,” Lancia said. “Especially today, we hear of families living together because it is the only way they can make ends meet.”
Ashamed and hoping for the best, the Lancias kept their financial troubles to themselves, refusing even to inform their families.
“We did not want anyone to see us failing,” she said.
Lancia remembers watching her husband submit application after application, desperate to find a job to support his family.
She would have looked too, she said, had she not been pregnant, preparing herself emotionally and physically to deliver a child into a household in dire financial straits.
“It was a pretty scary time,” Lancia recalls. “Getting up every day was very hard, but I had no choice. I had a child to take care of.”
Although the couple’s landlord allowed them to live rent-free for five months, neither could find a job to keep food on the table or pay the bills.
As a result, the Lancias filed for bankruptcy.
It wasn’t until Kathleen Lancia’s grandfather saw their names in the paper that the couple realized how proud they had been — so proud, in fact, they hurt their extended families and made it impossible for anyone but the government to help them.
Thinking about the economy now, and the destitution she sees at her job with United Way, Lancia knows how tough and cruel the world can be to those who are struggling.
“I think I did a lot of praying at that time, a lot of reading my Bible,” Lancia said.
After two years of searching, struggling and looking for answers, Ray Lancia found an Army recruiter who promised something the couple had been dreaming of: a stable income.
He signed a four-year contract despite the uncertainty of where he would go and what he would do.
“It gave us a place to live, it gave me a profession,” he said.  “It gave me a job that was stable. I didn’t have to worry about the business closing down. It was the military.”
Ray Lancia signed on again and again until he had put in 20 years.
“(The military) was a big difference from where we were. The military as a whole is like a big family. They take good care of their soldiers.”
Now as a contractor on Fort Stewart, he sees the military from the civilian side. He has to watch his vacation days and sometimes forces himself to work when he is sick. It isn’t like the military where there is a guaranteed paycheck, he said.
During training on his initial contract, Lancia suffered a severe hit to his brain that left him with a medical condition, hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain.
The military offers no compensation for the bills from surgeries required as a result of the accident since he cannot pinpoint the incident during which he was hurt, his wife said.
Despite hard times the couple has endured, they agree that although it was difficult, it has only made them a stronger, more faith-based couple.
For those who think they can’t get up after they’ve been knocked down so many times, Kathleen Lancia disagrees.
“A lot of times, homeless people think nobody cares,” she said. “Don’t give up.”
Ray Lancia echoes his wife’s sentiments. “It can turn out pretty well in the end,” he said. “Do the best you can with what you have.”
 

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