Family in Bankruptcy Needs Help
I am a 27 year old, married , mother of 3 and a self - taught, professional photographer. I have always been passionate about photography but my recent journey to entrepreneurship started about 3 years ago. In 2013, I suddenly lost my Mother in February and my youngest child made her difficult entrance that June. Within months of having Arianna, I began having symptoms that I did not recognize (I have lived with autoimmune diseases most of my life). After months of testing , I was diagnosed with Lupus SLE. Between the stress of losing my mother and the constant illness and flaring, I just shut down. I knew there would be no way to return to my 6am-6pm schedule and work full time. Although, we could survive off of my husband's income alone it was not satisfying. I have always been very driven, with a go-getter attitude. So I picked up my Nikon and started offering photography sessions at a low rate. This helped me make a little money, build a portfolio and gave me a creative outlet. Photography has been such a blessing to me in a time that could have been so dark for me.
(Below is a photo I took of my 3 beautiful kids)
I quickly gained experience, built a wide ranging portfolio and built rapport with other professionals as well as a solid clientele. In my eyes, I have not only been very blessed but also very successful. The more I learned, the more my profit grew and the more my business matured. Ideally, I would have invested every dime back into my business and been able to expand by now. Unfortunately, 2014 was no better than 2013 for our family. In an effort to make more income my husband took a job near Fort Riley, KS. In many ways this was the best thing I could have done for my business. Business exploded. I was working constantly, some weeks over 100 hours a week. I pushed hard. I worked through not only my own illness but my husband's (he has severe ulcerative colitis) all while raising our 3 amazing kids.
(Below is one of my favorite shots from one of my first shoots in Kansas)
Through our illnesses we did our best to tread water and keep our heads, financially, above water. A family of 5 is already difficult to provide for as I'm sure you can imagine, but then add crippling medical debt to that...the truth is we were drowning. I'm certain that the stress and illnesses began exacerbate each other at this point. Things were tough, but we were making it work. My sessions helped pay for groceries and a few odd and end necessities and my husband's income was able to cover our rent, utilities and car. Toward the end of 2014 things began to get tougher, our only vehicle broke down. We poured money into, but it became to expensive to fix so we bought a junker. By this time we had burnt through our savings and were living paycheck to paycheck.
At that point, we really were not sure if things could get worse, but they did. Hospitals began suing us. 1 lawsuit eventually became 6. All of our payment offers were declined. Our bills were just too high, one hospital stay alone was $64k. At one point, we were even threatened with jail time. They began garnishing 25%of every paycheck. By 2015, things just began to domino. Still we kept our heads down, kept to the grind and just kept hoping.
2015 was a year of growth for me as an artist. I broke away from unhealthy relationships, I studied, I networked with everyone in the idustry that I met. I really began to learn my strengths, weaknesses and where I belonged in the photography world. I began asking for reviews, feedback from clients and CC from fellow photographers. I received several touching emails from clients explaining how working with me was an empowering experience. I was finding that I was helping women gain a better, healthier self image, my clients found me to be comfortable to work with and their photos to be empowering, several ladies saying that they had a new inspiration/outlook on life and confidence they didn't know they had. By February 2015, in under 2 years I had shot over 40 boudoir sessions for women of all races, ages, sizes and shape. My niche or specialty, I quickly realized was celebrating women.
(Below is a few examples of my Boudoir)
Business continued to grow in 2015. Each year I was doubling my profit. In 2015 I began the grueling process of raising my prices and limiting what I offer. This did not slow business down at all, if anything it improved it.
2015 was the year I also began branching out into fashion photography. With each shoot my skills and talent were improving.
No matter how much I worked, financially we just couldn't get above water. In 2016, we made the very difficult decision to file Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. This wasn't done lightly, we had exhausted every option and was already borrowing from my Dad just to file and keep rent paid. At one point, we were living off of just $200 paychecks.
At some point in 2015 it occurred to me that my talent and skill had outgrown my equipment, but with our difficult financial situation I found it harder and harder to reinvest my profit, into my business. When you are a parent, your family and their needs always have to come first. And if I want to be completely honest with myself, I was much too flexible with clients and their payments and when several, including a wedding skipped out on their payment that just put us further behind.
(A few Examples from 2015-2016)
By the end of 2016 I had 4 models I worked with regularly, shot over 90 Boudoirs, 12 weddings, 2 births and countless other sessions.
My work and my ideal client continued to mature.
In 2016, it became clear how impossible our situation was becoming. We were drowning. In Kansas, we could not afford healthcare but paying out of pocket had already done us in and for the median income of where we were living our cost of living was much too high. The chapter 13 bankruptcy ended up being nearly impossible to afford on Erich’s salary as it was $500 per month. We felt hopeless and felt like we never had a chance in this life.
Then, it hit me - if it’s hopeless then why are we here?
So, without telling Erich I updated his resume’ and started looking at other restaurants from the same corporation and began to apply. Initially,I thought ‘let’s just go back home’. The longer I thought about it and the more I researched (because I was not naively going into this AGAIN and end up in the same place) we would basically be moving into the same problems. So then I said ‘okay, what are our priorities?’ That took some thought, but I ended up making the #1 priority healthcare #2 priority our kids education #3 priority was to live where we have access to the specialists we need. And of course no matter what we had to be able to afford to live there based on the income offers he was receiving.
Erich received several really strong offers doubling his weekly salary. I don’t think until that moment he realized what he was worth. The moment he chose a franchise we just bawled like babies and held each other. It was only a couple months ago that we were sitting on the bathroom floor contemplating divorce because we didn’t see another way out of this debt.
So,we took everything we had and in a matter of a month in a half we started our trip west. Once we hit the Colorado border it was like I could finally breathe again. Probably for the first time since my Mom passed away.
[we were happy to leave so quickly because we also had a very troubling personal problem there that is still very difficult for me to talk about as I have PTSD]
We knew getting there was just half of the journey. We attempted to find a rental, but in December there just wasn’t very much available until Spring and even then our Bankruptcy was holding us back. We hotel hopped for 5 months - almost 6. It was one of the most difficult times of all our lives. We couldn’t find a renter while still paying on our bankruptcy and we actually had 2 landlords fall through on us , almost landing us into a shelter. By spring we could not afford our bankruptcy payments and it was costing about $2400 per month to live in hotels which was way beyond what we could afford.
At this time, my health and symptoms were getting worse and I was in and out of the hospital while homeless with 3 kids. We were tapped out again. We separated. I couldn’t handle looking for a house by myself from inside of a hotel room and we needed a break.
In April, we finally thought we had something. My husbands employer has a corporate condo that he uses when he is in town and because of how much trouble we have had and how great Erich was doing right away he offered it to us. He asked us our monthly max budget - and we said it absolutely tops out at $1800 for us. He decides that that is find and he’d pay the remaining $400 as long as he has use of the garage, which was fine with us. It wouldn’t be available until May 5th. When the time came to move in - it was almost weird having so much space and for the first time in 6 months I was able to cook my family a home cooked meal, it was amazing.
But like everything it’s too good to be true. As we were walking through the house to receive the keys the landlord and my husband’s boss is pointing out things that needs repaired and telling us it needs done before our 6 months lease is up. He’s still saying all of this as if it’s a favor to us, which was starting to aggravate me. A few weeks in Erich is presented with a “promotion opportunity” and this same employer/landlord explains that he wants to give him a better opportunity at a different store, that would end up paying him more. We quickly found out that none of this was true. He was offered the promotion for taking the store he began in from a 0 score evaluation to a 5 (0 is the lowest 5 is the highest) and raised sales, morale in the store and community. However, once in the store. They skipped his 90 day raise, as outlined in his contract. Then his 6 month evaluation and raise. Even worse, this store has structural problems that they cannot fix and he was able to raise its evaluation score, but only after painting and doing repairs and spending 60+ hours every week there. It only took us one month to realize he would not be able to bonus at this store.
He brought all of this up to his employer who said that the contractual agreement can be changed at any time and the person who hired him and competed for him is no longer there. And just to make our problems worse as he handed us the keys on May 5th he tells us we needed to repay a $900 cash advance that he previously said he’d forgive with the promotion. We borrowed the money because at the time he was at a store that was bonusing and after the second house falling through we almost ended up in a shelter.
Because of all of this we could not pay our first months rent and surrendered our car and defaulted our bankruptcy. We immediately worked on fixing our bankruptcy because here in WA we have more options than we did in KS. Here in WA we were eligible for chapter 7 bankruptcy. Which would be just one flat fee of about $1800 instead of 3-5 years and up to 10 of $500 payments.
But we are at a standstill. My husband’s employer is not what he promised to be and offered and without his bonuses we are just going to get further behind in rent and we aren’t sure how that will affect his job. All I know at this point is our lease is up just after xmas and I cannot let my family go homeless again.
(More Examples of my work)
Growing up, I thought the American Dream has to be accomplishable, for everyone. That's just simply not true, sometimes you are a product of your situation. Sometimes you cannot start out with nothing and have everything. When you start off without oppurtinity and poor - it is much harder to climb out of and become more. Sometimes your environment and outside factors outside of your control make it harder to get above debt. I started out with bad credit before most had credit at all and this is a world of credit - so it had no room for me.
As we are feeling this weight of hopelessness even without being homeless I’m beginning to get in with doctors and specialists. I was diagnosed with Anklyosing Spondylitis and they found E-fusions in my right shoulder and hip. Some days it is unbearable to walk. The tremors in my hands and and legs are getting worse, so I will be following up with that with a neurologist. I will also begin having a series of noninvasive or mostly noninvasive procedures to treat pelvic congestion syndrome, nutcracker syndrome and may-thurners syndrome. My doctor also found an irregularity in my heart tests, which we believe is the answer to why I am so faint and having fainting spells and chest pain for which I will have to see a cardiologist. And in cleaning and painting and fixing Erich’s store he worsened his slipped disk and cannot afford seeing someone for that.
With my health and the recovery from my last wedding (it took sleeping 20 hours for 9 days, yikes!) I am realizing I might need to restructure my career. That is the greatest thing about being freelance and being an entrepreneur, though really. So I turned to blogging about photography, my photography, my lifestyle and beauty and tips about all of the and above. I am able to do this using things I mostly already own too. This is something I can do from home and it’ll be easier for me to be able to shoot on my time and terms.
That being said, I'm not ready to give up. I just don’t know where else to turn. We cannot make money come from nowhere and with no car and erich’s Hours and health he cannot pick up a second job and I don’t believe I could even handle a part time job on my feet and that still wouldn’t solve childcare. At this point I really need to make more passive income and also come up with moving money.
We need to be moved by January 1st and I’m really not counting on Erich to bonus and honestly that wouldn’t get us as far as we need to go.
I’m asking for $15,000 - this would allow us to pay any leftover back rent we owe, moving costs, cleaning costs and to replace a few pieces of equipment that got broken in our move that needs replaced. I will also be able to upgrade my site allowing me to make more money off of marketing, elleviating some of that pressure from Erich and help keep me from feeling useless and the last bit would be used to pay off the rest of our chapter 7 bankruptcy and allow us to finally move on.
[this example is actually one I shot of my beautiful pregnant sister!]
I am excited to start my journey here in the Pacific Northwest, it is so beautiful here and it has every opportunity we could have dreamed of. We have been in an uphill battle all of our adult lives. Erich and I married on October 27, 2007, I was a senior in high school. Erich happily agreed to marry me when I found out that because of my parents status I could not receive federal aid for college. I say happily because we were together just over a year at that point and every night ,until I finally asked him, when he’d tell me goodnight he’d ask “will you marry me?” And I’d say “no, not yet.” And he’d tell me he’d wait. Us both being sick and never being able to be financially sound has given our relationship problems that most couples might never experience.
We aren’t looking for a hand out , we hate having to ask for help, but what else are we to do at this point? We want to be able to work and not worry about being homeless this winter, that’s for sure. In fact, I’m even putting off filing for disability I want to work so badly.
We just need a launching pad and we could do so many great things.
[one last example of my work]
A special thanks to all of my fans and clients back home in St. Louis, MO and in Fort Riley, KS. Your support has been everything to me! Until my website is updated you can view my work on my website www.alexisnicolebendickson.com
We are still looking for a new rental and our lease is up at the end of the month. I have surgery on the 28th to treat vein disease. The kids are doing great, we are praying we can keep them in the same district. Any and all help is appreciated.