Help Rochelle get back on her feet

Remember when you got your first apartment? Were you excited about taking this new step into adulthood?

What if you had to take that first step into young-adult independence by leaving an abusive home with pretty much only what you could carry? You were in your early 20s but didn't have a car of your own or even a driver's license. Through the kindness of co-workers and friends, you were able to get set up with an apartment of your own.

That's pretty much how it went for Rochelle. Some of us declare our independence from our parents or guardians by staying out all night without asking. Rochelle's declaration was a bit more dramatic and took a lot more courage.

Rochelle's long-time nickname is The Roach. You get it. Rochelle sounds kind of like "roach." Don't judge. We were like 14. Rochelle is not at all roach-like, except in one way: she would totally survive a nuclear holocaust. This woman is tough.

Help from Rochelle's co-workers and friends helped her establish a stable life. In the years that followed, Rochelle got a driver's license and her own car. She continued going to work and paying her bills, just like the rest of y'all.

...but then she started to have health problems. At first, the different health problems she was having didn't make sense. There were allergy-like symptoms and even some cancer-like symptoms. Fortunately, Rochelle had access to healthcare during that time, and even though it took a while, a doctor finally made a diagnosis: mastocytosis.

Before Rochelle shared her diagnosis, I had never heard of mast cells or mastocytosis. For those of you with a short attention span, it's as if Rochelle is allergic to everything, but she can't know from day to day what will cause a reaction or how bad the reaction will be. For those of you with slightly longer attention spans, Rochelle says that this page offers a succinct, non-technical description of her condition:

Rochelle's condition has led to some significant life changes for Rochelle. Our beach-loving friend now needs to stay out of the sun. Rochelle needs to carry an EpiPen, and she has at times need to use the EpiPen because her condition can lead to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. She also needs regular treatment to manage her symptoms. For any of you who carry or have needed to use an EpiPen, you know it's not a fun time. In addition to the medications she takes on a regular basis, Rochelle also gets IV medications every two weeks. All of this is to manage the condition, and ideally, AVOID needing to use an EpiPen.

Despite her illness, Rochelle continued to work, but she started to need more time off from work and eventually could not continue doing the physically-demanding work she'd done for so long. Rochelle's symptoms have included joint pain, hives, headaches, and fatigue, but The Roach is tough and reported to work even when she felt unwell. Her other symptoms include fainting, shortness of breath, and anaphylaxis (severe, potentially-life-threatening allergic reaction), and these more severe symptoms force even Rochelle to miss work, or leave early.

Since becoming ill, Rochelle has had difficulty keeping a job. South Carolina has very weak protections for employees, so it's very easy for employers to find excuses to get rid of an employee who needs accommodations. Rochelle is a loyal employee. She worked at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital for over 15 years and had an exemplary record there. Maybe Rochelle even helped to look after you or a member of your family during the time she worked in the emergency department at St. Francis.

After 15 years of loyal service and outstanding performance reviews, St. Francis Hospital fired Rochelle. I'm sure the folks there would give a different reason, but wouldn't other reasons have manifested like a decade or more ago? Fortunately, Rochelle wasn't unemployed for long, finding work as a pharmacy tech at CVS Pharmacy in less than a week.

Unfortunately, her health problems caused her to be fired from that job, too. Neither dismissal was fair, and both were likely discrimination against a disabled person. ...but Rochelle doesn't have the resources to fight that battle right now. Even where the law provides protections, claiming those protections is often difficult, stressful, and expensive, and Rochelle is already battling for her life.

EpiPens are not cheap, and Rochelle should never be without an EpiPen. Visits to the emergency room are not cheap. The medications (there are quite a few) and ongoing treatment Rochelle needs to stay healthy are also not cheap. Also, as my Charleston peeps know, the cost of living in Charleston continues to rise.

Now Rochelle is at risk of being evicted from her apartment because she doesn't have enough money to pay her rent. The late fees she is being charged total almost $200. She has been searching for another job, one that is more compatible with her physical limitations than her previous ones, but she hasn't found anything yet. Even when she does find a new job, that first paycheck won't come in time to save her from being evicted.

Rochelle has been doing everything she can to get through this difficult time on her own. She has applied for unemployment, which has not yet been approved. If the unemployment is approved (ONLY if it is approved), her renter's insurance will pay $500 a month toward her rent for two months. She has also sought assistance from local charities and churches, but what assistance has been offered, while greatly appreciated, is not enough to cover her immediate expenses.

Rochelle needs help NOW. Stress exacerbates her illness. Looking for a job is hard enough when you're feeling well and are in not in danger of being homeless. Even so, The Roach is applying for jobs. She's sending out her resume and making phone calls. Don't think Rochelle is waiting for a handout. I’m writing this because I think anyone who works this hard through this many challenges deserves a helping hand. Before she was sick, Rochelle would sometimes work 100 hours a week. This woman is NOT lazy! ...but she needs a break right now.

I'm asking you all to join me in helping my friend through a difficult time.

Rochelle doesn't have parents or grandparents to turn to. As some of you may already know, Rochelle's mother passed away when she was in 10th grade. Before that, Rochelle's father suffered a severe head injury and is severely and permanently disabled. After Rochelle's grandmother passed away, her father had to move into a long-term care facility in another state.

Let's all work together to keep Rochelle from losing her home. She needs a stable base of operations for her job search, y'all.

Fellow Middleton High School alumni, Rochelle needs your help. If everyone in our class could chip in like $20, that would be enough to carry Rochelle through this difficult time. If you don't have $20, chip in what you can. Feel free to chip in more if you've been blessed with good fortune.

Sons, daughters, and nonbinary folk of Charleston, SC and those proud to have grown up West of the Nasty, Rochelle needs your help. Have you been wondering how it is that fewer and fewer people you meet are from Charleston? This is one way that it happens: the cost of living increases, and people gradually get forced out of the city. For too many Charleston residents it only takes a small misfortune to upend years of stability. Don't let that happen to Rochelle. Please contribute what you can.

Generous people everywhere, please help my friend. Invest in Rochelle's well-being. 

Donations can't sustain Rochelle forever. What she really needs is a job. If any of you have leads on jobs, please get in touch with Rochelle. She doesn't want handouts, but she will hand you her resume (or email it...whatever). The Roach wants a damn job. The ideal job would have flexible hours, possibly even the opportunity to work from home. Due to her illness, Rochelle can't be out in the Charleston heat.

Let's do this, people! You can't right all the wrongs in the world, but this is a long series of wrongs you CAN contribute to righting. Please do whatever you can to help Rochelle.
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