Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust
As it happens, we have been apart two years.
And now, she has passed away after a brave battle with cancer.
My family needs your help.I first met Wendy Robin Lachs 30 years ago this September. We became college sweethearts, then we fell in love. We were each other's first love.
Upon graduation, I broke her heart by ending our romance. That was the first time my name changed.
I went from "Don" to being known as "Slime" among her family and friends. And I guess I deserved it.
But you know what's interesting about slime? It never ever really goes away, no matter how hard you try.
Just like love.
A decade after we first met, we found each other again.
We fell in love all over again, and this time, it stuck.
She said yes. Ten years after we split up, we wed.
It was and remains the happiest day of my life.
She was and still is the most beautiful woman I know.
Within weeks of the birth of our first born, she survived a cancer scare, and we counted our blessings. Now we have three children: Sean, Sophie and Liam.
Wendy dubbed them our first, second and LAST child. Sean is 17 and driving, Sophie is 13, and our Cub Scout, Liam, is 9.
They are wonderful, compassionate and smart kids, and we are very proud. I say that the best of everything I've produced in 30 years of TV news, are my children. When their mom got sick they stepped up around the house and helped out tremendously as things at home changed.
I was not there with them because of how I've changed.
I am transgender. My transition in 2013 broke Wendy's heart a second time. Not because she could not accept me, but because I was not honest with her, or myself, about what I needed to do to live authentically. The children have been tremendous, loving and have adapted well.
Transition was hard.
Separation has been stomach-wrenching.
Cancer is the greatest challenge we as a family have faced, and we fought it together as hard as we could.
But the energy and time that Wendy needed to rest and to live a normal life was chipped away by the constant drumbeat of bills arriving in the mail, stacking up unpaid, the notices that our family's Health Spending Account was tapped-out because of the expensive medications she needed and we couldn't afford, the collector calls ringing every hour filling up our answering machine and cellphone voicemail boxes. The stress alone of our financial crisis was taking a toll on Wendy's strength, as she worried constantly about how we will provide for our children.
We wound up in this position after my transition cost me my six-figure broadcasting career. We lived expecting that salary would never go away and lived beyond our means. Our rainy day fund was sufficient for a shower, not a tsunami. The upheaval that followed left me unemployed, my reputation in tatters, wiped out our savings, zapped our chldren's college funds, turned our credit to crud, emptied our 401ks at considerable expense thanks to hefty fees, we got audited and we nearly lost our home to foreclosure. Thanks to the generosity of Wendy's family and our friends and our neighbors, and some skillful negotiating with our credtors, we survived until I finally found a job. Even though it was all the way across the country, I leaped at the chance to provide for my family again, against Wendy's advice.
It was this past March, and we were all living under one roof again, and getting along, and we agreed the kids need their father, even a transgender one.
But after barely scraping by last summer, I knew without a steady income we would be in trouble this summer, and nobody else was offering me a chance to prove I could be a journalist again.
I took the job even though it paid 25% of what I used to earn, and I applied for part-time jobs all over town, at retail stores, at fast food restaurants, and of course, at television stations. No one would hire me unless I could work 40 hours -- part-time -- and with a demanding full-time job like mine I couldn't make that commitment. So, I scrimped and I saved. I gave up my car, and I walked to work when I could, to save the $1 bus fare. I collected cans and bottles to save enough money to buy food, and whatever I have left, I sent home to support my famly, since Wendy didn't earn a paycheck over the summer.
I love my job, and my bosses have been more than understanding, and my coworkers more than generous in tolerating me as I struggled with stress beyond what I can handle. It was so soul-crushing this news, because I moved to Los Angeles with the hope of buildng something up from zero, for me to move on with my life and for Wendy to find herself, too, and perhaps find love. She wouldn't be the first person to fall out of love after a spouse's gender transition. All I wanted is for her to be happy, and to keep our kids from hurting because of our split. Yes, we fought, but we remained friends, after a rocky struggle that led to her filing for divorce just before I left for the West Coast. I have tried to move on, yet I hope the truth is obvious: I never stopped loving this woman with all my heart and soul.
For a long time she was a single mother, and I was 2,907 miles away, I could not do enough to help my family. Wendy went to chemo every other week, seven times, and required iron infusions the weeks in between.
But she lost so much ability to hold down food following cancer surgery in the fall of 2015 that she weakened, lost weight, and the chemo became too arduous. Ultimately, and very unexpectedly, she went into shock and within hours she slipped away, on January 20, 2016, one week before her birthday, surrounded by her children and her family and friends.
Sadly, it was Wendy's wish that they not know her prognosis had changed and that the cancer had spread. This news came as a shock to them, and to almost everyone. She had just weeks before returned to work, which was a psychological boost but it took a terrible physical toll. And her last weeks were so unendingly painful that as much as we all miss her and wish for a different outcome, it is a blessing that at least she no longer suffers.
I have moved back home and given up my job and my career. Thank goodness for our neighbors and friends who have pitched in with meals and prayers and rides and tons of support.
It seems like yesterday that Wendy and I talked via FaceTime about how to stretch the pennies and coins we collect until the next payday at the end of the month, I recalled a story I reported:
A newlywed couple in New Mexico set up a "GoFundMe" account to raise money for their cause.
And I recalled that early this morning I recommended that a facebook friend looking for help in a nasty divorce case set up a "GoFundMe" account to get herself a lawyer.
That's when I decided it was time I set one up for Wendy and the kids, with her permission. But because our privacy has been invaded by the media so many times since 2013, I did not reveal any details about Wendy's cancer, or her prognosis, or any medical information. She did not want to give interviews, and we did not consent to the use of photographs of our children or Wendy, here or anywhere online, for any purpose whatsoever. Leave us some dignity, please.
I am not so proud that I will not beg to help my family. I once found myself trying to justify the money I spent on airfare to be at my daughter's side for her most important day, her Bat Mitzvah, and to take my little boy to a ballgame and to go fishing, and to give my firstborn a hug that is long overdue. Seeing them every day on FaceTime and talking via text messages and phone calls are poor substitutes for a hug from our brave young man, my beautiful girl and the little guy. A transcontinental plane trip once a month for just a weekend is a significant expense, but I needed it for my own mental health, too. The loneliness and the great distance between us — especially when that terrible day came —are my crosses to bear for life.
We have been blessed to receive generous loans and gifts from so many who have graciously offered to let us repay them when we are back on our feet; we cannot ask you who have already given so much to give again, and you have our eternal thanks. Some of my wonderful cousins and all of Wendy's family likewise has been more than generous both financially and in lending their time and assistance.
Now Wendy's industrious brother Robert has done his homework and we're ready to transition what was Wendy's Fund into the Ennis Family Scholarship Trust. Every penny raised here will go to the kids, through Robert. Scroll down to the end to learn of a way you can contribute to the trust and the children directly without donating online.
This is not for me. I never took a penny to support my transtion, my rent or for my sustenance, nor will I, as my dreams will wait. The money donated here will go directly to the children's accounts.
This fund was established so our children could have a life free of worry and not spend every day watching their mother keel over from the pain of chemo, which helped her and yet hurt her, and the medications which rendered her unconcsious for hours at a time. This was created so Wendy could concentrate on getting well and not worry that the power will be turned off. This came to be so Sophie could have one last summer camp experience and the Bat Mitzvah she dreamed of. All Liam wanted is for me to be by his side, take him places and buy him ice cream. Our Sean, ever so strong, got himself a lifeguard job, and became the man of the house at the tender age of 16. Now he's 17, his sister 13 and Liam is 9. This fund is now dedicated to their future.
If I could have, I would have never left them. If I could have, I would still be that man Wendy married. But I am who I am, and that is still their father, and the person who loves Wendy more than life itself.
Any and every contribution has been and will be appreciated. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and for allowing me to share our story with you. If nothing else, please pray or think good thoughts or tell someone you love them, in Wendy's name, because I do believe that good comes from good, and right now, it's our children who need it desperately.
July 18, 2015
Revised February 12, 2016
PS My first and foremost concern is, as always, to secure our children's future, and this is how you can help me accomplish that goal. But if you prefer to not donate online, since GoFundMe takes a chunk out of every donation, please send a check payable to: "Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust," to Wendy's brother:
1729 E Prairie Ave
Wheaton, IL 60137
It’s been 10 months since my last update and there is much to tell.
Our immediate need is to buy books for Sean’s first year as a freshman at the University of Chicago, beginning in just under 3 weeks!
Thanks to this fund, a generous scholarship and my careful savings, I’ve covered all of his other expenses, but I never expected his books would cost $2,000! And that’s for mostly used books. We’re taking advantage of specials offered by the university book store and Amazon.com, too, but I cannot meet this immediate and urgent need on my own.
We have everything else he’ll need for tuition, his dorm room and board, plus a little spending money. Sean and I decided it would be least expensive for us to drive to his campus, get him set up and then I’ll drive home alone. I’m so proud of our eldest boy! He’s worked hard to save all these months, working three jobs, and I’ve put aside what I can, too.
His sister Sophie just turned sweet 16 and is preparing to take her drivers permit test in two weeks! I had hoped to enroll her in drivers’ ed classes next month, but given the cost — $600!! —- that will have to wait. I’ve given her some basic lessons already but let’s not forget that my own dad nicknamed me “Crash Ennis” for a reason. Sean took this same course and I’ll afford it, eventually.
Last week, Sophie sang a lovely duet with a professional singer who donated his time and talent for her birthday party. She is taking part in no fewer than four choirs this year, including our temple’s adult choir, so I’m continuing to support her singing lessons at $300 month which have been (pardon the pun) instrumental in her personal growth and essential to her emotional well-being.
Thank goodness, my daughter and her brother Liam — who turns 12 in a few weeks and is now 13 months away from his bar mitzvah (and yes, I’m saving up for that already, too) — both qualify for reduced price lunches at school this year. The only expense I haven’t covered yet is Boy Scouts, and they’ve been very understanding. I consider this experience to be very important to his growth as a young man, especially given that his own dad is a woman!
In addition to the government assistance we receive, I’ll be supporting the kids and myself thanks to new work I’m started as an editor for one news website, a writer at another, and marketing consulting work I’ve been doing for a third outfit since May. These are part time jobs I do from home; there are no health or retirement benefits, and the work comes and goes. At most I hope it’ll pay about $700/month, all told... once they pay me, that is.
Unfortunately, my meager unemployment of $30 week ran out last month and I’ve yet to land another full-time job. I am still trying, of course, but nobody is leaping at the chance to hire a middle aged woman who’s been out of work since January and was let go 2 months after starting right after she came out as transgender to her coworkers. That was a customer service job at a local franchise of a well-known massage chain. Legal proceedings have begun, regarding my dismissal, but these things take time.
This weekend I’m taking advantage of an offer to attend an all-expenses paid media conference in California, with hopes of networking and perhaps landing new work. If they weren’t paying for my flight, my hotel and my meals, I’d be staying home. This will be my first big trip since major surgery this summer, which I fought to get 100-percent covered by my health insurance.
Speaking of meals: we do have another mouth to feed: Dahlia is a puppy we adopted over the summer as part of a new TV series on the CW. She didn’t cost us a cent (to adopt) and we got a free backyard makeover out of the deal, but of course she’s got to eat! Fortunately, I now have a little money coming in to cover that extra expense, in the form of rent a friend is paying to live with us. And it helps having an extra adult around who’s handy and a great cook! The kids and I are very grateful to my BFF Kati.
But as a single mom and widow earning poverty line wages and putting every penny into raising and feeding three kids, a cat and a dog and myself, there is hardly any money left for me to set aside for these important educational expenses, like Sean’s books, Soph’s driving lessons and Liam’s scouting.
Today I’ll go to the town food pantry to pick up my share of donated groceries so we can survive the next two weeks. I have an appointment next month to prove my need for energy assistance so the utilities won't turn off our heat, water and electricity during the winter. And in addition to especially kind donations from our town and gifts from relatives, all three kids have everything they need for back to school clothes. I’m still wearing clothes that are several sizes too big, thanks to my weight loss (down 45 pounds since last year!). And when the children or I need something essential, we rely on Goodwill and other consignment shops for “new-to-us” items, provided I can afford the gas.
Everyday is both a struggle and an opportunity, and we are surviving, together. I wish it were easier but I won’t deny, we are all very happy.
Thank you again to all who have already donated to this fund so generously. I share it again not for me but for my kids, who have only me and the kindness of friends and strangers to support their dreams.
My brother in law is still collecting money for this cause, our children's education. He established a trust in 2016, which has separately raised a few hundred dollars that we’ve not yet touched. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or if you would, please donate here via GoFundMe.
I am growing in my role as a stay at home mom, even though I still go by the title of "dad." It is the hardest job I've ever loved, and truth be told, I think I'm pretty good at it! My only sorrow is not being able to provide for the kids as a breadwinner, but I am trying.
I’ve applied for 350 positions, written hundreds of cover letters, and after all that I’ve had two interviews and one “get to know you but I don’t have a job for you” lunch. I’m not giving up, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m terrified for the future. The unemployment money won’t last forever; it will get us through the holidays and not much further.
And I have no idea how I will afford to pay for Sophie's trip with People to People next summer. It's a singular opportunity offered to a handful of students nationwide. Among the cities these students from all across the USA will travel to include Paris, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Vatican City, Rome, Pompeii, Bari, Olympia and Athens.
There, Sophie will meet young people like herself, kids who are curious about America, exchange stories and make friendships that the organization hopes will forge better relations with our international neighbors around the world. And like it did for her brother, this excursion is certain to bolster her opportunities for college. But the cost is astronomical — $6,090, after the $300 deposit I already paid.
Toward this end, I'm reaching out to tell you about a special savings account fund at Dutch Point Credit Union, where every penny goes toward Sophie's travel expense. I have also reached out to local charitable groups like the American Legion, Rotary Club and Knights of Columbus for sponsorships. Your help is appreciated as well!
Thank you to everyone who has already been so generous to the children's education fund. I'm not asking for help for me, but for Sophie, and for Liam and also for Sean, who instead of saving every penny for college next year has been helping here and there when we are in between unemployment checks. I'm determined to find a job, any job, to support my children on my own.
Until then, I hope if you have the good fortune to be able to add to this education fund, that you help me help my children achieve their dreams. As before, none of this money goes to me.
If that assurance isn't enough, a trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund can send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137
Today he accepted an offer to attend the University of Chicago, which has granted him a financial aid package covering 90% of his tuition, room and board!
His offer requires him to take a gap year, which he plans to use to work and to get an internship. He's not permitted to take any classes during the interim, but it's a small sacrifice to attend one of the best schools in the country.
We're very fortunate that Wendy's brother Rob lives in a suburb of Chicago, as do our cousins and their mom and step mom and their stepbrothers. So it'll be great that Sean has family nearby and won't be so alone.
Wendy and I would have loved to see him in D.C. given his interest in political science, but this was Sean's first choice. That's why I pulled out all the stops, and there can be no doubt his mom worked her magic from above, so that together with Sean, we made this happen.
We're all so very proud of him, and excited about his future.
Congrats, Sean! And again, we thank you for supporting our children's dreams!
"I think I'm going home today."
On Friday we visited her grave for the unveiling, a Jewish tradition. Sophie stunned me by asking the Rabbi to photograph us; Sean declined participating and we respected his wishes.
Our struggle continues... and I'm not ashamed to ask for your help supporting our children's education. Sean wants to go to college this fall, and the Feds took a look at our "prior prior" earnings and decided I need to contribute $12,000! That's so unfair and while I am appealing it my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
I'm resharing this because my brother in law is still collecting money for this cause, our children's education. As a single mom and widow earning poverty line wages and putting every penny into raising and feeding three kids, there is no money for me to set aside for savings or college.
Tomorrow I go to the town food pantry to pick up my share of donated groceries so we can survive the next two weeks. I have an appointment this week to prove my need for energy assistance so the utilities won't turn off my heat and electricity during the winter. And I am still waiting on one of my five employers to pay me for work I did July through November. Another hasn't paid me a dime since the spring of 2016.
Thank you to all who have donated to this fund so generously. I share it again not for me but for my kids, who have only me and the kindness of friends and strangers to support their dreams.
A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or donate here via GoFundMe.