#UrbanUpboundMothers: Wendy Cohen, Adapting and Carrying On

by Vismary Vargas (Site Manager of Urban Upbound Far Rockaway office) and Stephanie Kalele (Donor Relations Manager)

When Wendy Mejia Cohen immigrated to the United States in 2013 with her two young sons, she never expected that she would need to collect food from the community food pantry program in her neighborhood. An architect by trade, Wendy knew that she had to make adjustments in terms of work. However, she was not prepared for a global pandemic that pushed thousands of people into unemployment.

Wendy Mejia Cohen and her two kids.

Looking for support during COVID

Before the pandemic, Wendy had to work two jobs to be able to fulfill her family’s everyday needs. She worked as a home health aide at a health care provider and as a maintenance technician for a big chain retail wholesaler. During the pandemic, there was never a doubt that she needed to spend more time taking care of her children, especially because of school closures.

It was never a question for Wendy to choose her sons’ wellbeing over employment. Even though being a home health aide offered some form of flexibility in terms of her work schedule, she still needed to spend more than 25 hours a week away from her children during the pandemic. These were the extra hours that she needed to care for her children, who were suddenly homeschooled. In March 2020, she had to resign from her home health aide position. It was the start of her financial problems. Wendy began struggling to pay rent and fulfill her family’s daily needs.

Urban Upbound’s Support

Wendy walked into the Urban Upbound’s Far Rockaway office in the summer of 2019. Ready to start a new career, she expressed her interest in the home health care industry. Even though she was unable to afford enrollment in the training course, Urban Upbound’s partnership with Edison Home Health Care allowed Wendy to participate in the training free of charge. After her certification, she was immediately hired. Wendy never lost contact with our counselor and benefited from our services beyond just job searching. Wendy utilizes Urban Upbound’s Free Tax Preparation Services to file her annual taxes.

The decrease in Wendy’s income has been making it harder for her to pay rent. Having been introduced to our affordable housing counseling service, Wendy is currently focusing on obtaining affordable housing through the NYC Housing Connect with the help of our HUD-certified housing counselor. Juggling between caring for her children, exploring job opportunities, and finding a place to live, Wendy has a lot on her plate. When she is not spending time with her children, she tries to get as much rest as she can. Throughout her employment and housing journey, Urban Upbound will continue to be there as she needs the extra help.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, Urban Upbound is lifting up the voices of mothers and listening to their particular stories and issues during the pandemic. We spoke with several mothers who have benefited from Urban Upbound’s services. This past year has been hard for everyone, but for parents, they had to endure additional challenges. Follow our Instagram page to read more mother’s stories or subscribe to our newsletter. You can also donate to keep our services running for the New Yorkers who need them the most!

A collection of stories around NYC’s public housing communities curated by Urban Upbound, a non-profit organization with a mission to break cycles of poverty.