Part-time employee at Syracuse YWCA overcomes homelessness: ‘Having a place to stay gives me hope’
Who is Bennie Mae Rucker?
Race / ethnicity (self identify): Black, multiracial
Resident: South Side, Syracuse, New York
Education level: Associate degree in computer networking
Job status: Employed
Occupation: Administrative assistant at the YWCA
Hourly wage: $9 an hour with benefits
Number of children: 2
Number of residents living in household: 1
A sit down with Bennie Mae Rucker
Q: Can you share more about your children and household?
A: I gave birth to three, but I have two. They’re 27 and 23. I’m a grandmother of three. … I live (alone) in the (YWCA) residential program on Burt Street. The rest of my family is in Syracuse. (The YWCA provides women and their children with a residence program that contains 55 units of affordable housing.)Q: Can you describe a brief work history and any special skills?
A: I’ve been an administrative assistant off and on for the last 15 years, which includes data processing as well as different types of Microsoft. I’ve been at various places for the last 15 years. I’ve been here for a year and two and a half months now. I take pride in everything I do. I’m really into making sure everything is organized.
Q: What do you like most about the job you have?
A: The people. Sometimes not so challenging stuff, but I like it. I think it’s mostly the people.
Q: How do you get around Syracuse? What do you use for transportation?
A: Bus and walk.
Q: Right now, what is your biggest challenge you face daily?
A: Getting up, because I have a bad back and a bad neck. One thing is I don’t have to get up so early because she (co-worker, Francine) does the early shift now. But when I did, I had to get up extra early just to get myself motivated.
Q: Are you currently looking for another job?
A: Yes I am, mainly because this is not really a permanent job position, since it’s for us to get ourselves back into the workforce. With it being part time, we have the option to look for other positions, other jobs — as long as we get the right time span to be able to start that other job and leave here.
Q: What are your options for job searching in Syracuse?
A: Not many. I get requests a lot for my email but not all of them respond back once I respond to them, or they’re not what I’m looking for. Sometimes I might not have the sufficient qualifications that they want, or it’s something I really can’t do because it involves lifting. I interviewed for this temporary agency for a call-center position and it went pretty good, but I wasn’t aggressive enough. It happens. Sometimes I can be overqualified or underqualified. But I’m not going to give up until my spiritual adviser tells me I don’t have to work. If he ever tells me that, then I’ll know it.
Q: Do you consider yourself underemployed right now?
A: I kind of do. I’ve always been used to full-time work. As well, most of my employment has been over minimum wage. But I’m grateful for this job and this position because it has been a little time before I got here that I was unemployed as well as homeless, and so just being back in the workforce no matter what the wage is — I’m grateful for it.
Q: Is there anything that you’d want people to know about you as an underemployed person?
A: I love people. I love helping people to a certain extent. I mean, I can’t help them financially, but if someone needs an ear or whatever, I’m usually there. I do what I can for people, when I can.
Q: What gives you hope?
A: What gives me hope mostly is basically just being able to have a place to stay, after almost two years of not having a place. I wasn’t on the streets or anything like that; I was in a shelter. Never been in a shelter before. Never been completely homeless, where I wasn’t staying with family or friends or something. Having a place to stay gives me hope.
Q: What causes you to feel discouraged?
A: What makes me feel discouraged is not having what I need — just getting by. Because I only have the one income, so I do just barely get by. But sometimes I really do get discouraged from it. It’s one of the reasons I really push myself to look for another job, even through I don’t want to.
Q: What is a typical weekend like for you?
A: A typical weekend always starts off for me with working on Fridays, and going to a meeting on Friday. And then Saturday, I’m usually either in a meeting or at an event, or cleaning. But Sunday, usually I’m at church, cleaning, or church then meeting and cleaning. I’m in a meeting almost every day.
Q: Do you have a hobby? What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I make jewelry and different type of flower arrangements. If someone asks me if I can fix something or make something, I see if I can or not. If not, at least I tried.
Q: What is the job you would like to have now?
A: The ultimate job that I would love to have right now is to have my own business. Being an administrative assistant is my second favorite love; my first favorite love is doing my jewelry and my flowers. But if I had no other choice but to work for somebody else, my ultimate job is working for a company, being an administrative assistant — with growth to it.
If you’ve been following this series by Inspiration for the Nation, it’s now a good time to take stock of your level of financial preparedness, particularly in today’s uncertain business/political climate.