The Enquirer and United Way of Greater Cincinnati have joined forces for the 34th year to help families in need with the Wish List program. This is the last of eight stories that will run this month.
Ariel Watkins has just finished another shift as a grocery store deli clerk. She picked up her two boys from day care, and now they are home on the rented second floor of a two-family house in West Price Hill. An artificial Christmas tree helps brighten a corner of their living room. Watkins sits on a dilapidated sofa, near the table and beat-up chairs someone threw way. She found them on the street.
Watkins, age 34 and single, is describing her life journey. “Up and down,” she says, “with I’m-ready-to-give-up moments, like I can’t do this anymore. But every time I look at them” – she motions to her sons, Amar, 6, and Amir, 4 – “I know I can’t give up on them.”
She says she tries to get her finances in order, but it’s hard. She recently caught up on rent payments. But after spending $3,000 on repairs to her truck, it was stolen and totaled. She then spent $400 to buy a van so she can get to work.
She knows things could be worse, because they have been. About five years ago, while pregnant with Amir, she spent several months in a Salvation Army homeless shelter with Amar, who was an infant. She worked and saved money and eventually found housing.
“I’m always nervous about being homeless again,” she says. “I cannot be homeless again. Not with these two.”
Amir has a sleep disorder, and both boys have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an anger disorder. In recent years, behavioral problems stemming from those issues have resulted in Watkins receiving many calls at work. The boys have been dismissed from several day-care facilities.
“When they tell me to come get my kids, and I don’t have anyone else to get them, I have to suffer that loss from work,” she says. She had secured a manager’s position at her grocery store, she says, but to deal with her children’s crises, she’s had to accept a lesser role and work fewer hours. The financial impact has been substantial.
“I put my kids first, no matter what,” she says. “And I still try to maintain my job, no matter what.”
In the early days of the pandemic, when most childcare facilities closed, Watkins turned to the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati. It worked with schools, doctors and service providers to create a program for Amir and Amar. Both receive therapy. Amar has done well. But Amir’s behavior was such that it was not possible for him to stay in the Y’s program, so Watkins found another daycare. YMCA administrators have said that if his behavior improves, he can return. “I thank God they’re not giving up on my children,” Watkins said.
The family’s wishes include living room furniture and a dinette set; a kitchen mixer and blender; bathroom towels and rug; comforter sets and pillows for beds; boys’ clothes and toys; personal hygiene kits; and winter hats, gloves, boots, and coats for them all.
ARIEL’S WISHES: Household items, clothing and furniture.
ESTIMATED COST: $2,500.
How to help
Donations can be made online at www.uwgc.org/wishlist. You can also mail donations to: The Wish List, P.O. Box 6207, Cincinnati, OH 45206.
John Johnston is the content writer at United Way and a former Enquirer reporter.