Power of laughter: Season of Sharing helps Lakewood Ranch couple raising grandkids

Categories: Stories of Impact, Season of Sharing,

Angie and Marvin Gore craved a fresh start.

Behind them was a string of disasters – a tornado, a stroke and a burned-down house.

When they visited Florida five years ago, Manatee County seemed the perfect place to turn the page.

“It was so peaceful, like being on vacation, only all the time,” Angie recalled of the trip.

The two sold their home in Alabama and planted roots in the Sunshine State.

Angie couldn’t imagine that a few years later, nearing 50, she would have a house full of kids – and an eviction notice on their front door.

Clean slate

They were introduced at a football game and became high school sweethearts in rural north Alabama.

Marvin was the kind and quiet type, while Angie was the bubbly one, leaving people in stitches.

Soon after graduation they married, in 1989, and started a family, a girl followed by a boy.

Angie cared for the kids while working as a hairstylist and Marvin worked with her father on the family farm, until he injured his back.

By then Angie was bringing in good money, running her own business as a sales director for Mary Kay products.

Times got tough in 2011, during an unprecedented spate of tornadoes that blasted the region. That included an EF4 multiple-vortex monster that tore through their county, causing $25,000 in damage to their house.

A month later, Marvin suffered a stroke.

Angie strove to stay positive, caring for him and calming his mind. As always, she made him laugh, though inside she wondered, “What could get worse?”

She was about to find out – when a month after that, the house burned down.

The couple suspected electrical damage from the storm, but they never learned the real cause. For weeks, they lived in a hotel. Under-insured, their coverage payout was just enough to buy another home, one in foreclosure.

A few years later, Angie beat a second bout with cancer.

When an opportunity arose soon after to visit Angie’s sister in Lakewood Ranch, they jumped at the chance to get away. Once here, they didn’t want to leave, so they sold their house in Alabama and found a two-bedroom apartment in Lakewood Ranch for $1,300 a month.

They lived simply on Marvin’s disability check and Angie’s job in auto sales.

Nearing their 50s, with both kids grown, Angie thought she and Marvin would ease into retirement – maybe travel across the country in an RV.

But a few years later, their lives turned unrecognizable.

Healing through humor

First, they took in two of their grandchildren, ages 4 and 8 months.

To cover their added expenses, Angie got a higher-paying job at a different auto dealership, working up through sales and management.

By the time the pandemic hit, a third grandchild, an infant, was also under their care.

Their rent went up by several hundred dollars a month, so Angie found another place not much more than their original amount.

But in 2021, with the housing market heating up, the rent at the new place went from $1,400 to $2,300 a month.

A year ago, they moved once more – this time to a house in Bradenton, for $1,600 a month.

By now the expenses – and stress – were mounting.

A court battle was underway for custody of the kids. Angie and Marvin were joining the growing ranks of almost 3 million grandparents nationwide raising their grandchildren.

Angie masked her stress and worries with humor, playing games with the kids and adventures at area parks.

During the pandemic, she found a new outlet: making comedic videos on TikTok, often with “Southernisms” – funny sayings and stories from her youth.

“I think it was my escape thing,” she said. Her way of processing the heartbreak of the court fight, the worry for her grandkids to get them on stable ground.

“No one really knows what’s going on behind that smile.”

Angie garnered more than 23,000 followers, under the handle alabama_angie.

The kids loved it, too.

“Nana, can we do TikTok?” they’d ask. Together they had a blast making pretend videos, ones that she’d keep for herself.

At the dealership, Angie was the one cracking up co-workers, hamming it up with her Alabama accent – teasing the New Yorkers about theirs.

After a class at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre and Humor Institute in Sarasota, she got a chance to do her first stand-up act – on the theatre’s stage – with her family and friends on hand. The thrill kept her tingling for days, the audience’s reaction filling her with joy.

“Maybe this is something I really want to do,” she thought.

She planned to branch out this past summer, contact a few more clubs.

Until disaster once more arrived at her door.

Final straw

The Bradenton house had termites, so in July they moved again – this time back to Lakewood Ranch, to an apartment close to her sister for $2,500 a month.

It would be another tough year, they figured, and then maybe they could start saving for a house.

Then in late July, COVID-19 swept through the home. With Angie out sick from work for three weeks, they fell behind on the rent – just as the custody case was heating up.

A site visit by state child welfare officials was coming at any time, just as the possibility of eviction loomed.

The rental office was unforgiving – letting her know they were starting proceedings.

“It was the first time I’d ever been late on rent,” she said.

Angie didn’t know where to turn.

“It was hard to ask,” she said of seeking help.

Finally she called 2-1-1, which referred her to the nonprofit Turning Points.

Case manager David Webster -- moved by Angie's determination to get back on track -- knew what to do, applying to Season of Sharing to assist with $2,000 toward the back rent.

Angie breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, they could get caught up.

“The people in this community are just amazing,” she said.

She and Marvin turned their focus to the custody case and the site visit went well.

But just days later, with Angie’s mom in town, Angie returned home to find a bright white sign with blue tape on her door.

EVICTION, it read. The family had to get out.

That’s when Angie lost it.

“I hit my knees,” she recalled.

“Pray with me”

Angie and Marvin had faced homelessness before, after the house fire.

But this time was different. Back then she had insurance and a hotel stay.

Now she and Marvin had three little ones under their care – the grandkids at that point 8, 4 and 3.

Angie grabbed the hands of Marvin and her mother.

“Will y’all just pray with me?” she asked.

Afterward, her mind felt clear.

“I know I can figure this out,” she told them, sitting down at the kitchen table. “Let me crunch some numbers.”

Season of Sharing had already approved $2,000. She had $500 of her own to pay toward rent.

Armed with her documents, Angie headed to the courthouse, where a judge threw out the case, stopping the eviction.

Then the apartment complex tacked on more legal fees, bringing her next rent to $3,100. And the same with the one after that.

“I felt like I couldn’t get a break,” she said.

With a small loan from an aunt and uncle, Angie got caught up, though she built up $2,000 in credit card debt and fell behind on a car payment in the process.

For the moment, she has put her comedy aspirations on hold.

“It’s not in the cards for me right now,” she said.

She thinks about taking a second job to supplement her new one at another auto dealership.

Despite the hardships of the last year, her heart is full.

The week before Christmas, she and Marvin received their greatest gift – temporary custody of their grandkids.

For Angie, their happiness is her greatest joy.

"I think God knew what he was doing because I'm always better when I'm helping others," she said. “Life is hard, even harder when you have kids. But it’s also rewarding and a blessing at the same time.”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

See the entire story, as it appeared in Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Jan. 8, 2023, here.

Photo by Mike Lang, Sarasota Herald-Tribune.