Young North Port couple find help and stability with an assist from Season of Sharing

Categories: Stories of Impact, COMMUNITY CARE: Placemaking: Housing, Transportation & Economic Support, Season of Sharing,

Amanda Bell thought tough times were behind her last year when she and her boyfriend Anthony Wicks started their move from Michigan to Florida.

Trapped along the way in Tennessee – first by car troubles and then an ice storm – she wasn't able to head back to Michigan when she learned of her grandmother's death.

One of six siblings, Amanda had always found a quiet refuge in her grandma's home as a little girl. Growing up in the small city of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, at the Canadian border, Amanda would head over to her grandparents' place every Friday after school and stay all weekend.

She and her grandma would shop at stores and stop for ice cream. Her grandma's kindness was legendary, as someone who had taken in numerous foster children through the years.

Amanda lived with her after graduating high school – staying there with Anthony, whom she'd met months earlier at the McDonald's where they both worked.

Amanda, by then 19, was suffocating in her hometown and sick of the cold.

"I always knew I wanted to travel, since middle school," she said. She was eager for better job and life prospects.

The night before hitting the road for Florida with Anthony, she tucked in her grandma one last time.

"Goodbye," Amanda told her grandma, who was by then already sick. "I love you."

For his part, Anthony, then 23, was ready to leave as well. He'd only come north from Florida to visit with his brother in Michigan and scope out the job scene for a time.

When the two became trapped in Tennessee thanks to the broken down car, halfway to Florida, he worked temp jobs while Amanda got retail work. They saved their money to finish the trip and eventually arrived in Florida in March of this year.

The plan was to stay with Anthony's mother in North Port until they could find jobs, get on their feet and rent their own place.

But after they arrived, they encountered one hardship after another.

First, riding Anthony's motorcycle while doing errands, they were both injured in an accident. Amanda broke her wrist and was unable to work for several months, while Anthony needed skin grafts.

But by August, Amanda was back out there, amazed at the region's work options, different from home.

"I was getting jobs left and right," she said.

An affordable place to live, however, was much harder to find.

Taking on service and other jobs at area restaurants, retailers and manufacturing plants, they saved their money. But given the region's severe shortage in workforce housing, they still couldn't afford the rents and deposits at apartment complexes, few of which had openings.

Amanda was shocked. Back home, rents started at about $750 and maxed out around $1,300. But here, they began even higher than that.

But the couple liked the area. And – crammed in at Anthony's mother's home – they were determined to make things work in a place of their own.

Then this fall – just as a church friend helped them locate an Englewood rental that they could afford – mishap struck again.

Anthony was driving to work one morning on Interstate 75 when he detected the smell of burning oil. Soon smoke was pouring into the car. As he pulled off the side of the road, it burst into flames.

The money they had saved for rent and deposits now had to go for a new used car.

"I don't know if we can get the apartment now," Anthony told Amanda.

Amanda had already been reaching out to local nonprofits for help.

Jaohnna Sauls, Young Adult Liaison at Harvest House, continued to call her back to check in.

"She just kept keeping up with us," Amanda said.

As Amanda and Anthony started saving again for the security deposit, Sauls let them know she could get them covered for the first month's rent in October, thanks to $1,500 from Season of Sharing.

Help your neighbors in need: Support Season of Sharing

"Affordable housing in our community is scarce," Sauls said. "It makes it hard for families with children to obtain permanent housing as well as single young adults 18 to 24 years old who are still learning the ropes of adulthood."

Given their age and their employment, Anthony and Amanda fit into two demographic categories that are particularly vulnerable amid the hardships of the regional housing crisis.

According to the updated ALICE Report released earlier this year by United Way Suncoast and its research partner at United For Alice, the majority of residents under the age of 25 are living paycheck to paycheck or worse, while a third to half or more of service sector workers fall below the ALICE threshold (which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed).

Sauls was happy to see a positive outcome for Amanda and Anthony.

"We are so glad they are now safely housed with the help of our team and Season of Sharing funding," she said, praising the hard-working and motivated couple.

Now settled into the small one-bedroom unit, they are slowly accumulating furniture, so far with one used pale-blue leather couch and another foam sofa.

"I like the color," Amanda says of the couch.

Now 20, she's working a fast-food job, and so is Anthony, now 24.

But both have bigger goals. He plans to go for his Commercial Driver License and look into local automotive programs at the community college while Amanda is considering studying forensics or criminal justice.

Sometimes she gets homesick. She misses her grandma. But it wouldn't be the same back in Michigan without her. She doesn't regret her decision to leave and come to Florida.

The two hope one day to move to Sarasota, where they find more fun things to do. But for now, the main plan is to stick to their budget and sock away every penny possible.

Amanda never again wants to re-live that experience of being broke without a home.

"I want to save as much money as I can," she said.

How to help

Season of Sharing was created 22 years ago as a partnership between the Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to get emergency funds to individuals and families on the brink of homelessness in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. There are no administrative fees and no red tape – every dollar donated goes to families in need to help with rental assistance, utility bills, child care and other expenses.

You can donate to Season of Sharing by going to or calling 941-556-2399. You can also mail a check to Season of Sharing, Community Foundation of Sarasota County, 2635 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL 34237.

This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Saundra Amrhein covers the Season of Sharing campaign, along with issues surrounding housing, utilities, child care and transportation in the area. She can be reached at .

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Young North Port couple find help and stability with an assist from Season of Sharing