Unloading boxes off of a semi in the predawn is not how most 20-year-olds envision spending their mornings, but for Chezerea Ortiz this job offered her a way to keep her family afloat.
It wasn’t always that way. Her father, Mark, worked as an HVAC technician and, along with his wife, Tiffany, created a loving and stable home for Chezerea and her brother, Marcus. But this idyll was broken when Mark suffered a stroke, most likely related to his undiagnosed diabetes. Eight months later, he died at age 45. Because he couldn’t work during his illness and didn’t own any life insurance, his family found itself in a dire financial situation.
Tiffany had her own health issues at the time and couldn’t work. It was then that something deep inside Chezerea shifted. “I put the survival of my family above any plans for my future,” she says. That meant backbreaking work just so she could make the weekly payments at a motel for her mother and brother.
Three years later, the family’s income still hovers at the poverty level, but they are doing a little better. The family was able to move to a small apartment. It’s a bare-bones existence, but the family is happy that they no longer have to move from place to place. Chezerea also had the chance to continue her education. With scholarships and some help from her grandparents, Chezerea recently completed a certification program to be a dental assistant. In addition, Marcus, now 20, got his GED and is about to start community college.
These recent achievements belie the difficult road that the Ortiz family continues to walk. “If my father had made preparations for his death, things would be different now. It’s a sad fact, but children must sometimes learn from their parents’ mistakes,” Chezerea says.