• Michelle Lasota

Love, Faith and Legacy of Hope

Look at us After all these years together Look at us After all that we've been through Look at us

Still leaning on each other If you wanna see how true love should be Then just look at us… (Vince Gill)

August 1994, Atlanta, Georgia

In preparation for relocation far up the east coast, Stephanie completes one tiresome task after another in the static heat of the late southern summer. In need of some minor home repairs to assist with the property sale, she agrees to call upon local handyman Jim at the advice of her realtor. Not long after that call, an unexpected friendship developed between the two right from the start.

Shortly before her scheduled move to Boston, Stephanie invited Jim to a celebratory birthday lunch. It was over coffee and cake that Stephanie shared with Jim, the many doubts she carried about her impending relocation. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, Jim looked at her from across the table and proclaimed, “you are my soulmate”, while a shocked Stephanie stared blankly back at him. Despite his unanticipated profession, Stephanie completed her move to Boston, but not without Jim following soon after.

“To this day I still don’t know how that happened, but I think it was just in the stars, we were supposed to be together” Jim says. “We just ended up falling in love and that was it, nothing was going to come between us”.

July 1996, Martha’s Vineyard

This begins their marriage of twenty-four years and counting as Jim and Stephanie are the first couple ever to take vows in front of the infamous lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard. Jim recalls the couple personally providing round trip transportation to the Justice of the Peace in comedic fashion to ensure nothing would stand in the way of legalizing their love. We have pretty much been inseparable since says Jim; until recently, due to the cancer and the treatments and this latest surgery. “I can probably count on one hand how many times we’ve been apart at night in the past 24 years. Our love is so deep that we have mostly just stuck to ourselves throughout the years, which is why I suppose we don’t have a huge support network, but it’s what had worked for us.”

Jim speaks about almost meeting his love many times before their paths finally crossed, as he recalls memories of their whereabouts in earlier days. He tells me, when Stephanie and I shared memories of life before our love, we realized so many times we were in the same place at the same time but just hadn’t crossed paths. We chuckle together about the validity of serendipity’s cruel tease, however worthy of the wait for what destiny had in mind.

After a final relocation back to Philadelphia, Stephanie found work as an executive secretary at Drexel University, while Jim worked daily in the construction business. Life was good and full of love, laughter, music and adventure that is, until Stephanie unexpectedly fell ill.

Unforeseen to this star-crossed couple were the words no one ever wants to hear, “you have Cancer”. Stephanie’s cancer diagnosis has since morphed in complexity and severity over the last decade; more recently rendering her in need of multifaceted surgical interventions, intricate care and daily trips to the hospital for life sustaining treatments.

The irrefutable need for Stephanie to secure quality health care coupled with the direct care responsibility placed on the pair after each hospitalization did not arise in absence of financial hardship. Stephanie’s progressive illness rendered her disabled and prevented her from continued employment. Jim’s responsibility as primary caregiver and head of household grew more daunting by the day, requiring him to spend increasing amounts of time navigating a multitude of necessary medical appointments with his beloved, leaving less and less time for functional employment.

We quickly fell behind on rent payments while other bills kept coming in, says Jim. “We kept telling ourselves, we got into this, so we are going get to out of it. Then swiftly, just like a domino effect or chain reaction, we didn’t realize how fast our financial instability was falling until suddenly it was simply too late”. Just like that we were served an eviction letter and began living in our car for the next year and a half until eventually even that sense of shelter was removed from us and the car was impounded. Living on a daily dose of faith, hope and love, Jim and Stephanie are currently homeless.

“The hardest part has been to put my pride aside” says Jim. Stephanie’s fragile health has kept her hospitalized often, “so she was never on the street as often as I have been” Jim tells me. “There are times when I want people to know that I am homeless and in need of assistance and there are times when I don’t want people to know at all”.

No stranger to hard work, Jim spends his days split between searching for employment and panhandling; this of course lies between limited opportunities for hospital visitation to reclaim his position by Stephanie’s side. Jim goes on to say, “when things get tough in relationships some couples may argue and fight, not us, whenever things get tough, we just hold each other tighter, determined to get to the other side.” The inability to physically remain by the side of his bride, brings about indescribable heartache that was palpable through the tremble in his voice as we spoke.

The equation is this: One fated couple + a cancer diagnosis + unemployment + homelessness + a pandemic = the need for urgent support stat!

Jim tells me, “once covid hit-forget it! The limited resources we did have access to quickly vanished and that was it…it suddenly felt impossible to EVER get out of this situation. However, my wife and I have always kept our faith and we believe in Divine Intervention”.

Legacy of Hope recently learned of Jim & Stephanie’s situation through a hospital generated referral. With the couple’s permission Legacy of Hope’s Emergency Support Network was instantly activated beginning the critical and time sensitive commitment to reunite this couple in a stable environment, off the streets and into an apartment of their own. With the establishment of a safe and secure space to sustain basic human needs, the pair can focus on Stephanie’s health and everything in between, once again from the comfort of each other’s arms.

Please help us so that we can continue to support Jim and Stephanie with fresh, healthy groceries, put a roof over their heads, and ongoing support for job placement.

Donate here: www.legacyofhope.online/PhiladelphiaEmergencyPatientFund

This is not the end of the story for Jim and Stephanie, with your help, this story will have a happy ending. "Remember: There is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end" (Scott Adams).

Written by: Michelle Lasota

Photography by: Bryan Lathrop

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