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Ashley Kiser (Wilkin County Family Services) Photo

Ashley Kiser (Wilkin County Family Services)

Beating the Odds at Wilkin County Family Services

By Carrie McDermott • Daily News  carriem@wahpetondailynews.com

Ashley Kiser, 29, is a single working mother of four who grew up on welfare assistance, raised by a single mom who abused drugs and alcohol. Her future looked bleak, but instead of repeating the cycle of poverty, she’s breaking it. She’s in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state’s welfare reform program for low-income families with children. The program helps families transition from joblessness to employment and includes both cash and food assistance. This is not the welfare program of 20 years ago. Minnesota Family Investment Program clients have to be employed to receive assistance. There is also a limit as to how long each individual can receive assistance — 60 months.

 

Although Kiser was born and lives with a brain tumor and suffers from a number of other serious health issues, including arthritis, migraines and fibromyalgia, she has no interest in applying for disability insurance. “Every day my mom would say, ‘Ashley, you’re living with a tumor,’” she said, urging Kiser to go on disability. “I told her, when I can’t think for myself, when I can’t feed myself, when I can’t walk, then I’ll have one of my kids put me on it. Until then, my kids need me to work,” Kiser said. “I prefer to leave that to people who need it. I can work, I’m in my 20s.”

 

As part of Minnesota Family Investment Program, this strong-willed young woman is getting help from the Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program, which contracts with Wilkin County Family Services. She’s been in the program for just one year and is considered a success.

 

Moving to Wilkin County from Virginia more than a year ago, she fled an abusive relationship and an area with a high cost of living for a single parent. She worked for a month at the local Walmart, she said, but needed a job with regular hours to fit her children’s schedule — three are in school, one is in full-time daycare. She quit that job and visited with the staff at family services for assistance.

 

In the past year, through the Minnesota Family Investment Program program, Kiser has gone through job training in Moorhead, Minn., and become a certified nursing assistant. Within a month of being certified, she was hired at the St. Francis Nursing Home in Breckenridge, Minn.

 

“She’s a success story,” said Marie Hoffman, with Rural Minnesota Concentrated Employment Program. “She has her own health issues and she’s a success. Some people would try to get on disability, but she has gone above and beyond with four children. She’s no longer getting cash assistance; she’s working her way off.” When she came into contact with Hoffman, the agency paid $700 to put Kiser through the CNA course. “We got her going in this type of work, and now look at how much more money is in our state because she is now out working and paying her taxes,” Hoffman said.

 

Kiser, who dropped out of high school but has since earned her GED, readily admits being raised in an unfavorable, difficult environment — her father left the family when she was 5, and her mother struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for years. “I raised my mom,” Kiser said matter-of-factly. She said her stepfather was also a “bad alcoholic.” Kiser grew up in Jamestown, N.D., where “everyone knows you, your mom, your brother and sister. They know our story. They frowned on us.” When she turned 17, tired of taking care of her mom, she left and ended up in Virginia with the hopes of starting over in a place where nobody knew her family. She met and married her oldest two children’s father, who was abusive. After six years, she left him.

 

Earning her GED while supporting four children has been one of her greatest achievements, she said. “To see my three oldest screaming my name, saying ‘go mom,’ that was the moment that I knew I could do this for my kids,” Kiser said, getting emotional.

 

Kiser said her mother has been sober for about 10 years now, and the two have a good relationship. When one of Kiser’s favorite nursing home residents passed away earlier this year, she was so devastated she wasn’t sure she could continue to be a CNA. She called her mom to talk about it, she said, who told her she was so sad because she “has heart.” She added that St. Francis is a “great place to work.” “Going to work is a vacation for me,” Kiser said. “You’re spending your time with people who are in the last days of their lives there. I always remember from my CNA class, to take care of them like they were your grandparents."

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