OCEAN PINES – Words like “angel” and “miracle” have been seldom heard as the recession drags on and the unemployment rolls grow, but for at least one afternoon this week, they were the only words that seemed appropriate.
A local family, including a single mother with four children under the age of seven, found a new place to call home in Ocean Pines this week, and perhaps more importantly a leg up, thanks in large part to a generous couple and county agency that provides a safety net for people in similar situations.
By Wednesday night, the young single mom and her kids were enjoying dinner around their own dining room table and baking cookies in their own kitchen as they started a new, rent-free lease on life.
Sarah Weiss and her four children, ages 3-7, had been living in a shelter at Diakonia in West Ocean City for several months. Like many others in the area, Weiss lost her job several months ago and when she could no longer afford to pay the rent, she moved her young family into Diakonia.
When Weiss contacted Family Connections, an arm of the larger Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services (WYFCS) program, a plan was set in motion to provide assistance to the young family, help that culminated in a rent-free home in Ocean Pines for at least the next year.
A few months back, local couple Jim and Reena Oettinger purchased the Ocean Pines property with the intention of providing a residence for a family in need in the area. Reena Oettinger serves on the Board of Directors for the Family Connections program and, as the name implies, a link was made with Weiss and her family.
The Oettingers agreed to provide the Ocean Pines home for the Weiss family free of charge for at least 12 months, providing a stable home environment for the children while Sarah attempts to put the pieces back together.
“She’s a single mom with four young kids and she came to us looking for any kind of assistance we could provide,” said Family Connections Director Lori Carson. “She was fairly new to the area and wasn’t really familiar with some of the resources that were available to her when she came to us looking for help. We’re a resource center for people in Worcester County and try to help anybody in need.”
For the Oettingers, purchasing a house in Ocean Pines to provide a home for a family in need seemed like a logical thing to do, according to Reena Oettinger.
“We do some charitable giving, but we hadn’t done much locally,” she said. “We volunteer for different things, but we really wanted to do something meaningful. This was basically Jim’s idea. He wanted to buy a house to help give somebody who is struggling a little leg up, and Sarah turned out to be a good match. She just needs a little boost and this can provide that for her.”
Jim Oettinger agreed Sarah Weiss and her family were good candidates for the rent-free house they were providing for a year. He said the donation will likely help the young mother get back on her feet without the albatross of a big mortgage or a huge rent payment.
“Like so many other people right now, she’s just the victim of a set of unfortunate circumstances that led her to Family Connections,” he said. “Hopefully, this will give her a chance to catch her breath a little, to get back to moving in a positive direction again. In the meantime, she and her kids will have a safe, warm, stable place to live and the kids will be able to stay in the same school, make some new friends and get a shot at a normal life for a while.”
For their part, the decision to buy the modest home in the Pines and turn it over to the Weiss family rent-free for a year was an easy one.
“The way things are going with real estate right now and the prices of some of these properties, it really isn’t a risk for us and we are fortunate to have the means to do it right now,” he said. “They can live here for a year rent-free, or longer if they need more time. Maybe in a year’s time, Sarah will be back on her feet and ready to find her own place. If not, she can stay, or if she is ready to move on, maybe we can help another family in the same way.”
While the Oettingers are providing the house, Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services and its Family Connections program are providing the support system to make it work, including help with job searches and any other assistance the family needs. Meanwhile, while the Oettingers have provided the house, Joe Kendall of Kendall Home Furnishings has provided the furniture needed to make it a home.
“We asked Joe if he could help out with the donation of a couch or something else, and he stepped up and furnished the entire house,” said Carson. “He really got into the spirit of this and we can’t thank him enough.”
Weiss had known about the Oettinger’s donation for about three weeks, but she hadn’t seen the furnished finished product until Wednesday afternoon. She hugged the Oettingers, the Family Connections and WYFCS staffers and Kendall as she tearfully toured her new home with a liberal use of words like “angel” and “miracle.”
“It’s a miracle and it doesn’t feel real to me yet,” she said. “I never thought anything like this could happen for me. I am truly blessed.”
Weiss said she was most happy for her young children, who have been moved from place to place as she struggled to get back on her feet.
“The kids are going to be so happy,” she said. “My babies are going to love this. This is going to be their home.”