One mom plus four kids younger than 10, plus one paycheck totaling $350 a week. No algebra is needed to realize that an annual income of slightly more than $18,000 for five people does not add up to independence.
While she is delivering auto parts in the afternoon, her children, ages 5, 7, 8 and 10, are being picked up by a bus at their school, Dream Lake Elementary.
They are four of the 130 students from seven schools who come to the Kids in Motion program at the family center. The agency, formerly known as the Peace and Justice Office, is supported in part by the Orlando Sentinel Family Fund Holiday Campaign.
At the family center, the kids go to a classroom, where they tackle homework. After that, they study a variety of subjects that all track the Orange County Public Schools curriculum. Their teachers are part of AmeriCorps, the nation's domestic version of the Peace Corps. If students are studying grammar in the fifth grade at Dream Lake, for example, then they might play a game that day involving grammar knowledge.
Knowing they are safe takes a big burden off their mom, who drops them off about 7:30 a.m. and cannot pick them up until 5:30 p.m., when her shift ends. Then it's time to cook, double-check homework, take baths and go to bed in the tiny house that 10 family members share.
Eight months ago, the family lived in a home of its own with father Luis Cuevas, who had worked seven years at a Sanford company packing Disney figurines. Then in March — the day before his immigration hearing — he was deported to Mexico.
Cuevas, 29, a graduate of Apopka elementary, middle and high schools, barely spoke Spanish when he was returned to his family's village of Compostela, Nayarit. He had come to the U.S. at age 4. His parents still live in Apopka.
This split is killing the family.
Five-year-old Abigail lost her temper with her dad while they were talking and watching each other over a free Internet connection recently. She screamed that he has been lying to her when he continually promises to come home. She demanded to know whether he had other children in Mexico that he liked better and didn't want to be her dad anymore.
"I can't hug them. I can't kiss them. I can't take them out to the park," Cuevas said sadly during a recent digital connection.
Meanwhile, Chavez is working extra hours to save for a ticket to bring her husband back — legally. Chavez, an American citizen, has been told that she does not make enough money to "sponsor" her husband to return to the U.S. Nevermind that the family was better off financially when he was here. Now she must refile paperwork with a co-sponsor.
"He won't come back the wrong way,'' Chavez said. "He wants to come back the right way. At least for now, we have a roof over our heads."
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