Eugene, 43, is a hardworking single father of five. After going through difficult times due to unforeseeable circumstances, he is now doing well thanks to his supportive community in St. Ignace. This is the story of how his community was able to help him change his family’s situation.
Eugene was born and raised in Cedarville, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but lived roughly 20 years of his life in Texas. He is a huge martial arts fan, so he went to Texas at the age of 14 to live with his uncle who ran a martial arts studio, and stayed there for about two years. After that, Eugene came back to the U.P. to finish school. Soon after, he started dating a woman from his hometown and the two of them moved back to Texas. The couple had four boys throughout their 13-year relationship. After splitting up, he began a relationship with another woman from Texas, and during the time they were together, she gave birth to his only daughter. Throughout his time in Texas, Eugene worked in construction and made a conscious effort to hire people who would normally struggle to find work. Many had been previously incarcerated or had some other type of hindrance while applying for jobs.
Eugene moved back to Michigan four and a half years ago to care for his aging mother and to escape the rampant drug abuse among some of his friends in Texas. This is when his situation turned sour. He and his four sons found themselves living in a rural cabin with frozen pipes for an entire winter. After that, they found themselves living in a motel, with no vehicle simply because they had no other option. Eugene wasn’t sure how to improve his situation. “It gets rough sometimes being a single father and all that,” Eugene said. Luckily, there were people and organizations that stepped up to help.
While speaking about his community and how his life has changed, Eugene said, “I’ve been blessed with help from people in town,” but one person acted as the catalyst that turned his life around. Ronda Engle, an Indian Outreach Worker for the Mackinac County Department of Health and Human Services, went above and beyond to make a difference in their lives. “I was almost at the point of surrendering. Ronda turned it around for me,” Eugene said. She made him aware of the community resources he could use, including Feeding America West Michigan’s mobile pantries, and even drove him to access them when he didn’t have a vehicle. She also helped his family move from the motel onto the reservation in St. Ignace, which was crucial for their livelihood. Eugene suggested that it is a part of her nature when he said “she helps a lot of people, I know she does. She goes out of her way to help people.”
Eugene prefers living in St. Ignace, because his home town, Cedarville, is too quiet for him after having lived in some of Texas’s biggest cities. He works a variety of construction jobs throughout the area. A lot of his work is received through positive word of mouth. In the time he has been back in Michigan, he met a local woman that he has been with for the last three years, and all five of his children live with him on the reservation. Eugene is in a much better place overall.
For the last two years, Eugene’s family has benefitted from Feeding America West Michigan’s mobile pantries in St. Ignace, which are funded by the James and Kimberly Currie Foundation and run by Ronda. His kids have also benefitted from a program that provides backpacks full of school supplies. “I’m just one of the many that it helps. I’m positive that there were people there that needed it even more than me.” Ronda confirmed that an average of 200 people come to the four events she puts on each year at the Little Bear Arena and Community Center. Each event provides 1,500 pounds of nourishment for food insecure families and makes a massive impact on the lives of struggling community members like Eugene.
Story written by Molly Kooi, Communications Specialist