‘We are just asking for the opportunity to come out of poverty’
Katrina Gilbert, focus of the acclaimed 2014 Maria Shriver-HBO produced documentary “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert,” will join a panel discussion in a Homeport sponsored Town Hall-style event in Columbus on April 28. The film, to be shown at COSI, addresses challenges faced by moderate income single parents – particularly women. Ms. Gilbert, of Chattanooga, Tenn., recently answered questions posed by Homeport, from how she got involved in “Paycheck,” to its impact on herself and others in the year since its release.
Homeport: When “Paycheck” was being produced, you were a single Mom raising three small children. You also worked as a modestly paid nursing assistant at an extended care facility for the elderly and frail. How did you get involved in this film? Have your personal and professional lives changed?
Katrina: I got involved in the film through Chambliss Center for Children. One day after work I came to the daycare to pick my children up. I saw a sign when I walked in that said HBO was there doing a documentary and if you wanted to sit down with them come to the office. I just kept walking. After a long hard day of work I was eager to get my children and get home. The next day someone from Chambliss called me and asked me if I would sit down with HBO and tell them my story, I said “yes”. That day my whole life changed and I didn’t even know it yet! My personal life has changed. I am now engaged to be married to Chris who is in the film. I travel all over to get the word out about poverty, child care, the struggles of being a single parent and living paycheck to paycheck. My professional life has changed also. I am now working part time at the nursing home because I am now a full time student. I got a full scholarship to Chattanooga State Community College where I am majoring in Media Technologies.
Homeport: What did you hope would be accomplished when you agreed to be the focus of the film, and what has been the reality?
Katrina: I was hoping to inspire other single parents out there that were going through the same thing I was. I wanted to open other people’s eyes to the reality of our country. People like me that live paycheck to paycheck aren’t lazy people. We work 40 plus hours a week. When my kids were gone to their Dad’s for the weekend I would work 16 hour shifts; Friday 7 a.m.-3 p.m., come back to work Friday 11 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Saturday 11 p.m.-3 p.m. Sunday then drive four hours to go get my children and bring them home. The reality of the show has opened people’s eyes. It has made a difference. I’ve inspired so many people, and single parents.
Homeport: Are you more aware of others facing the same challenges you have had?
Katrina: Yes I am. I hear other people’s stories all the time. They approach me asking for advice or to just tell me how I’ve encouraged them. I get support from others as well. It’s amazing and I love helping other people. I give them encouragement, advice, and support them when they are at their worse.
Homeport: Are people asking you for advice when it comes to issues such as going back to school, health care for yourself and children, or prioritizing expenses -- health care versus food, rent, etc.?
Katrina: As I said above they are asking for advice. I have had people ask me about insurance and I tell them to try Obama’s market place. My children and I have gotten insurance through there and it’s free! As far as food, rent, and other things, I say you have to prioritize. If you can get assistance, then do it. It never hurts to try. I’m on food stamps and that has helped me tremendously. When you look at your bills pick what is important. Rent is important. A phone is important. You don’t need cable. We didn’t have cable for a long time. We just watched movies. You have to pick the important thing.
Homeport: You have traveled to different communities to share your thoughts and listen to others since the film was released. What have you learned and what do you hope Columbus can learn -- and do -- when it comes to the important issues raised in Paycheck related to employment, single parenting, as well as access to affordable child care, education and housing?
Katrina: Yes I have traveled to many places talking about these subjects at hand. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one. There are others like me. Another thing is that it’s opened so many foundations eyes to what is going on, how hard it is living paycheck to paycheck. I think that housing, income based childcare or even childcare assistance should be readily available for us single parents that are trying their best to come out of poverty. We don’t want the cycle to continue with our children. I want them to know that we are struggling only making minimum wage. We need paid sick days. A day of one of the kids being sick is a missed day of work which means a missed day of pay. I want to touch Columbus just as I have done everywhere else. I want to inspire others. I’m hoping for the best. I want to open the eyes of people, that we living paycheck to paycheck aren’t lazy people. We all have a different story but for the most part they are similar in some ways. We aren’t asking for any handouts, we are just asking for the opportunity to come out of poverty.
Homeport’s ‘Town Hall’ event will be 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on April 28 in downtown Columbus at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) and is free and open to the public. Registration and other information about the event will be announced soon.