A year ago at this time, LaSundra Wilson began a job in the dietary department at Upshur Manor Nursing Home in Gilmer as a cook’s helper. She came to work with a smile on her face but most of the staff didn’t know the trials she was facing. She had recently gone through a terrible divorce. Unbeknownst to her, she had signed away all of her assets to her husband. She went from having a nice home and $1,000 cash in her pocket at any given time to nothing.
Overnight, she found herself unemployed, homeless and living in her car. “It was so cold at night sometimes that I truly believed I would die. A woman at a shelter gave me an electric blanket. It didn’t work but I would cover myself in it at night and then pile all of my clothes on top of me to try to stay warm,” said LaSundra. “Everything I owned was in my car. At night I would drive from location to location because other homeless people would knock on my window and scare me. Sometimes the food I ate was two or three days old and would make me sick because it was spoiled,” she added. “I lived in my car for two and a half months; that’s where I was living when I started working at Upshur Manor.”
“My life began to change the day I started at Upshur Manor. Lisa Flake, the dietary manager, hired me on the spot.” Once she began working at Upshur Manor, a few of the staff members learned about her situation. “Lisa would call me and ask if I’d eaten that day. If I hadn’t, she’d tell me to meet her at Brookshire’s and she would buy me groceries,” said LaSundra. One night when it was terribly cold, several of the aides who knew that LaSundra was living in her car pulled together to pay for a hotel room in Longview. These aides were on a very limited budget themselves but felt that they had to make sure she had shelter on that cold evening.
“I used to be a praise dance youth minister at my church. After everything happened, I was angry at God for a while. My pregnant daughter was living with my mother because I couldn’t afford to assist her,” said LaSundra. “I’ve learned that sometimes God will test your love for Him. But with him, nothing is impossible. He takes away the things we don’t need in our life, like a bad marriage, and gives us something better. It’s about trusting in Him and His timing,” she added. And that’s exactly what she did.
Shortly after beginning her job at Upshur Manor, she applied for housing with the Gilmer Housing Authority. Within a month, she learned that an apartment was available. Most people who apply must wait several months before housing becomes available. Shortly after moving in, through the kindness of friends and family, her apartment was furnished. “My house is furnished better now than it was when I was married,” she said. At Upshur Manor, she was quickly promoted from a cook’s helper to the lead night cook. She also received a raise with her promotion. “God put me where he needed me to be. I love my job. It’s more like a ministry. I’ve started a faith chain at work. People who know I’m a Christian sometimes come to me when they are down. God uses us to be a testimony to other people. I tell them, if you believe and trust in Him, He’ll come around.” LaSundra lifts up not only staff but the residents as well. “I love hugging the residents and lifting up the ones who look like they are down. For some, we’re all the family they have. It’s about giving them a warm smile, hugs and holding their hands.” LaSundra speaks about one resident who always looked so down and angry. “She sits in the dining room just outside the kitchen door and I saw that she never looked happy. So, I started visiting with her each evening I was working. Now she grins from ear to ear when she sees me coming. She knows I’m going to give her a hug and a kiss,” she commented. “I take a lot of pride in my work,” said LaSundra. Her genuine love for her job and her residents is what led her to be named Upshur Manor’s December Employee of the Month. In addition to a dedicated parking spot, she also received a $50 Walmart gift card. She was thrilled. Her daughter had just had her baby and she planned to buy diapers and baby wipes.
The gift card was helpful but it went quickly. Baby supplies are costly. LaSundra’s daughter had complications during her pregnancy and delivery and has been unable to go back to work. She now has her own apartment but is unable to pay for the rent and utilities. Until her daughter can return to work, LaSundra is covering the expenses for both apartments, hers and her daughter’s. She’s also carrying her daughter and granddaughter to doctor’s appointments.
Money was tight and Christmas was fast approaching. The week before Christmas, LaSundra came to work with several homemade cakes for sale. The baby needed diapers and formula. While Medicaid pays for formula, it doesn’t provide enough to cover a full month. LaSundra began having chest pains because of the stress and her daughter Brandy was ready to call the rescue squad. Life was once again overwhelming but LaSundra continued to come to work with a smile on her face and a love for God in her heart.
Then the day of the staff Christmas Party arrived. LaSundra and the rest of the dietary department were actually able to take a break for a few hours, thanks to the potluck that was provided by staff. Everyone enjoyed a great meal and several games of Christmas Bingo. There were enough door prizes that everyone won something. Then, the time came for announcing the Upshur Manor Employee of the Year. Staff members had been given a week to turn in their ballots. They had the tough task of nominating one of the twelve employees of the month. The moment came when the announcement was made that the 2013 Employee of the Year was…. LaSundra Wilson. “I was speechless,” said LaSundra. “The first thing I thought is, God is good. We were down to nothing.” LaSundra had won a $250 gift card. There were tears and cheers.
One would think that the story ends here but it doesn’t. The door prizes had been distributed, except for the top prize. Everyone’s name was put back in the basket which was reshuffled. A name was drawn. The staff person who drew the name was speechless, and in tears. “The winner of the $200 Visa gift card is… LaSundra Wilson.” In one month, LaSundra had won a total of $500. “God outdid Himself. I am so thankful. This money got us over the hump. I was able to pay utility bills and stock up on groceries. I also bought a Christmas gift or two for my grandbaby BayLeigh,” she said.
“God opened doors for me and I know that there are many blessings yet to come. Never let go of your faith, never let go,” said LaSundra. “Every time things go backwards it isn’t always a setback. God is setting you up for something else. I’ve learned that! It took destruction to reconstruct me. I’ll say it again, blessings come through raindrops and broken pieces. And God to order your steps.” Great advice from LaSundra Wilson.