JFS Perspectives

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Earl Pettet: Maintaining Hope Through Crisis

Earl Pettet: Maintaining Hope Through Crisis

Many of us are one crisis away from financial instability. It could be job loss, a medical emergency, or a death in the family. Without significant savings, it’s easy to go from self-sufficiency to facing homelessness in a matter of months.

Crisis situations are common for many of the clients served by the JFS Family Safety Net Services team. Earl Pettet, 62, is one example. He faced a number of personal crises all at once that took him to the verge of homelessness.

Earl came to JFS in March 2017 needing assistance with rent. He was a successful pastry chef with his own bakery and a loyal following. His dessert creations are true works of art that are as delicious as they are beautiful. As it turned out, the funders behind Earl’s bakery were involved in a Ponzi scheme that was falsely funding the bakery. Overnight Earl learned that he was in serious debt with no assets to cover it.

“I found myself in the position of being unable to support myself,” he says. “I didn’t have money for rent, or food, or anything else.” A friend suggested he reach out to JFS. At first, he was reluctant—embarrassed and afraid to be asking for help. “Everything was gone. The cupboards were bare,” laments Earl. “That’s the worst thing—opening your cupboard and there’s nothing there! It’s a terrible feeling.”

Earl supported by Dicia and HeatherEarl was treated with dignity from the very start. “Dicia Kemp, JFS Family Safety Net case manager, showed me a lot of respect,” says Earl. “I expected to be berated and chastised, but that didn’t happen.” JFS case managers strive to meet clients where they are at without passing judgment. The goal is to get clients back on their feet and moving forward again. For Earl, that’s just what they did.

Earl was provided with rent assistance to cover his back rent. He was given access to the Weinberg Food Pantry, which was a huge help and met an immediate need. JFS also paid rent on Earl’s storage unit where he had stored all the equipment from his failed bakery.

JFS staff helped Earl get on Medicaid so he could manage his diabetes. He sold off some of his equipment, which gave him needed cash. He started working with Heather Seiden, the employment case manager at JFS, to find a job.

Earl was used to success in his life. In the 1980s he was a successful bond trader and vice president at Lehman Brothers in New York, making a significant income. After that, he spent five years with a regional investment firm. But his dream was always to be a baker. He succeeded at that, too.

By May of last year, Earl was back on the road to self-sufficiency working as a caterer. After delivering some food, he came home, showered, and went to bed. He woke up in the middle of the night and discovered he had a serious infection on his leg. By chance, some friends came to check on him and got him to the hospital. Upon arrival, doctors said that his leg had to be amputated immediately or he would die. After the first surgery, he endured two more. He was in ICU for 30 days.

Earl was released from the hospital in July and was transferred to another facility for six weeks of rehabilitation. When he finally came home, all the contents of the storage unit were sitting in the middle of his living room.

Now out of work, unable to walk, and deeply in debt, Earl was facing a long recovery to reclaim his life. As his problems mounted, his family disappeared and provided no support. Fortunately, he had friends he could count on—and JFS.

Without JFS, Earl would likely have ended up homeless and on the street. His church covered some of his smaller bills, and JFS continued to help with rent and utilities to keep him in his home. His short-term goal is to be gainfully employed, a goal his JFS employment specialist is focused on. With JFS’s help, Earl applied for Social Security retirement benefits as well as disability benefits, a process that takes six months. He’s not sure he will qualify. Even without a leg, he is not considered disabled.

Earl Pettet at the gymDespite all his trials, Earl maintains a positive outlook, which has probably saved his life. Not many people could withstand what he has been through and remain hopeful. Always a dreamer, Earl plans to open another bakery, but this time wants it to be sustainable. Right now, though, he’s learning to walk again on his new prosthetic leg. “It’s a lot like walking on stilts, but I’m getting the hang of it,” he says. He goes to the gym six days a week and has lost 108 pounds. He’s looking forward to riding in the Bike MS: Colorado race in June, a 150-mile ride from Westminster to Fort Collins and back. Says Earl, “Never quit. Never quit ever. I never gave up.”

“This injury does not define me. I am not a disabled person. I need to work, not just for money, but I need it emotionally. I was born to work.”

When he talks about the support he is receiving from JFS, he always goes back to the fact that he wasn’t judged. “No one asked about my religion, belief system, or decisions,” he says. “All they did was help me. I couldn’t have made it without that support. JFS is a blessing from heaven.”

“I want the people who support JFS to realize that there are real people at the end of their gifts, and I’m one of them. Thank you!”

If you want to help others like Earl to reclaim their lives and get back on the path to self-sufficiency, contact the JFS Development team at 720.248.4663 or donate online.