Real Stories from our Advocates: How Dana Hunter Fights for the Families she Serves

Posted on September 10th, 2020

Guardian ad Litem Dana Hunter’s journey to obtain rent assistance for a family during the pandemic. To protect the privacy and identity of those we serve, names in this story have been changed.

Schools may have temporarily closed, small businesses may have suspended staff, and the Juvenile Court System may be operating on a delayed schedule due to the halting of in-person proceedings. Yet through it all, the Schaffer family never lost faith that together, they would prevail.

Thanks to Guardian Ad Litem Dana Hunter and a new form of financial support offered by Child Advocates specifically dedicated to rental assistance, that is exactly what they did.

As society adjusts to the “new normal” of today, many find themselves dwelling on that which was lost during the three-month-long shelter-in-place. Whether it was a job, graduation, or even an apartment due to unfulfilled rent, for the first time this universal feeling of loss and fear connects the entire community.

The Schaffer family members are no strangers to this sense of loss, and after Dana joined their case in January of 2018, she knew she had to do everything she could to help.

Dana initially introduced herself to a then one-year-old Michelle and a newborn Lacey who resided in the care of their paternal grandparents. Michelle had been in the child welfare system since late 2016 when the case originally opened, and Lacey was born directly into the system and her grandparents care.

The children’s parents struggled with substance abuse and homelessness on and off for years, creating a toxic environment for their two daughters. Due to safety concerns, the children fully resided with their grandparents throughout the duration of the case, and their parents participated in supervised visitation.

Unfortunately, Michelle and Lacey’s mother’s substance use disorder escalated preexisting heart complications resulting in her death in September of 2019. This loss was followed closely by Grandma Schaffer’s personal loss of her own father that October.

Persisting through the pain to support their two beautiful grandchildren, Grandma Schaffer continued to work by day at a warehouse and Grandpa Schaffer worked nights. With the very limited financial support the family received, Michelle and Lacey were able to attend daycare on weekdays.

While the grandparents were working to obtain their official foster parent license which would help to alleviate some of their acquired expenses, Michelle and Lacey’s father found himself back in prison leaving the children’s advocacy team no choice but to recommend adoption.

Grandma and Grandpa Schaffer quickly made the necessary arrangements to adopt their grandchildren and began the process. The adoption process was well under way at the beginning of 2020 and the Schaffer family thought they had weathered the storm and would come out the other side together.

However, the true test of faith was about to begin. The United States entered a lockdown in March of 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19 and almost immediately Grandpa Schaffer was admitted to the hospital for unrelated breathing issues. His battle continued for a few short weeks before his passing on April 4, 2020.

“Grandma Schaffer called me and we just cried together,” Advocate Dana Hunter said. “She told me she never thought this would be her reality, and I told her I was going to do everything I could to try and support her through this painful time.”

Work had slowed due to staff suspensions, Michelle and Lacey’s daycare temporarily closed, and the juvenile court system halted proceedings which prolonged the transfer of adoption paperwork to the now sole intended adoptive guardian, Grandma Schaffer. The weight of the world slowly pressed upon her back, but she was determined to not let it touch Michelle and Lacey.

As financial support checks were delayed for several months and an impending eviction loomed in the near future, Grandma Schafer reached out to Dana to explore ideas for possible relief.

“She was asking for $1,500 to help with rent, but we have never been able to give out that much to one family before,” said Dana. “I called Renee and Gregg (supervisors) and they accepted a request for $500 for the Schaffer family. I was happy that we could do at least a little something to relieve some of the financial pressure from the grandmother.”

What the family did not know was Child Advocates recently received support from United Way of Central Indiana’s COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund to help families struggling with rent and living expenses due to the pandemic. It was not long before Gregg Ellis, Chief Program Officer, reached back out to Dana with some amazing news.

“Gregg reached and said that thanks to a new grant, we were able to give the Schaffer family the full amount of $1,500. I was in disbelief,” said Dana.

Overcome with emotion and knowing the possible eviction was a mere few weeks away, Dana called the Schaffer family immediately. The funds were sent directly to the rental company, and the threat of any possible eviction was eliminated.

“I am just so grateful to be a part of an organization that can help people in this way,” said Dana. “Unfortunately, this is the story of many African American families where the extended family needs to assume the role of parents or guardians for the children. Grandma Schafer has been through so much and was so determined to do whatever she needed to do to look after these kids, it’s a true testament to her strength.”

Dana cherishes the opportunity she has to help families in the way that she does on a daily basis, and knows that she has formed a lifelong bond with the Schaffer family.

“There are some families you work with that you just connect with on a deeper level,” said Dana. “They truly touch you and you form a connection that will last long after the case closes… that’s the Schaffer family.”