The Girimonte Family

There But for the Grace

The Girimontes are your typical suburban family. Clairanne and Pete are parents to 15-year-old Petey and 12-year-old Gabby. If you knew them you would most likely be friends with them; you would discuss sports or the kids’ schools. You would probably get together in someone’s backyard for a cookout and talk about how quickly the summer has gone and reminisce about when the kids were little. Pete would work on getting a fishing trip together and Clairanne would convince the girls to try out for cheerleading this year.  

But today the Girimontes are homeless.

Clairanne and Pete have been together for 20 years and have been married for 16. They owned a house in Clayton for 15 years where they raised two amazing and resilient kids. Petey, Clairanne says of her son, takes awhile to break from his shell but once he does he gets along with everyone and is the first to play with the smaller kids. He is naturally gifted in school but would do better if he “applied himself.” In teenage fashion, he doesn’t want to be known as the smart one with his friends. Gabby, they both say, is a prima donna. “She will be in the woods, climbing trees and catching worms all with a tiara on her head,” Clairanne says with a laugh. She is a cheerleader, loves school and is on the honor roll.

For years the family lived a modest but happy life. Pete is a union bricklayer which affords the family a comfortable living most of the year, but in the winter he’s had to take side work. Clairanne has stayed home to raise Petey and Gabby and coached the local cheerleading squad. They loved camping together as a family and Pete would often take the kids fishing. “We never spent a lot of money when we went out but we had fun,” explains Clairanne.

But life has a way of changing quickly, and without a safety net the result can be dramatic and ongoing. Four years ago Pete got laid off and money quickly became tight. “We were robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says Clairanne. They contacted their bank and received a loan modification which brought their mortgage payments down from $1,600 to a manageable $700 a month. Then, nine months later, just as they were getting back on their feet, they were told that they not only were being denied the modification they had received, but they had to pay everything back – in six weeks. “I was hysterical,” remembers Clairanne, “But I said you know what, we will just start fresh.”

And they did. It took four years for the foreclosure to complete and in that time they were able to accumulate some savings. In July of 2018 they found an apartment owned by a private landlord and they paid everything they needed to including security deposit and first and last months rent and they bought a washer and dryer. Pete, by this time, was back at work and the Girimonte family was optimistic about the future.

But in a frustrating and unfair turn of events, Pete was hospitalized in October 2018 and the family again struggled to pay for their housing. Clairanne tried working with their landlord, but when the Pete’s winter job was no longer available due to the owner’s death and subsequent company shutdown, things became hopeless. They tried staying with her parents but that was short-lived due to their own rental agreement. To shield the kids from the chaos, they stayed with a friend when Clairanne and Pete found themselves with no choice but to stay in a motel. Clairanne remembers being terrified reaching out to the Board of Social Services for help, “I didn’t know how any of this worked.”

The family was placed at our Eleanor Corbett Family Shelter.

“I panicked picturing a big gymnasium,” Clairanne remembers, “I don’t even remember walking in the front door. I just remember the staff giving us food. They were so nice and friendly.”

They were told by the County that they would be ineligible to stay with us for long due to Pete’s ability to obtain unemployment benefits– which he hadn’t yet received. But without the actual money in hand and with no place to go, Clairanne began making desperate calls and eventually, with the help of our staff, got the family’s stay extended. “The staff here just said ‘we know you are trying.’”

The time spent at Eleanor Corbett, while not something the family ever expected, has been positive. They have made friends and they credit the staff with getting them though tough times. Pete laughs as he talks about Gabby’s best friend in the program banging on her wall every morning as a way to “talk” to her. There are frustrations to be sure, however. Receiving benefits comes with requirements that can be taxing when you are without transportation and have two kids – the closest bus stop is over a mile away. And while there is staff available to provide some transportation, there is just not enough funding to have all that is necessary.

“This has been humbling,” Clairanne maintains. “It all happened so quick. It puts into perspective what you need and what you don’t and how fast you can lose it.” Ironically, it was just last year that Clairanne made a donation to the Eleanor Corbett House through a friend that was holding a drive for the program. “I never thought this would be our family.”

For now, they are about to make their second fresh start and they are shockingly optimistic and wonderfully devoted to one and other. When they do move they will need everything including housewares and food. Clairanne remembers when they first came to the program and how grateful she was that a donor brought clothes for her daughter. “When you donate, you don’t realize the impact you have on someone.”  Maybe even someone just like you.