Hattie Allen was already caring for her ailing mother and two grandchildren when her husband suffered a stroke earlier this year and had to be hospitalized for four months.
After he was released in July, Bernard Allen was unable to return to his job as a mechanic for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, and the family lost their primary source of income.
It would have been a lot for anyone to manage. But for Allen, who was born blind, providing around-the-clock care has proved especially challenging. She has also suddenly found herself serving as the family’s chief breadwinner.
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Instead of discouraging her, however, the obstacles have only strengthened Allen’s determination to build her own business: a home companionship agency that provides basic patient care like meal preparation, transportation and prescription pick-up for elderly and disabled South Florida residents.
“It’s very hard for them, and sometimes they don’t have family members to do shopping or take them out to events,” she said. “I know that I’ll be able to provide all the services that they would need.”
It’s a dream Allen has been slowly building since 2015, when she first filed the paperwork for Helping Hands For Homemaking And Companionship. Unable to qualify for a small business loan, Allen has been using her own money to buy supplies little by little. Now, with her husband out of work, she’s had to slow the business’ expansion. “I have to be very limited in what I buy because of the bills at home,” she said.
Office supplies and a computer would help Allen get the business off the ground. She’s also hoping for a recliner for her husband and Christmas gifts for her grandchildren, ages 9, 10 and 12, who love electronics. She wants to give them a “stress-free” holiday.
Growing her fledgling business and caring for her husband, mother and grandchildren feels like two full-time jobs, Allen said. She often feels exhausted, “But you know what, I keep it moving because I know I can’t stop,” she said.
Every morning, Allen makes breakfast for the family and gives her husband and mother their medication. Then she takes a special county transportation service to her office in Miramar. She uses a screen-reading app to go through office correspondence and fill out paperwork. Around 2 p.m., Allen heads home so she can greet her grandchildren when they return from school. “And by the time I come back I start my day all over again,” she said.
When she’s not at work or caring for her family, Allen volunteers for the Restore Joy & Trust (RJT) Foundation, a local nonprofit that supports the families of murdered children. She answers phones and helps fundraise for the group, which was founded by the mothers of three young men who were killed in drive-by shootings in 2011 and 2012.
So far, Allen has one employee at her business, but she hopes to expand. Her goal is to hire other people with disabilities because she knows how difficult it can be for them to find work.
Allen was laid off from her job with the Broward County Property Appraiser in 2010 and hasn’t been able to find steady work since then.
“For a person with a disability, it can be very hard for them,” she said. “It’s not that I’m not able to do it, but you have employers that just wouldn’t want to take the risk of trying to hire a person with a disability.”
That’s one of the things that motivated Allen to open her own business. “I do not let any obstacles get in my way or stop me from doing what I have to do,” she said. “I keep on pressing.”
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email [email protected]. (The most requested items are laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.