A year ago, Times photographer John Pendygraft began reporting on the challenges many in the bay area face trying to make ends meet. Since then, the economic strains for many have only intensified amid rising food and gas prices, higher unemployment and a prolonged housing slump. Here's an update on the first story, along with two others.
Javontae Wright: "Living on prayers, dreams"
Then: Javontae Wright was a 24-year-old single parent struggling to establish a career while caring for 2-year-old daughter Zi'Yhon in north St. Petersburg.
Now: This year, Wright started working with the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program for Pinellas County schools. He was recently promoted to program director. "It has been a tough year, but now with me working ... it's a lot easier. I can save and budget like I really want to, to benefit my daughter and I." His new goals are to complete his degree, save for a down payment on a starter home and find the right person with whom to settle down. Wright says hard times have strengthened his faith. "Every day has not been a walk in the park, but I know that God has seen me through this all," Wright says. "Yes, you can make it. In spite of what the circumstances and the situations are, there's still light at the end of the tunnel."
Bertha Noack: "Her morning pick-me-up"
Then: Bertha Noack, 77, treated herself every morning to a poached egg, rye toast and coffee at Pepper's Restaurant in Pinellas Park. The former nun considered the $2.86 breakfast to be one of her few guilty pleasures. She felt she would spend her retirement years working paycheck to paycheck.
Now: In her work at AARP finding jobs for retirement age seniors, Noack has had a front row seat to the effects of hard financial times. "I have a wonderful opportunity to work with people that are on low incomes ... and we're getting more and more older citizens wanting to work because of the economy. They're finding it hard to survive on the income they're making, because most of them are just on Social Security." As for herself? "I think I'm learning how to budget better because of the economy. I'm kind of cutting down on things and not going to the stores frequently. I just get basics when I can." The one daily routine she says she will not cut is her morning breakfast with friends. "I'm going to continue going to Pepper's. They're just like a family to me."
Melanie Rodriguez: "Family matters"
Then: A year ago, Melanie Rodriguez, flanked by her children, Amaya Bunyan and Xavier Rodriguez, took a budget vacation at the KOA campground in Madeira Beach. Also along were Rodriguez's stepfather, Victor Arroyo, and two nephews.
Now: This year the Rodriguez family hit the books. Melanie just finished her first semester at Springfield College in Tampa with a 3.9 GPA. Xavier, now 7, started kindergarten and Amaya, now 9, started second grade at a new school. "Once we get home it's dinner, baths and homework. Homework for all of us now. Not just the kids," she laughs. "This year we're still living paycheck to paycheck. We're a little bit more comfortable this year than we were last year .... there's no room for emergencies though. So if a tire blows up, it kind of throws me off. If the car breaks down, it throws me off. It's been very rough. I work for a nonprofit organization (where) we're contracted year to year. So hopefully July 1, I'll still have a job. Hopefully those budget cuts won't affect my job." She says an uncertain economy and shaky job security have put her in survival mode. "It makes me work harder at work. It makes me work harder at school because I know I have to survive. It's basically survival. I have to not take as many breaks as everybody else does ... for me I feel like I need to be working, I need to show my boss that I'm worth keeping on another contract. It gets stressful."