Being on state aid was common in Deborah’s family. Deborah longed to forge a different path.
Living in Detroit, a 25-year-old single mom with a 3-year-old son, Deborah worked 2 jobs. She took a bus to Hudson’s, Eastland Mall, and another to Hutzel Hospital downtown. Son Brian stayed with the Smith family across the street. Their son Charles was “like a brother” to Brian. To spend more time with Brian, Deborah took a different part-time job at JC Penney, Oakland Mall. She rode 3 buses each way. Working at Penney’s enabled her “to dress my son in nice clothing.”
Deborah disliked being on state aid. “The food stamps. The paperwork. Ugh! Compared to my college-degreed sisters, I felt like a failure. Especially when my mother treated them better than me. I smoked weed to lessen my depression. For a time I thought about suicide. But I couldn’t leave my son that way. I wouldn’t let him down.”
A state attorney called her in, objecting to her working and receiving aid. “I told him as much as I appreciated the aid, I needed to work. I was better than food stamps and a check. I wanted to earn a living. I wanted my son to see I wasn’t weak or lazy. I wanted nice furniture in our home with nice curtains in our windows.” Deborah was involved in Brian’s schooling. Brian’s elementary and middle school principals both encouraged Deborah to go back to school.
“I didn’t think I was smart enough.”
One day Brian said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be on aid.” Deborah sat on the couch considering her options. Seasonal employment “wasn’t good enough” because she still needed state aid. She decided to go back to school. First, she wanted another baby and was in a relationship with “a good guy.” When daughter Destiny turned 1, in 1993, Deborah enrolled in Wayne County Community College. After the first year, she made the Dean’s List.
“Yes!” she thought. “I AM smart!”
Deborah later realized the conversation she’d had with herself on the couch that day was actually “a conversation with God. He was waiting for me to come to Him so he could bring about my freedom from state aid.”
In school, she became restless. “I desperately wanted to work and get off state aid.” So she went to the job center at school and got help creating a resume, though at that point she didn’t know what a resume was. Making 100 copies, she came home, took out the Yellow Pages, and with Brian’s help, sent out all 100 copies.
One of those resumes landed at Farbman Group in Southfield, which was seeking a receptionist. Betty Stichler, helping the office manager, gave her a call. Joining Farbman Group, “I immediately called my state worker and requested she close my case. She congratulated me and said after 90 days my case would be closed. I couldn’t wait for those 90 days to be over and my benefits to start.” She showed up at work an hour early every day. “I was that determined to become permanent.” After her case was closed, she wrote the State of Michigan and her case worker a thank you letter for the years of assistance she’d received.
Denise Tietze, Burton’s executive assistant, was impressed with Deborah. She insisted Burton take time from his then insanely busy schedule running the company to meet the new recruit. Burton was also impressed.
Deborah was the sunny, welcoming, helpful presence in the lobby of Farbman Group for 19 years. More recently, she works as an office assistant.
Deborah’s been with Farbman Group for 20 years. Every year on the anniversary of her employment, she emails Burton to thank him. Having made hundreds of real estate deals and run the top privately owned real estate company in Michigan, Burton considers hiring Deborah “one of the most rewarding achievements” of his career.
Brian is now a Detroit minister, motivational speaker, husband and father of 3. He founded W.I.N. (Winners Int’l Network) to “encourage and inspire” through ministry events. Destiny, a graduate of Wayne County Community College, is a coordinator for Camp Michigama at the YMCA Farmington Branch.
Deborah says, “As a child, I received unconditional love from my grandparents and uncles.” As for her parents, “they couldn’t give what they hadn’t been given. I was determined to give my son and daughter the love and attention I didn’t get, and more. “
In 2001, Deborah graduated with a 2-year diploma from Word of Faith International Christian Center Laypersons Ministry School. She says, “The first scripture I memorized was Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”
She says, “God kept me going through every hurt, hardship and hindrance. Because of Farbman Group, I went from state aid to full benefits and from renter to home owner, with a nice car, too! More important, I have the love and respect of my children, daughter-in-law Tiffany, grandchildren and Farbman family.”
Sometimes we don’t realize the impact we have on others. For several years, I worked at Farbman Group headquarters. In a recent email, Deborah wrote: “I paid attention to everything you said. When you admired my posture, I sat up straighter. When you gave me a gift of lip gloss, I studied how to better apply make-up. When I needed motherly advice to make Brian listen to me, you said: ‘Say it in 60 seconds.’ It worked!
“Being at Farbman Group, I was made to feel relevant, necessary and cared for. I take what I do seriously and do it with immense pride in the company.”
Thanks for sharing your story, Deborah. And for being such an inspiration. Happy Anniversary.