On Christmas Eve in 2008, under a midnight sky, Kit Wilbon and her two daughters, ages seven and eight years old, lay huddled under two wool blankets in the back of her 1996 station wagon. The lowered rear seat became their bed, mud-splattered sweatshirts served as their pillows. A garbage bag secured with duct tape, covered the shattered front passenger side window, the result of vandalism, was a shield from the chilling temperatures from seeping into the car.
For the first time in 7 years, Wilbon did not attend midnight mass. Her family’s Yuletide dinner – once roasted prime rib – was a McDonald's Big Mac cut into thirds and shared among themselves.
“I had to tell my children that we had to choose between toys and food for Christmas,” she whispered. “I started crying on Christmas morning when my daughter asked me if the reason she didn’t get toys was because Santa couldn’t find them because our car didn’t have a chimney.”
Wilbon’s profound sense of loneliness and destitution was the impetus for her ascension from poverty to prosperity and the catalyst for her decision to create a safe space for women experiencing this plight.
“I had to tell my children that we had to choose between toys and food for Christmas.”
— Kit Wilbon, helping women in need
“I learned quickly how life can change on a dime and you can have the rug pulled out from under you in an instant and without a warning,” recalls Wilbon. “Knowing that you have children who are depending on you, but you can’t [assure] them that everything is okay, can punch a hole in your heart.”
Wilbon’s story begins when her husband left the family making her a single mother. She had no way of contacting him, and he did not provide didn’t provide financial support. Her job as a bartender afforded her a hand-to-mouth lifestyle and a studio apartment in Arlington.
Shortly after Thanksgiving she was laid off and within three weeks she was homeless. Wilbon’s Christmas prayer was that the new year would usher in a change in fortune.
Climbing out of her car on the day after Christmas, her two daughters in tow, Wilbon spotted a woman unlocking the door of a hair salon in the strip mall where her car was parked. She approached the woman and asked if she and daughters could use the bathroom.
The woman was Glayds Pierce, the owner of the salon. The Wilbons’ tightly coiled, matted hair, the result of weeks of neglect, captured the senses of the stylist.
“It was obvious that she needed help, but I could tell that she had too much pride to ask for it,” said Pierce. “It turns out that I needed help too. I had back-to-back clients, but all of my assistants were on vacation for the holiday.”
Pierce mentioned to Wilbon that her schedule was jam-packed with clients, but her list of available assistants was nonexistent. She offered Wilbon a job helping to maintain the salon’s cleanliness for that day.
“I jokingly told her that she could pay me back for using my bathroom, by working as my assistant that day because I really did need the help,” said Pierce. “I could tell that she would not take the job if she thought that I felt sorry for her.”
The tasks of salon assistants include sweeping kinky hair clippings, human hair that is used for extensions and the synthetic hair that is used for cornrows, crochet braids and Senegalese twists. Wilbon performed her task fastidiously and worked without complaint. Pierce, impressed by her work ethic, offered her a full time job.
Some call the turn of events serendipitous, but Wilbon calls it God’s grace. Her gratitude is obvious as her eyes glisten and her legs bounce as she recalls her journey from poverty to prosperity. “The job sounds menial to some people, but it was life changing for me,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Soon Wilbon earned money to rent a basement in Springfield, a location she chose based on the school district’s reputation. She wanted the best education for her children.
Buoyed by encouragement and connections that she received from clients she met at the salon, Wilbon earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in psychology from George Mason.
“I could tell that she had dreams and ambitions, but she had just been beaten down by life,” said Gloria King, one of the salon’s clients. “She was able to change her life situation because she’s resilient.”
Soon after finishing her Bachelor’s degree, Wilbon and several peers from her psychology program started a support group for women who were facing the plight that she once experienced, a group comprised primarily of women of color.
Each evening during the days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve — the period Wilbon experienced hardship — she and fellow hosts, many from her degree program at George Mason organized a child-friendly dinner party for women who are alone and lonely.
Sitting around a table topped with roasted chicken, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, stir fried broccoli and other comfort food, the women share stories about the adversity that they are facing.
“It’s helpful for the women to hear that even though they feel lonely, they are not alone, said Terrye O’Neal, a substance-abuse therapist.
The group began with Wilbon and two friends that she met while working on her Master’s degree. It has expanded and now includes women from a variety of professions. There's a gynecologist who specializes in high risk pregnancies, teachers from inner city schools, and mental health professionals who serve low income communities.
The hosts work to educate attendees about self-care and mental health issues. The group helps women in need learn about resources in the community.
Leticia (withholding her last name to protect the safety of herself and her two children) joined the group about two years ago. A victim of domestic violence, she arrived with a broken eye socket that she sustained from a punch to the face.
“I was in pain when I came to the first meeting,” said Leticia,“It’s not just physical pain, but emotional pain that was way down deep in my soul.”
Providing comfort to women who are in need and giving them the boot straps to pull themselves out of their situation is Wilbon’s goal.
“I will keep running this group as long as I have breath in my body or there is no longer a need for it,” she said. “Whichever comes first.”
For more, email Kit Wilbon, firstname.lastname@example.org