Not many consider whether a toothbrush and toothpaste are necessities.
But when you have to prioritize these essentials because you can afford to buy only one, it is hard to know what to do.
Rebecca Stickel, director of the Families Together program at the YWCA Central Carolinas on Park Road, ponders these kinds of questions on a regular basis with program participants.
"We discuss the differences between wants and needs," she said. "This lady decided to continue to use the toothbrush she already had and buy the toothpaste."
The situation illustrates the level of support Families Together offers families in transition who want to learn to be successful and stay together. It is an ambitious undertaking that grew from a critical need for housing for families in Charlotte.
The goal is to produce self-reliance and provide safe and caring housing during the process. The hope is for families to leave the program for permanent housing and a stable life.
Stickel, 29, was one year out of Davidson College when she became director in 2005.
A capital campaign already had raised $8 million to build the 10 three- and four-bedroom townhomes behind the YWCA's main building to house the families.
Stickel's next step was to identify and screen the initial families to make sure they were motivated and were up to the challenge. "These are families with great family values who had a bad turn," said Stickel.
In April 2008, with preparations complete, the families moved in.
"We worked with the shelter system - Salvation Army Center of Hope, A Child's Place, United Family Services and the Shelter for Battered Women - to identify our first families," said Stickel. "Families had to show that an adult was gainfully employed, because 30 percent of their income went to pay rent on their townhome."
The Charlotte Housing Authority, with Families Together partners, makes up the difference between what the families paid and the fair-market rental value.
Parents receive instruction on stress management, parenting skills, conflict resolution, self-esteem, health, money management and job searching skills. Kids get help to succeed in school and can use on-site resource centers with computers, email and online tutorials, plus their own library.
Everyone gets to use the YWCA swimming pool, exercise and playground equipment and health services.
But the best part of the program is that families get to live together. "There is a moment when families get here that they just take a step back and realize they are going to be living in a house," Stickel said. "One of my mothers told me, 'I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be in my own home cooking for my children.'"
Small things mean a lot to folks who have lost so much in their lives. The sense of family and community is an important element of Families Together.
Last year, the program served 20 families, a total of 88 participants. Most stay less than two years and move on to permanent homes and productive situations.