OAK PARK, Ill. — For more than 20 years, Charice Phillips built a good life as a single mom and business owner running her own daycare in Oak Park.

“I was working on expanding actually, I had gotten licensed in my home, I was going to do a group home daycare to do a second location,” Phillips said.

Phillips had earned an Early Childhood degree from Harry S. Truman College in Chicago and was living out her dream, which was a very hands-on dream at Little Beginnings Daycare.

“When I first started, I was involved in every aspect of it, days in the classroom,” Phillips recalled. “In the evenings I did the administrative work.”

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And then Phillips suffered a setback. A mental illness left her with anxiety and panic attacks. That was in 2017. Over the next two years, her illness got worse.

“In the beginning, I was in denial,” Phillips said.  “I was still working a lot of hours. We were open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

At that point, she made the difficult decision to close. That episode was a dark period in her life. Bills were piling up, as was the mortgage on her duplex, the utilities and everything else.

“I knew that I didn’t have an income, but I was so sick, there was nothing I could do about it,” Phillips said. “I didn’t have a chance to think or scramble.”

Then came the foreclosure. Phillips had to rent a tiny room in an Oak Park Hotel. She got the money by selling her car.

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“To lose everything, even though you put in the work, that was very difficult for me,” she said.

And then, gradually, her health began to improve. Then, the Covid-19 Pandemic hit.  Through resourceful determination, Phillips found herself at the library, searching online, looking for a way out, a way through.  She found her way to “The Hub,” using FindHelp.org, which partners with Chicago area charities, finding resources for a variety of issues.

“Charice’s case is not uncommon,” said Romiesha Tucker, of “Housing Forward.” “At any point in time for one of us, you, me, you know we can find ourselves in certain situations and if everything aligns sometimes the bottom does fall out. And that’s what happened with Charice.”

Over the next five months, Tucker helped with Phillips’ biggest obstacle: a bill of several thousand dollars that she owed ComEd. “Housing Forward” was able to cobble together funds to help her pay off the bill. And even bigger: with the ComEd bill paid off, she was able to get back custody of her teenage daughter, which was lost along the way. “Housing Forward” helped Phillips use her housing voucher for a new apartment in Schaumburg. It was her honesty about her struggles that was key in securing the help she needed.

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“Her willingness to be so transparent about everything that was happening really allowed us at Housing Forward to connect her with all the resources that we were able to,” Tucker said.

Phillips hopes to start a consulting business to mentor other prospective daycare operators.