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Chambliss Center, local single mom featured in HBO documentary
FOR THE PAST YEAR OR SO, HBO HAS BEEN filming a documentary at my son’s day care. I know this because I have signed several release documents and seen the odd cameraman lounging at the entrances. I spoke with a producer early on, attempting to get an interview, but it seems that most days I wasn’t there at the time when they were filming.
My brief conversation with the producer informed me that the documentary was about single mothers at the poverty line, about the challenges they face raising their children on little income and limited time.
What I assumed would be a few days of filming comparing and contrasting 24-hour daycare programs like The Chambliss Center became “Paycheck to Paycheck: the Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert.” It focuses on one woman, Katrina Gilbert, a Chattanooga resident with three children fighting for financial security and a better future for her children.
I have no doubt that I have passed Ms. Gilbert in the hallways of The Chambliss Center, one of the few positive influences in her life. I know that I have passed many women in the hallways of the center in similar situations. Katrina Gilbert is not alone in her struggle.
“Paycheck to Paycheck” is founded in the recently released Shriver Report on women and poverty. According to the report, one in three women in the U.S. is facing poverty as a daily reality. Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers in the U.S. are women. Forty percent of all households with children under 18 are headed by women who are the sole or primary source of income. These conditions mean that even one minor incident, a broken-down car or a sudden illness, can turn into a major disaster that can ruin entire lives. The documentary follows Ms. Gilbert through one year of her life, documenting the low wage she makes as a certified nursing assistant at an extended-care facility for the elderly. She struggles with her own health issues, suffering from Graves’s disease and sometimes being forced to choose between medication and caring for her children. It’s a reality that far too many women in Chattanooga face. Katrina Gilbert could be any one of the women I see daily as I pick up my son.
One of the focuses of the film is the Chambliss Center for Children in Brainerd. It is a 24-hour subsidized childcare facility that operates on a sliding scale based on income. It serves parents who are either working or in school, as well as providing a home for foster children removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect.
What I can tell you about the Chambliss Center is that it is likely the most worthwhile charity cause in Chattanooga. My son has attended the school since he was 8 weeks old, and in the last four years has flourished under their programs. It allowed both my wife and me to attend school and receive our teaching licenses without spending the majority of our limited income on childcare. I can tell you that Ms. Gilbert’s situation would be dramatically worse if she didn’t have access to the program. I can also tell you that facilities like The Chambliss Center should be expanded and funded and prioritized due to their unique position as a tool in the fight against poverty. Education is the key to overcoming poverty and The Chambliss Center is an essential service for women like Katrina Gilbert.
Katrina Gilbert is as much a part of our city as our parks, our arts culture, and our skyline. Much of the news we hear about the Scenic City is about how the city was revitalized through concentrated effort across administrations. As notable as this is, and as exceptional the results, we should think about what might be possible if we put the same effort and money into our citizens, into providing real relief to those experiencing poverty. If we can change the riverfront, we can change the lives of people like Katrina Gilbert.
The HBO film premiered in Chattanooga last week at the Memorial Auditorium, but will be available for home viewing on March 17. It will be free on HBO.com, YouTube, and on EPB On Demand Viewing.