A 34-year old mother of five, and the third generation to be on welfare, Alaissa struggles to find her path to self-sufficiency. She demonstrates the need for various support systems, including childcare and job training, and the need to reduce the fear factor in leaving welfare to become successfully employed. Her behaviors illustrate some prime examples of self-defeatism, contradicting the stereotypical assessment of welfare mothers as lazy. The benefits of work and working go far beyond the money earned. The empowerment outcome enables individuals to develop a strong sense of self-worth, self-respect and self-reliance-all of which lead to effective use of social supports and overcoming poverty.
Nickcole plays an important role in encouraging her mother to find employment and leave welfare. She wants her mother to have a better life, and to help her break down some of the psychological barriers that hold her back. These barriers include her mother's fears that she won't be successful on the job, her sense of inadequacy when she went to a job fair, and her lack of confidence.
Alaissa talks about an opportunity at a nursing home, that she had been selected for the position. When she failed to show up for the orientation, because she could not find a babysitter for her young children, the job was lost. She breaks down as she talks about how public aid leaves you without a dream, that you must tell yourself it is not easy, then pick yourself up and go on. She concludes that she had to tell herself that "this one wasn't for me," even though she knew she could have had the job. Her frustration was magnified by a discussion with welfare personnel where she sought clarification on when childcare would be available to her. Later, she also fails to follow through on a computer training program even though her welfare worker has counseled her that she must find employment and that the rules are changing. She finds part-time work as a stock clerk at a toy store to help with Christmas expenses.
Nickcole tells us how hard it is to see her mother lose job after job. It makes her angry although she also feels sorry for her mother. She has a hard time dealing with her mother's situation-and the stress from the loss of Terrell, her cousin and best friend. She keeps her turmoil inside herself. She can't talk to her mother, "who would feel bad;" nor can she talk to her friends at school because they wouldn't understand the family's welfare status. Nickcole uses her isolation to stay focused on achieving her goals.
The following year, the principal of St. Malachy Elementary School, who was consistently helpful to the family, hired Alaissa to be a teaching assistant in the kindergarten. Later, the teacher went out on maternity leave and decided not to return. In the meantime, Alaissa had proved to have a natural talent for working with children, so St. Malachy offered the position to her. It was conditional on Alaissa completing her GED, obtaining a teaching certificate and being tutored by a certified mentor teacher. Perhaps, at last, this is the job for her.
Nickcole reports that "everything is coming together" for her family in year four of the filmmaking. She receives an award for keeping up her grades in college; and her mother continues to build the self-confidence needed for her own success. Through her work as a teacher at St. Malachy, Alaissa gains self-respect as well as respect from others. Nickcole marvels that: "For the first time in her life, [my mother] is making something for herself." We see Alaissa at 4:00 a.m. doing the family's laundry; then later teaching her group of kindergarteners.