When Mandy was just a year old, her mother packed up their belongings and moved from an old manufacturing town in PA to live in Baltimore City, relocating to a diverse urban community called Hamilton.
Mandy has very vivid memories of her family’s struggles growing up in Baltimore City and the resources that helped them through the really tough times. From financial hardships, chronic unemployment, healthcare needs and a complicated family dynamic, her life as a child had many ups and downs – all experiences that she notes as molding her into who she is today and who she continues to become.
“Stereotypes can be disarranging to the success of our communities, and it is important that perspectives continue to evolve on services that support families in need. My childhood experiences have given me a unique perspective on the struggles that exist within communities today. This is why I feel it is important to share my personal story.”
~ Mandy Arnold
Mandy describes herself as an oddball kid growing up, which was further complicated with the perception of being one of the poor kids in the neighborhood. She remembers having classmates who had all the newest clothes and accessories. But for Mandy, everything was on a budget. Even her haircuts were done at home. She soon started to obsess over making sure she presented herself as best as she could with what she had. Mandy and her mother would shop at the local Goodwill and she fondly recalls getting extremely excited when finding a brand name shirt or jeans, typically last season, but was just thrilled to have something to fit in.
Her mother worked hard to connect with community services, and at the time Mandy didn’t quite understand that not everyone got food the way she did. She thought going to the local community center for milk, cheese and bread was what every family did.
The community that her mother and family connected with, including the resources and community connections that her mother made through social services, helped to stabilize their family during the very rough patches. Her mother was committed to paying it forward and volunteered her time in the community centers to help other families experiencing the same hardships as them.
Mandy recalls that the strain of poverty affected their family dynamic, compounded by emotional issues, but her mother always pushed for her to focus on the important things and do the right thing. Without the community’s help, Mandy notes that she’s not sure her mother would have been as strong for her and her brother as she was.
Growing up, Mandy experienced bullying in the neighborhood and school due to how some people looked at them. She was fortunate to develop the skills to stand up for herself, and others being bullied as she matured. But even as a young female teenager, she struggled with self-esteem and healthy relationships.
“Growing up seeing many hardships and how some got through it and others did not, continually gave me a greater perspective on what I wanted and needed to do. Many times, what I wanted was impulsive because I was used to living based on immediate needs, but I knew things could always get better with a little help.”
~ Mandy Arnold
Years later in life, she started to understand how society creates stigmas that fed into the barriers to success for families. While her personal mindset helped her to overcome many challenges, she was fortunate to have a community that encouraged independent thinking as well as self-confidence. The community network she built as a child provided her the support to advance into her early adulthood.
Mandy considers her childhood experiences as important and defining, which could have been devastating had they not had access to resources like supplemental food programs including WIC, food stamps and free lunch programs, community centers and other financial support services.
Today, Mandy believes she is fortunate to have achieved things she had not ever been exposed to growing up. Mandy and her husband live their lives in an urban community they truly treasure, and see families similar to hers growing up. This gives her motivation to give back and ensure young children have the same access she did to services. The couple understands the importance of community services, as well as everyone playing their part in eliminating poverty and being a part of progress together.