Second Place Photojournalism II – Picture Story/Series
Second Place Photojournalism II – Picture Story/Series
Arizona State University
Kathryn-Marie Gregory dreams big. After graduating high school in Williamston, NC, Kathryn bravely moved her one-year-old son, Jaden, and herself away from her hometown to go to school at UNC-Chapel Hill. She worked hard throughout her time at UNC to pay for her education and support Jaden. But, giving birth to her first daughter, Kenzi, during her junior year of college, Kathryn was forced to choose between providing for her family and finishing her degree. Loving her children dearly, she gave up her Carolina dream to work fulltime. Kathryn continued to push herself to support Jaden and Kenzi, and completed her family with her third child, Lily-Rae in 2017. A single-mom through it all, Kathryn does her best to balance work, finances and motherhood, but the small house they are renting now is not enough. Kathryn dreams of being able to give her kids more and is starting to fulfill that dream by closing on the first home of her very own. -- Lily-Rae finds comfort in her mom’s warm embrace when she wakes up in the morning. Sleeping in the bunk bed beneath Kenzi, the girls often wonder where their dad is, which is difficult for Kathryn to explain. Even though it was a painful decision for her to distance her daughters from their dad, Kathryn says his poor choices recently “got him locked up.” So, she is thankful her daughters have been shielded from his situation. The girls know their dad but struggle to understand why he is no longer in their lives.
Kathryn stands by her overflowing sink cleaning every dish by hand. Their home lacks a dishwasher and a garbage disposal which makes for never ending cleanup and a backed-up sink. With all of the other things she must take care of, she desperately longs to live in a house that makes meal cleanup easy. “I just keep telling myself, when we get to the new house, it'll be better,” Kathryn said.
Kathryn helps Lily-Rae into her walker during a virtual therapy session conducted from their small living room via Zoom. At age 1, Lily-Rae was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. “When we found out she had a disability, that really changed the scope of my life,” said Kathryn. “You don't ever want to feel like there's something wrong with your child. But I knew there was something wrong.”
The COVID-19 pandemic closed schools for over a year. But on March 18, 2021, Kathryn wheeled Lily-Rae down their bumpy driveway to wait for the bus on her first day back to preschool. “I never saw myself as someone who was going to be able to take care of a disabled child. But the Lord picked me for this role,” Kathryn said. Kathryn leans on her Christian faith and chooses not to look at Lily-Rae’s disability as a horrible thing but rather to believe she is a miracle.
Kathryn cleans the fridge shelving after a recent spill while Jaden takes out the recycling. During virtual learning, since Kenzi and Jaden are part of the “CHCCS Food for Students Meal Distribution Program,” lunches were dropped off at their doorstep and quickly piled up in the fridge.
Kathryn drives to the grocery store with Lily-Rae and Kenzi buckled in the backseat. As a child, Lily-Rae can still comfortably sit in a carseat in Kathryn’s sudan. However, as Lily-Rae grows up, Kathryn knows the small car will no longer be an option. She says that once they move into the new house with a ramp, their “very next goal will be to get a van with wheelchair accommodations.”
Kathryn walks down the ramp at her soon-to-be home in Hillsborough, NC. Working hard to get herself into a stable financial position, Kathryn applied for a home through Habitat for Humanity in May of 2020. Fortunately, her family was selected to be placed into a new home being built in Hillsborough. She must complete 300 sweat equity hours through Habitat, such as direct labor on her home, shifts at the re-store and financial education training, before she can close on the house.
Kathryn coats the spindles on her Habitat home’s ramp in white paint. Kathryn has worked relentlessly with Habitat to ensure that the new home will be accessible for Lily-Rae. “As soon as you pull up in the yard, the first thing you will notice is that I'm going to have a ramp,” she said. As Lily-Rae grows up, Kathryn wants to give her more and more independence.
Kenzi practices Tik Tok dances in the reflection of the car window as Kathryn straps Lily-Rae in her stroller to walk into church. “It was a hard decision to be a single mom,” said Kathryn. “It's hard to say, ‘Okay, I'm not married, but I'm gonna go raise these three kids by myself.’ But it was important for me to make that decision for my family.” Kathryn is proud of Jaden for stepping up as a role model for his sisters. “Even though they don't have the best male father-figure in their life, they have their big brother. They see him as their hero,” she says.
Kathryn reaches for the pepper while Lily-Rae is strapped in the grocery cart and Kenzi is distracted by the phone. Kathryn provides for her family by working as the Membership Director for Girl Scouts of Orange County. To her, it’s not just a job. She loves being able to “make a huge difference in the lives of so many girls.”
Whether it is at church, on a playset or coming home from school, Lily-Rae lacks the ability to be independently mobile. At age 4, Kathryn still helps Lily-Rae do the things she wants by carrying her in her arms, wheeling her in a stroller or placing her in her wheelchair. “She is so strong. She's able to be happy, even though she is battling this condition. She just inspires me so much. And I love her. She has changed me,” Kathryn said.
Kenzi loves to be a drama queen, constantly pushing Kathryn’s patience. Kathryn does her best to respond to Kenzi while also promoting family harmony. Kathryn continues to work to get herself in a stable financial position where she can take care of her family and go back to school. She says, “I still have dreams and I don't want to put them on the back-burner just yet. I’m trying to find that balance of providing a stable life for my kids, but also making sure that I'm still on the road to greatness, and that I'm not just settling.” Kathryn enrolled in three classes through Durham Tech over the summer in order to work towards finishing her communications degree at Carolina.
Kathryn calls for Kenzi to bring her laundry to the kitchen while she works with Lily-Rae. Kathryn and her kids weave in and out of the tight spaces in their home effortlessly out of habit. “When I'm in this house and the rent is so sky high, I don't have extra money to buy them new things or take them on vacations.” Kathryn desperately longs to live in a house that is more financially affordable. She says that their current house is “sucking all the money right out of my bank account.”
Lily-Rae curled up in her onesie as Kenzi climbed the rungs to her top-bunk to get ready for Kathryn to read them a bedtime story. Sleeping in twin beds, Kathryn cannot snuggle with them so instead she reads besides them in a mini-chair. “I've been really just trying to persevere,” said Kathryn. “That's the Good Word. I've definitely been through some tough stuff. But I still have a really optimistic view on life. So I'm excited for the things that are going to come in my future and how this little house in Hillsborough plays into that?”
Just like every kid on their first day to school, Lily-Rae was nervous for her first day back. She gripped her mom’s hand closely for one last moment of comfort. “She's not gonna get stronger, she's not gonna get better until she can really use the things and the resources and the tools that she has,” Kathryn said. “That's the thing I'm most excited about, I'm most excited about really being able to see how well she can do as a human, once she’s given the space to use the tools we have.” -- Kathryn and her family have successfully settled into their Habitat home in Hillsborough, NC and are happily enjoying the freedom that comes with having a home built for their needs.