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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – – “It’s almost like a nightmare. I wake up. I go to sleep just thinking how am I gonna pay my bills. How am I gonna do this, make this happen?”

Tamiko Woodall is a single mother trying to feed her kids, pay rent and take care of bills making a monthly income well below what’s considered poverty.

“Right at $1,200 a month (her income), probably $1,250 at the most.  With the rent it’s $700. My light bill runs probably right at $400 .So we have to pretty much pick and choose with the rest of what’s left over,” sayid Woodall.

She doesn’t want the same form 18-year-old Antavius and 4-year-old Jhayden.

“I don’t like for my kids to see me sad or whatever, so I try to do what I can, smile and not let them see me in this type of shape.”

Yet,  her children know.

“The first time I paid the bill and I seen the remaining balance and it was like a thousand dollars. I don’t know. I just felt bad to see my mom go through something like that. I seen cut off notices in the house,” said18-year-old Antavius.

So Antavius started working in high school to help pay the bills and after graduation he got a job at the hub at FedEx.

“He needs to be out and about, enjoying his life with his friends, not worrying about if the lights are gonna be cut off or if we have enough food in the refrigerator for him to eat and things like that you know,” said Woodall in tears.

“We hear parents say there is too much month at the end of the money. The resources we have to live on just don’t last,” said Doug Imig, who tracks the impact of poverty on families with the Memphis Urban Child Institute.

He said financial pressures weigh heavily, “It becomes doubly difficult when those families are moving more often, when there is chaos and turbulence in their home lives. When they have to worry about where dollars are coming from.”

We aren’t talking about people who have given up.

Most people living in poverty work every day, but that doesn’t stop the problems.

“You are constantly at risk of losing your job. Maybe you can’t afford quality child care for your kids. Maybe you are caught in a cycle where you are dealing with health issues. All of these things can be the one extra straw that breaks a family’s back,” says Imig.

Nationally, the poverty line for a family of four is anything below $22,000 a year.

A University of Memphis study found that in Memphis almost 28-percent of families are under that threshold.

Those family resources directly affect a child’s development.

Parents become stressed, have poor health and develop ineffective parenting skills.

Instead of helping their own kids excel, they perpetuate the poverty cycle.

“They need to feel safe, they need to feel secure, they need to feel loved. That’s when they can use the part of the brain associated with language, with exploration, with creativity, with math. This is how we grow the workforce we want. This is how we grow the students we want,” says Imig.

The key becomes helping parents become better parents, who realize education as a road out of poverty and an example for their children.

“I only had a high school education. Most people want to see more. That’s what inspired me to go on and go back to school,” says Woodall.

Tamiko Woodall is training to become a Medical Office Assistance.

An Associate Degree will mean more money.

Her son sees the value of education as his way out too.

He plans to enter a training program with the Sheriff’s Department, that will also pay for college.

“I would have been in school if it wasn’t for us paying the bills and stuff like that, but it’s very important for me to go to college and get a degree because I want to be a Sheriff,” says Antavius.

Tamiko also knows the quality time with 4-year-old son Jhayden is crucial.

Better educated parents read to their children, have a larger vocabulary, have more books in the home and expect more of their kids.

Their kids then tend to have better academic and behavioral outcomes.

Tamiko also turned to the Memphis Family Exchange Club for classes on parenting and there is even one that focuses on how to get ahead when you can barely get by.

“Face it, if you are living a life where you are struggling just to make it, just to put food on your table, to get your kids to school everyday, you are not out there reading parenting books,’ says Hallie Cohen with the Family Exchange Club.

So the focus becomes teaching parents strategies.

“We ask people to pick two things they want to work on. That’s very personal. That comes from the person and we write SMART goals. So they leave this class with two specific goals,” says Cohen.

It’s given Tamiko Woodall hope that the poverty cycle can be broken.

“I am gonna speak it into existence,” says Woodall.