Ariana Cancel, 30, is looking forward to moving out of the Salvation Army homeless shelter in a couple of weeks and settling into her own three-bedroom East Charlotte apartment with her five children.
Still, she has some concerns about the future. She wants to ensure she’ll be able to pay all of her bills while also providing for her children and studying to become a certified nursing assistant.
“I’m overwhelmed. I can’t wait,” she said. “I’ve been saving money.”
Now, with the help of Charlotte Bobcats center Brendan Haywood, Cancel and 14 other women will have one less bill to worry about for a year.
On Sunday, Haywood surprised the women at the Center of Hope homeless shelter with news that he is going to pay their electric bills for the upcoming year.
“This is going to give them some breathing room, a sign of relief, hope,” said Deronda Metz, director of social services for the Salvation Army in Charlotte. “This tells them that ‘If I continue to do what I’m supposed to do, somebody may come along beside me to offer support.’ ”
A native of Greensboro, Haywood was raised in a single-parent home and has made it a goal to help other single mothers in the Charlotte area, said Kim Henderson, vice president of community affairs and executive director of Cats Care Foundation with the Bobcats.
He really wanted to “lift the burden” and “do something that’s sustainable” for these women, Henderson said.
The 15 women are part of the Salvation Army’s rapid re-housing program, which helps single women transition from living in a shelter to living in market-rate housing by providing them with job resources and assistance.
Metz said that, so far, the program has seen some success, although some of the women do express concerns about continuing to be able to pay their bills over time.
“A lot of times it’s a struggle just making it and paying rent, especially if you’re a single mom with children,” Metz said. “Having their utility bills paid for will really help put money in savings so they can sustain themselves down the road.”
On Sunday, the women and their children gathered at the Center of Hope under the pretense that the Salvation Army would be checking in with them about their residential situation.
But as media crews piled in with cameras and reporters notebooks, many started looking at each other curiously.
The room really got loud when the Bobcats mascot Rufus appeared to take pictures with kids and sign autographs.
Rochelle Monroe watched as her children played with Rufus as she wondered what the gathering was really about.
“They said they were going to give us help,” she said. “I don’t know what they mean.”
Just after 3:30 p.m., Haywood appeared to tell the women that he understood their struggle.
“I know it’s hard going day to day making ends meet,” Haywood said to the women. “One of the hardest things when my mom was trying to stretch that dollar was paying bills.”
Haywood then revealed that he would be paying their electric bills for a year, urging the women to “take this gift and have a great year.”
The room erupted into cheers with some high-fiving each other and others hugging their children.
Cancel said she was elated by the news.
“This is beautiful,” she said. “I feel like I just hit the lotto.”