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  • Writer's pictureJewel Wicker

A full-time caregiver navigates rising rent, aging family, and parenthood

Charisse Woolridge's new home is “a land of opportunity,” a center of “Black excellence,” and a healthcare desert

 
Illustration by Minh Huynh
Over the past several months, our community listening team has spoken with more than 220 people from across the metro to learn more about their personal cost of living challenges. This series, written by Jewel Wicker, looks through the lens of their lived experiences in order to better understand how systemic issues—like healthcare access, housing costs, and student loan debt—impact Atlantans every day. Here, meet Charisse, from East Point. ↓

Even before 2021, when her husband got a job working as the head football coach for South Atlanta High School, Charisse Woolridge had wanted to move her family to Atlanta. The Columbus native has an 11-year-old son with sickle cell disease, and Atlanta is one of just a few cities in Georgia with a pediatric facility that can offer daily care for sickle cell patients. Still, less than two years since Woolridge moved to southwest Atlanta, she’s joined the list of local residents concerned about recent hospital closures.


“The children’s healthcare in Atlanta is superb but my son’s got to grow up,” she says, noting that he currently wants to attend Georgia Tech and Morehouse School of Medicine. “I do worry about his adulthood because we’re in a healthcare desert.”


“The children’s healthcare in Atlanta is superb but my son’s got to grow up. I do worry about his adulthood because we’re in a healthcare desert.”

For many years now, caregiving has been Woolridge’s full-time job. Her eldest son, who’s 15 and a student at Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School, has autism. She believes staying home with him has helped him to progress through behavioral issues and speech delays: He’s currently excelling both academically and in basketball, football, and baseball. “I know he is who he is today because I made him my job,” she says.


Woolridge still drives more than 100 miles to Columbus on Sundays to spend time with her ailing 95-year-old grandmother. It’s a big commitment, but one she feels strongly about—especially since her mother, an only child, passed away in 2015 from early-onset Alzheimer’s. She spends a few days a week having lunch with her father at the care facility in Atlanta where he recently moved after a second stroke. Woolridge juggles all this while also managing varsity softball, cross country, basketball, Girl Scouts, 4-H, and honor society meetings for her 14-year-old daughter—who, she says, is growing up “in the shadow of sickle cell and autism.”


In 2023, rent for the Woolridges’ home, near Camp Creek Marketplace, went up $120 per month. They’d like to eventually purchase their own place but have been discouraged by rising costs. “We’re not looking for a forever home, but we also don’t want to be upside down,” Woolridge says. “You can see what the house was worth in 2019 versus 2023, and it’s egregious. At a certain point, it should just be illegal to inflate a house that much.”


“We’re not looking for a forever home, but we also don’t want to be upside down. You can see what the house was worth in 2019 versus 2023, and it’s egregious.”

When time permits, Woolridge, who studied marketing at Georgia Southern University, takes on virtual part-time gigs in the field, along with other odd jobs to assist her family financially. Over the past three years, she’s also worked as a political organizer, including stints with Michael Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party of Georgia, and the ACLU.


When reflecting on her career thus far, Woolridge is conflicted. She absolutely does not regret taking time to focus on her family. And she doesn’t believe that it’s too late for her to settle into a new role just because she’s 40. Still, it would be nice for her to have some time to focus on herself, she says: “I’m ready for me. Not to be corny, but when I was in high school, I was voted most likely to succeed. I know that’s stupid, but I’m ready to succeed.”


Recently, she’s found herself driving by the prominent markers of Atlanta’s film industry—production studios and the yellow film signs that often line closed streets—and thinking about what behind-the-scenes work she might find. Atlanta, Woolridge says, is the “land of opportunity,” and the city’s southwest neighborhoods are the home of “Black excellence.”

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