Here's an update on a story that a lot of you wrote to us about, concerning a family like too many others these days: hit hard by the recession and about to lose their home. A Nightly News viewer was determined to help. NBC's Chris Jansing has more.
By Chris Jansing, NBC News
As a reporter you never know which story or which person will strike a chord with viewers. In the case of last week’s devastating numbers on poverty in America – it was both.
We profiled a Florida family caught in an economic vise: parents who lost their jobs, a home in foreclosure, two teenagers wondering if they’d be able to stay in Florida, not knowing if they’d graduate with their friends. With tears streaming down her face, 15-year-old Gavi described how hard it is, at such a young age, to be dealing with so much stress.
Thirteen hundred miles away, another American family was watching – deeply affected by what they saw.
On the surface, the families seemed to have nothing in common.
John Vann went to Wharton Business School and owns a successful financial services company. His four children are college graduates who own their homes. Angel and Anairis Hidalgo both lost their jobs almost three years ago: he, as a building maintenance manager, she as a bank teller.
John and Dessi Vann’s neighborhood is populated with beautiful stone houses, manicured lawns and impeccable landscaping. The Hidalgos' is small and simple.
What John Vann saw, though, was similarity. A home, like his, filled with a loving family. And Gavi made him think of his own daughters – and he believed that she deserved a future like theirs. So he emailed his girls, talked with Dessi and his son Aaron and decided as a family to reach out. They wanted to help.
There is something about John Vann that is authentic. I sensed it first in his emails, in phone calls, and then meeting him and his wonderful family. When he talks about living the American Dream, it sounds like an imperative, never corny or overdone. What started as a vague idea was soon taking shape in the mind of a goal-oriented businessman. John developed a six-point plan to help the Hidalgos. And by the time I arrived in Texas to meet the Vanns, he had already made contact with his office in Florida.
What happened next John calls "divine coincidence." It turns out that one of his employees drives by the Hidalgos' neighborhood every day on her way to work. With her as an intermediary, John would get his plan moving.
Step one: Find firm financial footing. The Hidalgos have been living on $189 a week. The Vann family is pledging $2,000 a month to help them get back on their feet.
Step two: Use John’s network of contacts to find them jobs.
Step three: Help them save their home. A steady job will be critical, and while the Hidalgos have had the help of a foreclosure lawyer, John is offering additional, expert help.
John Vann put his objectives in writing. Number six? To restore belief in the American Dream.
A generous Nightly News viewer, John Vann, a businessman from Plano, Texas stepped up to help after seeing a family hit hard by the recession.
When I went to the Hidalgos' home on Sunday, they had been to Mass. The kids were hungry, mom was cooking and they were going to sit down to a Sunday meal. John’s employee in Florida, Margarita, came over with a check, a first installment on what Angel believes will be renewing his family’s American Dream.
They’re all really great people. When I talked with Angelo, 13, and Gavi they told me how hard it is to see their parents struggling. But I wanted to know what had been hardest for THEM. Gavi told me that when her mom and dad lost their jobs, she went to put in applications. But she wasn’t 16 and couldn’t get a job. She wanted so desperately to help. Angelo said, almost reluctantly, that there are things he’d like to have. But for the last three years there have been no presents at Christmas, or on his birthday. But those concerns paled in comparison to leaving their home, which, as Gavi put it, "holds so many memories." And they didn’t want to leave their school and their friends.
Anairis and Gavi had tears streaming down their faces when we told them about the Vanns' offer to help. It seemed almost too good to be true, that a complete stranger on the other side of the country would care about them so much that they would reach out.
Just two days after getting in touch with the Hidalgos, John helped Angel update his resume. Angel’s already had an interview, and job prospects are promising.
Fourteen million Americans are out of work and 46 million now live below the poverty line. It’s overwhelming, and John Vann would be the first to say no one person can fix the problem. But any single person can be part of the solution. It may sound trite, like something on one of those motivational posters you buy at the mall. But if you stood as I did, next to the Hidalgo family in Florida, delivering a message of hope from the Vann family in Texas, you surely would have been – as I was - deeply moved by the unwavering generosity of the American people.