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Living on the Line: Khara Gaskamp

Whitney Jones

After learning about two people in the beginning and middle phases of poverty, we turn to someone one the verge of making it out.

At 32, Khara Gaskamp is raising two children while studying at West Kentucky Community and Technical College to be a nurse. Since childhood, she has been confronted with obstacle after obstacle, from an abusive stepfather to medical crises,  that have made it difficult for her to become financially stable.

She started working forty hours a week at the age of fourteen to support herself, two siblings, and her mother, who had been severely injured in a car wreck and was unable to work. She says she contributed about 80% of her family’s income until she was 18 and her mom’s disability payments started coming in. She enrolled in homeschool when she was thirteen and graduated at 16, on top of her forty hour work week, after which she continued to work to support her family.

At 19 she became pregnant with her daughter Josie, who was born with a cantaloupe sized tumor on her spine. Doctor’s questioned whether Josie would survive, but she did, and after years of treatment, Josie is a strong, healthy 12-year-old.

Khara had to rely on government assistance and help from friends and family to make it through the first few years of Josie’s life, when she was traveling back and forth from Paducah to Louisville weekly, leveling off to twice a year by the time Josie was two. Down the road Khara met the father of her 7-year-old son, Kaden. They were married and and lived happily for a year until he lost his job and refused to work elsewhere and was not helping out around the home. He was a drain on Khara’s income. So she bought him a bus ticket and sent him back to his mom in Texas.

“That wasn’t the example I wanted my son to have as far as what a man’s supposed to be. I still feel guilty that he doesn’t see his dad now and that’s the result of the decision I made. But at the same time I know it’s for the best.”

After the doctor’s office she was working at closed, she decided to go back to school. She is now living in the Scholar House, meant for struggling parents who are trying to attend WKCTC. The rent and bills are based on her income, meaning that she only pays $61 a month in housing and utilities. Once she earns her nursing degree and gets a job, Khara hopes to be in a comfortable financial situation with money left to take her children on a vacation, something they have yet to experience.

“We lucked into a vacation last year. We’d never been on a vacation and my friend moved down to South Carolina, to Charleston. And we drove down and helped her move and we stayed for a week while we were down there. It was wonderful. If that hadn’t have happened, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to take them on a vacation. So I’d like to take them on, maybe a Disney Cruise.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for Registered Nurses as of 2012 was about $65,000 and RN employment is projected to grow 19 percent between 2012 and 2022. Khara is lifting her family out of a perpetual life on the line between poverty and stability. Though she is happy with where she’s at now, there are things she would change if she could. 

“Everybody has those things, and every decision that you make you know leads to where you are, and, I’m pretty content with where I’m at. I mean if I had it to do over I guess I would have waited to have kids, where I would have had gone to school, gotten my degree, gotten a job, gotten a house, gotten a car. But then I might be so happy with all that I’d never have had kids, and then I’d be missing out on this. And so, who’s to say I’d be happier like that.”

  This story is part of a WKMS News Documentary Living on the Line. Living on the Line tells the story of three families, each making less than a living wage. They share stories of dealing with hardships, trying to move forward and staying optimistic in spite of their situations. Each family has hope for better days and works to get out of poverty.

Here the full documentary here.

A proud native of Murray, Kentucky, Allison grew up roaming the forests of western Kentucky and visiting national parks across the country. She graduated in 2014 from Murray State University where she studied Environmental Sustainability, Television Production, and Spanish. She loves meeting new people, questioning everything, and dancing through the sun and the rain. She hopes to make a positive impact in this world several endeavors at a time.
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