Downtown Association Head Tells Her Story of Being in Need on Affluent Bainbridge

Posted by on November 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

10:35 a.m.

People in upscale communities like Bainbridge Island often hide their trials the most fervently. But they are not immune to loss and hardship. Look around any neighborhood on the Island and you will see houses lost to foreclosure and families struggling to get by. The isolation and shame of hiding one’s troubles often adds to the problem and makes recovery more difficult.

What Andrea Mackin, Director of the Bainbridge Downtown Association, told her four children each year when they prepared clothing donations for our local charity organization Helpline House echoed powerfully after her husband lost his job in 2009: “All those years we bagged clothes I told my kids, ‘your school mates might wear these.’” It wasn’t long before the Mackin family themselves would need to seek assistance from Helpline.

Helpline House

Helpline House

When the economy tanked, like so many businesses Mackin’s husband’s international art business suddenly lost everything: “He had work with hotels booked for a year that just evaporated,” Mackin explained.

Without her husband’s income, Mackin and her family could no longer afford their mortgage and faced losing their home, which had been featured on both the Bainbridge Home Tour and Garden Tour. “It wasn’t ostentatious. It was beautiful and unique. There was an artist studio for my husband. It was on 3 acres in the Rolling Bay neighborhood. We put so much into the place. We thought we’d be there forever,” said Mackin.

“We tried a loan modification program. We leveraged everything we had. We were faced with paying the mortgage or buying groceries. . . . In the end it all fell apart. I know how to advocate. But the system was just broken, and all the best advice didn’t work for us,” she explained. “Sometimes things are broken beyond repair.”

“It was like that game Sorry when you’re sent back,” said Mackin. No one actually said sorry to Mackin and her family. When hard times hit, apologies are rare—and usually irrelevant. After trying everything they could think of, the Mackins went into foreclosure and walked away from their home.bainbridge-downtown-logo

Mackin said. “I wouldn’t have planned to start over at this point in our lives. . . . I first went to Helpline House for assistance to cover sports team expenses for my kids. But I realized that our family qualified for more help, that we were exactly who it’s there for. We had four wheels on the ground but were sliding fast. . . . Helpline was there.”

Although her family qualified for Helpline House assistance, accepting it proved difficult for Mackin. “It was mostly my own judgment of myself. I didn’t feel I was in need enough. And as we accepted help, I felt I shouldn’t enjoy my life, shouldn’t be seen at Casa Rojas Express celebrating a birthday.” It wasn’t until a Helpline House Counselor told Mackin that accepting help doesn’t mean you stop living your life that she felt permission to find ways to be happy.

As the Mackin family was losing their home and relocating to a rental in Winslow, downtown businesses were struggling to keep up with the “Great Recession.” In 2011, extensive road work hurt Winslow sales even more: “I felt this double responsibility of helping downtown businesses. I know what it feels like to close a business. I’m even more invested in making sure businesses here make it through,” Mackin said.

Mackin and her daughter with Santa downtown

Mackin and her daughter downtown

Mackin told me most people had no idea what was happening to her family, but those who did had mixed responses. “Our kids’ sports teams and coaches were so gracious and supportive. It was important for them to have the continuity of staying on their teams, and scholarships made that possible. Friends also helped keep things normal for the kids,” explained Mackin. But other community reactions were not so gracious. Mackin said some people treated her with condescension, and her kids dealt with teasing on the school bus. A commenter in an Island newspaper said that Mackin was unfit for her job as director of downtown because she was going through foreclosure. “Another article [in the same paper] about the plight of artists in the economic downturn mentioned my husband’s failed business,” said Mackin. “It wasn’t intended to be, but it was mortifying.”

Mackin said it was painful for her kids to lose the house they grew up in, and they still worry about money. Her 14-year-old son mowed lawns to help pay for groceries. “I still owe him for that.”

But things have stabilized for the family. Mackin’s husband has a good job. “That tight feeling in the pit of my stomach is gone now, partly because we hit bottom and found that we could survive,” said Mackin. “We’re heading into our second Christmas now in our rental. I grieve at different times, especially for my kids, but they have done great. . . . They have taken it on as the next adventure. I hope in time we can lighten that load for them in terms of worries about money.”

Mackin continued, “But if this was our challenge it wasn’t that bad. We’re not heroes for having gone through this. I’m just always amazed that life gives you what you need.”

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Photos courtesy of Andrea Mackin, Helpline House, the BI Downtown Association, and Sarah Lane.

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Categorized | Features, Profiles

6 Responses to “Downtown Association Head Tells Her Story of Being in Need on Affluent Bainbridge”

  1. Dana Berg says:

    Thank you, Andie, for sharing an important story, we never know what someone else is facing and when any one of us will need some help.

    Asking for that help is so hard for most of us. I remember my father telling me that help is for the weak, luckily I have learned that asking for help is for the brave.

    And thank you Helpline House for being there for everyone.

    Dana Berg

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  2. Nicole Wortley says:

    Asking for help and offering it without condition is the foundation of our humanity. Andie's gracious recounting of her experience reminds me of the many benefits and challenges of our island community. Thank you Andie for raising awareness and Helpline for bridging the gap.

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  3. Alison Whiteman says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. A turn in finances or life circumstances can hit any family or person unexpectedly.

    Thank you to Andrea for being candid about her story and the story of far too many Americans in this Great Recession. Bainbridge is a very generous community and I am thankful I live here.

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  4. Penny Lamping says:

    Andie – thanks so much for putting a face on these issues – you and your family are not alone, as you know, but have a vehicle for informing the rest of us about homelessness, joblessness and a wonderful community resources. We see people like you every day and are so grateful for your honesty and bravery. Well done, in all respects!

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  5. Gloria Sayler says:

    Thanks, Andie – the comments above are so apt. I work with people who have that same difificulty of accepting help when they feel relatively "lucky", and who fear the condescension and blame that you and your family bore from some ignorant neighbors. Your kids have probably learned important life lessons that some people never learn – about compassion, about taking care of your family when the chips are down.
    All best wishes for holiday warmth.

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  6. John Hays says:

    This is a story that can be told by more of our neighbors than most imagine. The guy in the Santa suit has traveled the same road. Thank you for your service to this community, both in your work and in sharing the truth of the journey.

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