Their Valentine’s Day love story began on Christmas Eve, December 2008.

Mike Fernekees, 22, and Nicole Clayton, 24, joined hands and wed in front of friends and strangers at the Human Services Program Cold Weather Shelter – their refuge. (See story, Carroll Magazine, February/March, 2009) Both homeless, they met while staying at the shelter.

One year later, the two are still in love and, for the first time, they are not homeless. Two weeks before Christmas, 2009, the couple cobbled together funding from odd jobs and assistance programs and started renting a 500 square-foot, $500 month efficiency in Taneytown.

“It has been one year of waiting and working our butts off,” said Mike.

With gratitude, Mike and Nicole noted that they have been propped up by county agencies, state funding, and spiritual replenishment from their churches (Grace Lutheran and Union Street Methodist Church).

Mike has a job with K& L Framing, but throughout the winter season he had to step aside so employees with seniority could work when projects slowed down. For a while, carnival work with Rosedale Attractions garnered as much as $300 to $400 a week.

Temporarily, they also made ends meet with $450 a month from the Department of Social Services’ Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) Program and $380 a month from Human Services’ Rental Assistance Program.

“Mike and Nicole are taking on responsibilities,” said Jeanette McLernon, associate director of Human Service Programs of Carroll County, Inc. “They are the kind of people who thrive when they have support. We try to hold people accountable, and Mike and Nicole stepped up to the plate. To be self-sufficient they knew they had to take ownership for what they do.”

The couple’s first move toward economic independence came when Mike found a Ford Econoline 250 van on Craig’s List with an asking price of $800. Mike, a self-taught mechanic who was confident that he could tackle any repairs, talked the owner down to $450 cash.

The car has been a boon. It gets them to work when they can find it, to doctor’s appointments, and for a few months, it was their home.

Another boon is the pending birth of their daughter Priska Natasia. [Her due date was January, and so she had not been born at press time.]

“Her first name is an older version of Priscilla and a name we link to one of Paul’s disciples who helped witness about Jesus,”said Mike. “She has an original, strong name with a purpose – we want her to know that she is not like anyone else; she is special.”

Since Mike and Nicole have little contact with their families, they have decided where they want to live.
“God willing, we will move to West Virginia,” Mike said. “Plus we can get a house there on some acreage for $100,000.”

Mike is taking courses online through Ashford University in Iowa, and he hopes to fly there “at least to cross the stage” when he completes courses and earns a bachelors degree in criminal justice.

“Mike and Nicole balance each other; where one needs, the other reinforces,” said McLernon. “They have their whole lives in front of them, and I’m so glad that they are doing well.”