Five Questions With… Patti Emery

In addition to our passionate on-site volunteers, Breakthrough is blessed with many online volunteers. One such volunteer is Patti, who participates in our Messages of Hope campaign all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Patti’s personal journey through poverty and mental illness has given her a drive to help others like her. We can’t wait for you to get to know her!

1. Why is volunteering at Breakthrough important to you?

The mission of helping to break through the cycle of mental illness and poverty is important to me for many reasons. I have lived in poverty and I have struggled with mental illness.

2. When did you know you needed help, and what motivated you to reach out?

The mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill happened only a couple blocks from my apartment while I was home. Previously, I was a teacher at Jewish day school and I knew families who attended Tree of Life. My neighbors and I were connected through the app Nextdoor, so I got the death count in real-time. First eight, then ten, then eleven. I held my breath until I knew none of my former students were killed. Afterward, everything came crumbling down.

Since then, I have worked with counselors at the Center for Victims to cope with CPTSD. I have come a long way. In fact, many of the coping skills I have honed have been a tremendous asset during the crises we face today. The fear is there, but I am adept at managing it.

3. You mentioned you’ve lived in poverty. Could you tell us more about how that affected you?

I have struggled with food insecurity. Not only did it deplete my physical energy, but it was also mentally exhausting. It left little room to make progress in any other area of my life, including finding work.

4. What helped you break through the poverty and find hope?

When I finally got connected with a food pantry, my life started to improve. The food gave me physical strength, mental relief, and a sense of security. Without a doubt, the way I was treated was as important as the tangible goods provided. My short visits with the staff and volunteers were often the only positive human interactions I would have for days. I felt invisible, powerless, and ashamed. They made me feel seen, heard, and worthy.

5. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

I am an able-bodied, middle-aged white woman. I hold a B. A. and a graduate degree. I am from an upper-middle class home and have highly educated parents. I don’t have a criminal record.  I don’t drink or use substances. I used to make 53k a year. I had a pension, healthcare benefits, paid sick leave, and paid vacation. I used to have a shiny black car.

I share all of this to illustrate that anyone can stumble; anyone can fall. You are the people who empower us to stand again.


As long as poverty, injustice & inequality persist, none of us can truly rest. It doesn’t take much to change a life. Get in touch today and start making the difference.