Wish Book

Wish Book: For family drowning in bills, ‘every day’ gets more difficult

MAY HAVE TO MOVE:  Miriam Contreras, left, and son Juan Manuel Cobo in their Miami Beach apartment.
MAY HAVE TO MOVE: Miriam Contreras, left, and son Juan Manuel Cobo in their Miami Beach apartment. Miami Herald staff

Miriam Contreras begins to list the problems her small family faces.

The new landlord wants them out of the apartment they’ve called home for six years. That means pulling together their first and last months’ rent, plus security, in the midst of the holiday season — without a steady job. Bills from an immigration attorney have also piled up.

“Every day it becomes more difficult,” she said. “You have to have faith in God.”

While Contreras, 62, is a woman of deep faith, she is looking to fellow men and women for help this holiday season. The Miami Beach family hopes for a new sofa bed, bus passes, and help with the bills this holiday season.

Contreras left her home country of Venezuela about 10 years ago with her two sons. She came to the United States in search of better opportunities for the eldest, Juan Cobo Contreras, who was born with mental disabilities.

From the time he was 2, Juan’s life has centered on doctor’s visits and therapy sessions. He is always accompanied by his devoted mother, who never leaves his side.

“He is my angel for life,” Contreras said.

Once a week, Juanito, as his mother calls him, heads to his job at a Winn-Dixie supermarket. Sometimes his manager has to remind him to take his whole break because Cobo is too eager to get back to filling grocery bags and helping shoppers to their cars.

His job “makes me happy,” said Cobo, 31. “I’m making myself useful for society.”

When he’s not working, Cobo is learning how to take care of himself and picking up skills, like basic math, at a program run by Miami-Dade County. His caseworkers nominated Cobo for Wish Book.

“It’s really difficult for him to purchase anything outside of food and supplies,” said Lizzette M. Puig, a disability services specialist for the county’s Department of Human Services.

Asked what he wants this holiday season, Cobo said he could use some bus passes. The round-trip cost to get around on a bus specifically for people with disabilities is $7.

Cobo talks easily about himself. A history buff, he can cite facts about Cuba, Mexico and Colombia. Lately, he has become interested in Israel, his mother said. He also loves to listen to reggaeton music and watch movies with his mother, who says she is a big fan of actress Nicole Kidman.

Cobo still remembers the day he became a U.S. citizen: June 19.

“The United States is so pretty, and whatever you want to do, to leave or whatever, with citizenship you don’t have a problem. You can come and go,” he said.

When it comes to his brother, Pablo Cobo, 29, the path to staying in the United States hasn’t been cheap. Contreras estimates it has cost the family more than $1,200 for an immigration lawyer’s help securing residency for him.

“Oh, what anguish,” Contreras says with a sigh.

Pablo contributes money from his job as a valet attendant. But the family has relied mostly on Cobo’s Social Security check to live ever since Contreras lost her job providing care for senior citizens. She finds odd jobs baby-sitting, but otherwise spends her time writing prayers and poetry, which she posts on Facebook.

Her devotion to her faith is matched only by her love for her sons.

“I feel very proud because my sons are beautiful children,” she said.

How to help

Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year.

▪ To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

▪ To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444.

▪ For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com.

▪ Most requested items: laptop computers and tablets for school; furniture; accessible vans.

Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

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