When it rains, Carmina Peralte struggles to get plastic bins in place in the living room of her Northeast Miami-Dade home before the water seeps in through her leaky roof.
After two accidents — one that nearly crushed her legs and another that led to back surgery — Peralte, 80, uses a cane and can barely bend down.
While her $500-a-month Social Security check covers the basics, there isn’t enough leftover to fix the roof, address serious mold issues, get rid of termites pecking away at her wooden rafters, and fill the pool she no longer uses.
Peralte, who takes care of her adult daughter, said she fears the mold will sicken her and her daughter, who suffers from asthma. She also fears the damage will worsen if it’s not addressed.
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“It’s really hard right now,” she said, saying her faith is what keeps her going. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Sitting at her dining room table, Peralte remembers a time before her car accident in 2005 when she worked as a nurses’ aid and earned enough to live comfortably.
“I liked to work,” she said. “I’d work now if I could.”
Born in Haiti, Peralte moved to New York in her 20s. Her now-late husband had moved there before her to get a job. He sent for her and her four children not long after, and they made a life for themselves in New York. There, they had a fifth child.
While her husband worked as a taxi driver, she earned money by doing data entry. She learned English by helping her children with homework.
In 1989, her husband couldn’t stand the cold weather and decided to move south. Peralte said she had no desire to leave New York after 20 years but did it for her husband.
“I loved living there,” she said.
He came to South Florida and bought the three-bedroom house on South Spur Drive near North Miami. She liked the house but missed New York.
Only five years after they moved, her husband died. “That was very hard for me,” she said.
Two of her children have also since passed away, and two of her children do not live close by.
She became the sole wage earner for her home, working as a legal aid and then with senior citizens.
In 2005, she had just finished visiting a client when she went to get into her red Toyota Camry. The battery wasn’t working properly, and she was supposed to flip a switch for the car to turn on.
She had forgotten that step until she got inside the car. So she got out and prepared to open the hood. But she forgot to put the gear in park. The car started rolling forward, pinning her between the wall of the house and the front of her car.
“My legs were crushed,” she said pointing out scars. “It looked like ground meat.”
Peralte was in the hospital for a few weeks, but the recovery took months.
The second accident happened just after Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005. A neighbor wanted her to go see a fallen tree. She made her way outside with her walker, but she tripped and fell on her back.
“It felt like my body was cut in two,” she said.
The same organization that she worked for — North Miami Foundation for Senior Citizens Services — now helps her.
Sandi Dioli Kumm, the program administrator, said she nominated Peralte for Miami Herald’s Wish Book because of her needs.
“She has the biggest heart,” said Kumm. “She is one of those people who really touches your heart, and you want to do whatever you can to help her.”
Kumm said she saw how hard it was for Peralte to go from working with other seniors to being a client. And she said it is hard to see that her “safe zone” is not safe. The last time Peralte had any work done to the roof was in 1995.
“The house is not healthy for her,” Kumm said.
These days, Peralte counts on her faith to get her through. During the day, she sits in her home, which she takes pride in keeping spotless. A Christmas tree sits in the corner, and old family photos decorate her walls.
“I pray 24/7,” she said, looking up. “That’s why I am still here.”
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@MiamiHer ald.com.
▪ Most requested items: Laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.
Read more at Miami Herald.com/wishbook.