With the national economic crisis hitting the Toledo area especially hard, The Blade and WTOL-TV Channel 11 are teaming up to tell the stories throughout the year of how several families are coping with hard times.
About two years ago, Randy Huner took a big chance at fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning a business.
He quit his job at Flower Hospital and started his own small medical transportation company, never anticipating the obstacles that would arise.
By last summer, he was all but out of business. His 15 employees were laid off, and Mr. Huner and his business partners were left with a $4,000 bill from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
"The cost of fuel, workers' comp insurance, and not getting reimbursed in a timely manner - I just couldn't stay in business," Mr. Huner said during an interview at his family's home in Maumee.
To get his business off the ground, Mr. Huner, 44, and his wife, Candy, 47, borrowed money against the house where they live with their four children - Kelsey, 19, Lyndsey, 16, Jacob, 14, Ben, 12, - and their dog, Buddy.
"We thought it was going to be something," said Ms. Huner, who runs her own business cleaning 16 Toledo-area homes and a church. "But it happened very fast we didn't want to be on the news that we couldn't pay our employees."
To cope, Mr. Huner has joined his wife in her cleaning business as he considers his next move. But the past six months have been filled with depression and self-doubt, as well as tough lessons for the family.
"It has been devastating for me personally," Mr. Huner said. "It is hard. It is depressing."
Bill Wersell, director of business development services for the Toledo Area Small Business Association, said dozens of small-business owners in northwest Ohio have endured similar struggles in the past year.
Many are confronting cash-flow problems and the realization their customers have cut spending.
Although no statistics are available on how many Toledo-area small businesses have been casualties of the economic downturn, Mr. Wersell believes the number is large.
"Because the small-business owner doesn't have the sales volume, they are unable to pay their vendors," he said. "Many of the small vendors cannot collect on work they have already provided, and that is becoming a bigger problem on a daily basis."
With Mr. Huner's business no longer there to help support the family, the Huners are watching how they spend their money.
They are planning to grow some of their own produce on a one-acre plot that belongs to a family member.
"We've cut back on a lot of things," Mrs. Huner said. "We cook at home. We've had to tell our kids 'no.'•"
It's been an adjustment for the Huner children as well, who are looking to scholarships and loans to pay for college.
The oldest, Kelsey, is studying nursing at University of Toledo.
Mrs. Huner said, "You feel like a bad parent. You are supposed to be able to take care of them."
When one of her children asked recently why the family is "poor," Mrs. Huner began taking her children to feeding programs to show the hardships that other people across the region are encountering.
"Things are tight, but we aren't poor," Mrs. Huner said. "I've met some people who are really down on their luck. We still have each other."
Before the family found itself struggling, Mrs. Huner started a Web site called dealwithitsimply.com.
It offers tips and help for families on how to make ends meet on a tight budget. It has suggestions on saving on bills and recipes for homemade products such as fabric softener.
"Our goal was to help people," Mrs. Huner said.
Her husband added, "When it comes to a coping situation, it doesn't take long to look around and see someone has it worse."
TOMORROW: A single mother struggles without health insurance.
Contact Steve Eder at: