DeNise Evans used to "look down on" people who received welfare, but today it's the safety net that keeps her family from crashing to rock bottom.

For the first time in her adult life, this mother of "two and two-thirds" (her third child is due in October) isn't working. She quit her job in a garden nursery because she could no longer do the heavy lifting that was required.But she couldn't get unemployment because pregnancy is a "temporary disability."

DeNise is the first to admit that the choices she's made in her 26 years have not prepared her for the changes occurring in her life.

Her marriage is over and she's supporting her 9-year-old daughter Brooke and 7-year-old son Russell on a $391 welfare grant (she gets an extra $15 a month for the duration of her pregnancy) and $172 in food stamps. Low-income housing costs one-third of the grant, plus utilities.

DeNise dropped out of school in her junior year and went to work. "I wasn't into school at the time," she said. "It was hard for me - I think because I had gotten off to a slow start in second and third grade. They didn't have the resource classes back then, and they just kept passing me along from grade to grade. I never caught up. Then I quit." She took some classes at the Davis Area Vocational Center, but they were too expensive and she had to drop out again.

DeNise and her case manager, Sue Abbott, decided her first step to self-sufficiency would be the GED - the test that provides the equivalent of a high school diploma. After thinking about it, DeNise changed her mind.

"I could take the test and get the piece of paper," she said, "but I wouldn't know any more than I do now. So I've decided to take the classes and earn the credits the right way - one at a time.

"I don't know what my ideal job would be. Making ends meet and raising my kids, I never thought about a `career.' I was taught to have a family, and now I have to regear my thinking. The hardest thing for me is not to be dependent. I went from depending on my parents to depending on my husband, then back to my parents. I'm going to learn to depend on me."

"That," according to Sue Abbott, "is the scariest decision for people in this position to make. It is also a major step" in welfare reform.

Abbott directed DeNise to JPTA - the Job Training Partnership Act, which trains low-income people who qualify. She is eligible, but needs to select a vocation and plan a course, so she's hoping a battery of career assessment and aptitude tests she recently took will provide inspiration. She will apply for a Pell Grant to help pay for classes.

As for welfare reform, DeNise said she isn't expecting miracles, or a quick fix for her problems.

"Sue can tell me who to contact and how to do it," she said, "but unless I follow through and get in gear, nothing will happen.

"I can see how people get caught up in the system. It would be easy to say `I'll just have to wait until after I have the baby.' Then I could say, `I'll wait until the baby's a little older.'

"But do you know how hard it is to pay for food with those things (the food stamps)? I don't even want to look at anyone when I pull them out. And I don't ever want to get comfortable with welfare - to feel like someone owes me. Nobody owes me anything. I'm on the system right now, using it, but I'm determined to use it to better myself."

As DeNise wrestles with career decisions, Candi Inman is still looking for a job. She said she's been out on a lot of interviews for jobs in the $4 range, but without insurance benefits, such a job would cost her, because she's lose the medical protection the system provides for her 3-year-old son Jessup.

"My typing test results were really ugly the first time," she said, "so I am working on them, and they keep getting a little better," she said. Candi is still discouraged, and has talked about going for some schooling, but she hasn't made a decision.

She and Jessup probably will not be moving into subsidized housing for while; she's not high enough on the priority list.

In the meantime, more programs are falling into place in the Davis County Office of Community Operations, and three-man teams are beginning to work with welfare reform clients.

The Deseret News will continue to monitor their progress.