The stories featured here are from United Way's Community Partners, who receive funding for certain programs from United Way. To see all the programs that receive funding, click here.
A Mentor Makes the Difference
“My name is Ricardo, and my Big Brother is Tom. We have been brothers for eight years. He has not only been a big brother, he has been my best friend. He talks to me about how important it is to receive my education, and he talks to me about life. I want to be just like my brother because he gives himself to the community by volunteering for events and helping people whenever he can.”
Ricardo and Tom were paired up through the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore mentoring program. Ricardo has since graduated from high school, and is still in contact with Tom.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lakeshore’s mentoring program so kids like Ricardo can benefit from having a mentor. This program is part of the Access Prevent Thrive Initiative, which aims to help people live healthy lives. To learn more about the Big Brother Big Sister of the Lakeshore, visit: http://bbbslakeshore.org/
Recovering After a Disaster
“ [The Red Cross] made a horrible situation a little bit better. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”
Alesha, her fiancé and her two children were residents of an apartment building in Holland that experienced an explosion and fire. The Red Cross was on the scene right away, stayed during the event, and provided Alesha and her family with the resources to purchase clothing, food and other essentials, as well as find a place to stay. All of the occupants of the 21 uninhabitable apartments in the complex also received support for their needs.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for The American Red Cross’s disaster relief program, so people like Alesha will have their needs met after a disaster occurs. This program is part of the FoodShelterSupport Initiative, which ensures that people have life’s basic needs. To learn more about The American Red Cross in Ottawa County, visit: http://www.redcross.org/mo2g
A Path to Reconciliation
After 21 years of marriage, Jenny* and Grant* separated when Jenny let Grant know she wanted a divorce. She was bitter from years of unresolved conflict, and was not interested in communicating with Grant any more. Grant was confused, hurt and angry. When the couple first visited Mediation Services as part of the divorce process, there was quite a bit of hostility. With the help and guidance of the neutral mediators, Jenny and Grant were able to start really listening to each other for the first time.
Through the process of mediation, the couple was able to put their differences aside in an effort to reach an agreement that worked for both parties. After the mediation was completed, Jenny and Grant connected in the lobby, hugged and set up a time to get together to discuss the logistics of their agreement. Five weeks later, Mediation Services received a call from Jenny. She wanted to let them know that she and Grant were receiving counseling, and were planning to reconcile. Not every divorce mediation ends as happily as this one, but mediation creates an environment where positive communication is possible and conflicts can be resolved. Mediation empowers individuals to speak and be heard. Mediation finds positive ways forward and improves lives.
Greater Ottawa County United Way funds Mediation Services' Child and Family Mediation Program, which provides opportunities for families to work through challenges with the help of neutral mediators. This program is a part of the AccessPreventThrive Initiative, which aims to help people live healthy lives. To learn more about Mediation Services, visit: http://mediationservices.works/
* Names changed to protect clients' privacy
Overcoming Obstables: One Teen's Story
"I am a junior at Holland High School, and a ten-year member of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland. Throughout my 16 years, I have faced a number of challenges. My ability to overcome any obstacle is a direct result of my involvement as a Boys & Girls club member.
The Club has been directly involved in my growth because it has supported me through difficult times such as moving from household to household. No matter how many times I moved, or what I was struggling with personally or academically, the staff always provided a listening ear. The staff are individuals who provide that positive influence that many of us lack, but need desperately. Since I have benefited from positive role models at the Club, I have tried to be one to my younger siblings. I stand here today with much appreciation for the Club staff. As a result of their investment, I know I have a great future ahead of me."
Greater Ottawa County United Way funds The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland's Power Hour Homework Assistance Program, which provides homework help for at-risk students. This program is a part of the ReadyLearnSucceed Initiative, which aims to help people achieve their full potential. To learn more about The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland, click here: http://www.bgch.org/.
BFF: Be A Friend First
When a girl is bullied, 85% of the time nobody steps in to help her. Additional research shows that girls are more likely to bully others subtly, through relational aggression - manipulating their relationships with other girls online and off - as opposed to using physical aggression. The same studies also show that bullying behavior peaks in middle school, when the need for social acceptance is high, making this a crucial time to help girls learn to prevent bullying.
Last spring, Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore collaborated with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Holland to offer 60 girls the Girl Scout BFF: Be A Friend First programming series. The program addressed bullying in a way that deeply resonates with middle school girls. The focus was not only on bully prevention methods, but also on providing girls with tangible relationship building skills.
At the end of the program, the girls each made two blue rainbow loom bracelets as a symbol to raise awareness for anti-bullying efforts. They were then invited to share one of their bracelets with a younger girl and share some of what they learned in the program. The girl scouts involved in the program were excited about not only making the bracelets, but the positive impact they could have on creating change in their communities.
Greater Ottawa County United Way funds the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore Comprehensive Youth Development Program, and provides opportunities for girls to build healthy behaviors. This program is a part of the AccessPreventThrive Initiative, which aims to help people live healthy lives. To learn more about Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore, visit: http://www.gsmists.org/.
One Family's Journey from Homelessness to Stability
While in the shelter, Mallory applied for Good Samaritan Ministries' transitional housing program, called the Community Housing Partnership program. Mallory and her children were offered housing and supportive services through this 18-month program in September 2014.
Since moving in, Mallory has made tremendous progress toward achieving long-term stability for her family. Her children are doing very well in school, and Mallory is exploring going back to school herself in the near future with the encouragement of her mentoring team and case manager.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for Good Samaritan Ministries' Community Housing Partnership, so families like Mallory's can have a place to call home. This program is part of the EarnSaveBuild Initiative, which aims to help people achieve financial stability. To learn more about Good Samaritan Ministries, visit: http://www.goodsamministries.com/
* Name changed to protect client's privacy
Taylor & Jose: A Mentoring Story
Jose is eight years old. He has two older sisters and lives with his family on the north side of Holland for part of the year. He loves soccer, pizza (cheese only), cars, and has been learning how to swim this past year. Jose and I met at the beginning of this summer through the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance's (LEDA) migrant mentoring program.
Every Wednesday night after work, I would pick him up and we would find something fun to do. We talked about school and work, our families and silly things. We liked spending time at the beach and parks, and really enjoyed the beautiful weather. When the weather grew cold, we visited the bowling alley, museums and Crazy Bounce! No matter what we ended up doing, we always had fun together.
I found out Jose was leaving for Texas the week before Thanksgiving. For our last outing, we ordered pizza, something we had done a few times before. As we stood at the counter, Jose quickly said, "half cheese, half pepperoni," our usual order. We both ate our halves and talked about all of the new snow outside. I think we were both a little sad.
Jose and I have plans to hang out again when he returns with his family. I am looking forward to new adventures, getting to know him better, and eating more pizza!
--Taylor Wise Harthorn, Mentor
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance's (LEDA) Migrant Mentoring Program, so kids like Jose can enjoy the benefits of having a mentor. This program is part of the AccessPreventThrive Initiative, which aims to help people live healthy lives. To learn more about LEDA's migrant mentoring program, visit: http://www.ethnicdiversity.org/whatwedo/migrantprograms.
One Family's Journey from Crisis to Stability: A Story about The Salvation Army's Transitional Housing Program
Kevin and Sandy* never imagined needing housing assistance. However, when they both lost their jobs, and were unable to pay their rent, they were referred to The Salvation Army of Grand Haven. Kevin has a disability which makes it difficult to obtain employment, and Sandy was pregnant with their second child at the time. After staying in emergency housing for nearly three months, Kevin and Sandy entered The Salvation Army's transitional housing program. For a year and a half, Kevin and Sandy worked diligently with a case management worker to improve their living circumstances. Kevin obtained full-time employment, which has remained stable. Sandy found part-time employment too. They have stabilized financially, secured independent permanent housing in the Grand Haven area, and continue to make progress.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for The Salvation Army of Grand Haven's transitional housing program, so people like Kevin and Sandy can overcome life's difficult circumstances and find stable jobs and housing. This program is part of the EarnSaveBuild Initiative, which aims to help people achieve financial stability. To learn more about The Salvation Army of Grand Haven, visit http://sagrandhaven.org/.
*Names have been changed.
Three Cheers for Brittany: A Story About the Impact of Girls on the Run
The mission of the Girls on the Run (GOTR) program is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. The Center for Women in Transition feels passionately about preventing violence and empowering women, and provides this program in the hopes that it will prevent future victims by empowering the participants. A local teacher and Girls on the Run coach shares this story about how GOTR makes a positive impact: "I have one girl on my team who has spent most of this school year in foster care. In a meeting with her guardian, I explained the program, and how I thought it would be great for Brittany*. In Girls on the Run, Brittany made friends with girls her age and developed confidence. Shortly before our Celebration 5K, Brittany returned to live with her family. She wasn't certain she wanted to complete the program, but agreed to finish the year. Well, at the Celebration Run, six members of her family showed up to support her. I had tears in my eyes as I realized that they all took time out of their schedules to support Brittany. You have to know what an impact this program has made."
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for the Center for Women in Transition's Girls on the Run program, so girls can develop confidence and learn skills that help them to be healthy and happy. This program is part of the AccessPreventThrive Initiative, which aims to help people live healthy lives. To learn more about Girls on the Run in Ottawa and Allegan Counties, visit http://gotroac.org/.
*Name has been changed.
Liliana's Success Story: A Story from Hope College's TRiO Upward Bound Program
When Liliana was 10 years old, her family sold everything they owned and moved from Mexico to Holland, Michigan. Her parents and older siblings began working as migrant workers at a landscaping nursery. During her sophomore year of high school, Liliana learned about Hope College's TRiO Upward Bound program and decided to enroll. Through Upward Bound, she received tutoring, social support and assistance with college applications and essays as well as the opportunities to attend conferences and workshops, practice public speaking and develop lifelong friendships. The support and experiences offered by Upward Bound helped to prepare Liliana as a first generation college student. In the spring of 2009, Liliana graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Psychology. The same year she entered a graduate program and began working full time. In the spring of 2011, she graducated with a Master's Degree in Social Work, and now works as a high school college counselor. Liliana says, "As a first generation, low-income, migrant background student, I have overcome multiple obstacles successfully, and I now have the opportunity to give back to my community. I could not have acquired all of my skills and education without the help of TRiO Upward Bound."
Greater Ottawa County United Way funds Hope College's TRiO Upward Bound Program, and provides opportunities for students like Liliana to gain the skills needed to succeed in college and beyond. This program is a part of the ReadyLearnSucceed Initiative, which aims to help people achieve their full potential. To learn more about Upward Bound, visit: http://www.hope.edu/admin/upbound/.
Seven Mouths to Feed: A Story from His Harvest Stand
After her husband lost his job, Connie* came into His Harvest Stand in Zeeland for some of their day-to-day needs. On her next visit, she shared that she and her husband were now caring for four of their grandchildren. A few months later, Connie's daughter, who had cancer, came to live with them too. With seven mouths to feed, Connie couldn't do it alone! His Harvest Stand was able to provide the family with two bags of groceries per month plus items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, clothing and back-to-school supplies for the children. During the holidays, the family also received a Thanksgiving food basket, and a visit to the Christmas store, where they could shop for gifts at no cost. Connie shared her gratitude with His Harvest Stand by bringing in handmade gifts for each of the volunteers.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for His Harvest Stand's basic needs program, so people like Connie can feed and clothe their families during tough times. This program is part of the FoodShelterSupport Initiative, which ensures that people have life's basic needs. To learn more about His Harvest Stand, visit http://hisharveststand.blogspot.com/.
*Name has been changed.
A Home for Sandy: A Story from The People Center
Sandy came to The People Center when she was struggling to maintain stable housing. She was a single mom living in a duplex owned by her ex-husband. He was making the living situation difficult, but Sandy didn't have enough money to make a deposit on her own place. The People Center provided Sandy with transitional housing and helped enroll her in a budget counseling program. Sandy was then able to qualify for a home from Habitat for Humanity. She is now living in her own home and has learned skills that will help her maintain her housing and financial stability.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for The People Center's transitional housing program, so people like Sandy can manage their money wisely and live in their own home. This program is part of the EarnSaveBuild Initiative, which aims to help people achieve financial stability. To learn more about The People Center, visit http://www.thepeoplecenter.org/.
Skills That Save Lives: A Story from Tri-Cities Family YMCA Day Camp
Each day at camp, children look forward to an hour in the swimming pool. Before they go to open swim, every camper is reauired to take a 30-minute swim lesson. For many of the children in our camp, this may be the only swim instruction they get.
Late last summer, I received a call from the mother of one of our campers. She was in tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she told us that her little boy is alive because of our day camp. You see, he was swimming in a pool when he realized he was in trouble. His mother came running outside to find him floating on his back, making his way to the side. He told his mom, as she was sobbing, "It's ok mom, I learned how to do that at camp."
This child is one of over 1/3 of the kids that would not be at camp if it wasn't for the United Way funding. Because of United Way, this little boy and all the other kids at camp learn how to be safe around water.
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for the YMCA's Day Camp and Childcare programs, so kids of all ages can learn healthy life skills that keep them save and help them thrive. These programs are part of the AccessPreventThrive Initiative, which aims to help people live healthy lives. To learn more about the Tri-Cities Family YMCA, visit http://tcfymca.org/.
Quality Preschool Available for All Children: A Story from Ready for School
"Hi, My name is Juanita, and I am a mother of a four-year old who is attending Fun Preschool since he was three, and I can't thank you enough for giving my son the opportunity to attend Fun Preschool. I am thankful for the financial assistance program. If it wasn't for the program, my son would not get the education that he is getting right now, and I was afraid that he was going to struggle in elementary school. The financial assistance program gives opportunities to parents like me who cannot afford a great school like FUN preschool. My son is learning a lot from school, and I am thankful to give my son a jump start in his education."
Greater Ottawa County United Way funds Ready for School's Preschool Tuition Assistance Program, and provides opportunities for children like Juanita's son to attend top quality preschools. This program is a part of the ReadyLearnSucceed Initiative, which aims to help people achieve their full potential. To learn more about Ready for School, visit: http://www.readyforschool.org/.
Affordable Medication for Seniors: A Story from Four Pointes Center for Successful Aging
Each morning, Mr. R. gets his wife up in the morning, dresses her, puts on her jewelry and does her hair. He feeds and bathes her and takes care of her. Although he can meet many of her needs, Mrs. R. relies on at least six medications to relieve her Alzheimer's, Diabetes, high blood pressure and cholestorol. These life-sustaining medications cost $2,642 for a 3-month supply, which is a cost that she and her husband cannot afford. Through the Urget Healthcare Needs Program at Four Pointes, Mrs. R. is able to get her prescription medications from drug companies for free or at a reduced cost. Mr. R. shares that his wife owes her life to Four Pointes. "There is no way we could afford her medications even with insurance."
Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for the Urgent Healthcare Needs Program at Four Pointes. This program falls under United Way's FoodShelterSupport Initiative which aims to ensure that people have life's basic needs. To learn more about the resources available at Four Pointes, visit: http://fourpointes.org/ .
"We Want to Protect Our Baby Brother..." A Story from the Children's Advocacy Center
A neighbor looked out of the farmhouse window one day to see two small children (boy & girl) dragging large suitcases and pushing a stroller with a baby across the cornfield. The neighbor ran outside to see what was going on, and discovered that the children were running away because their father was "hurting" them.
The police were called and arrived on the scene. After hearing about the childrens' severe sexual and physical abuse, the officer brought the children to the Children's Advocacy Center. There, they opened the suitcases and found them filled with diapers, formula, and even the baby's immunization record. They shared, "We want to protect our baby brother. We don't want Dad to hurt him too." The children were then interviewed by a specially-trained forensic interviewer in a child-friendly, safe environment where critical information was obtained and medical exams were conducted. Detectives, prosecuting attorneys, child-protective services workers, forensic interviewers, therapists and medical personnel were on-site to assist with getting the children the best care possible. After the interview and exams, an investigation was conducted, a confession obtained and the father received a 30-year sentence. The children received counseling services (available for free for life) and were adopted together into a new home.
With the financial support of Greater Ottawa County United Way, the Children's Advocacy Center is able to offer assessment and intervention services in cases of child sexual abuse. This program falls under United Way's FoodShelterSupport Initiative which aims to ensure that people have life's basic needs. To learn more about the Children's Advocacy Center and their programs and services, visit www.cac-ottawa.org.