Stories of Impact

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.

Homeless to Thriving: A Story from Good Sam's Community Housing Partnership

A young homeless mother of two had recently fled a domestic violence situation, was living in a local shelter and was without income. She had been homeless as a child with her own mother, and was feeling lost, frustrated and like a failure. Within 20 days of intake, she had been screened by the Good Samaritan Housing Assessment and Resource team, assessed and moved into permanent housing. Over the next six months, her family received both financial assistance and supportive services through Good Samaritan Ministries. With this support, she was able to secure full time employment and childcare. It has been over nine months now, and this mom continues to thrive, maintain her housing, and is now discussing her future plans for ways she hopes to secure a higher paying job.

Greater Ottawa County United Way provides funding for Good Samaritan Ministries' Community Housing Partnership Program, so everyone can have a place to call home. This program is part of United Way's Affordable Housing impact area. To learn more about Good Samaritan Ministries, visit:

A Mentor Makes the Difference: a story from big brothers big sisters

“My name is Ricardo, and my Big Brother is Tom. We have been brothers for more than 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 United Way's Health impact area. To learn more about the Big Brother Big Sister of the Lakeshore, visit:


Recovering After a Disaster: help when you need it most

“ [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 United Way's Basic Needs impact area. To learn more about The American Red Cross in Michigan, visit:

A Path to Reconciliation: A story from mediation services

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 United Way's Health impact area. To learn more about Mediation Services, visit:

* 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 United Way's Education impact area. To learn more about The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland, click here:


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 United Way's Health impact area. To learn more about Girls on the Run in Ottawa and Allegan Counties, visit

*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.

Liliana graduated from Michigan State University with a BA in Psychology. The same year she entered a graduate program and began working full time. Two years later, 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 United Way's Education impact area. To learn more about Upward Bound, visit:

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 United Way's Financial Stability impact area. To learn more about The People Center, visit

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 United Way's Health impact area. To learn more about the Tri-Cities Family YMCA, visit


"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 Basic Needs impact area. To learn more about the Children's Advocacy Center and their programs and services, visit