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Photo Credit: John Johnston, United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Tierra Harris is one of many beneficiaries of United Way of Greater Cincinnati's Project Lift initiative..

How Project Lift rescued Tierra Harris and her family from disaster

Tierra Harris, a mother of four, worked seven days a week living paycheck to paycheck. Then she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and could not get work or unemployment. At first she felt lost, but found Project Lift.

Tierra Harris works seven days a week as a home-care aide. Her clients include a woman she has assisted for three years. “She looks at me like a daughter,” Harris says. “I’ve always loved to help people.”

Last year, Harris was the one who needed help.

In the months leading up to the pandemic, the 38-year-old lived paycheck to paycheck, residing in an Evanston rental home with her children, ages 17, 16, and 5 (a fourth is grown). “I was struggling, but I was maintaining,” she says.

Her struggles multiplied in late June 2020 when she was diagnosed with COVID-19. She could not work. She tried unsuccessfully to get unemployment benefits. Her health deteriorated.

For more than six weeks, she quarantined at home while dealing with pneumonia, an irregular heartbeat, and breathing difficulties that were exacerbated by asthma. “I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t get up, be a mom to my kids. I didn’t know if I was going to die because I know what this thing does to people. I was scared.”

With bills piling up, she connected with Madisonville Mission Ministries, one of 22 Project Lift sponsor organizations. Project Lift, operated by United Way of Greater Cincinnati, is a public/private partnership designed to remove barriers to securing sustainable income so that families can achieve financial stability.

For many families, short-term financial assistance is a critical first step. Project Lift paid Harris’ rent and late utility bills, and it helped her catch up on car payments, preventing its repossession.

When Harris returned to her job in August, her work hours were limited initially, so she took a second job with a food delivery service. Soon after, with Project Lift’s help, she enrolled in State Tested Nursing Assistant classes offered by Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, another Project Lift sponsor. Years earlier, Harris completed job-readiness programs offered by Mercy, including home-care aide training.

But despite withstanding the crisis, her rental home was sold and her family was forced to move out.

“I put my head down,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it.” But despite being confronted by homelessness, she did not give up.

“She stands out in terms of intrinsic motivation, the desire to keep going. And she has a vision for her and her family,” says Thomas Jefferson, executive director of Madisonville Mission Ministries.

With the support of Project Lift and sponsor organizations, Harris and her children moved temporarily into an extended-stay hotel. She continued working two jobs. And she kept up with her nursing assistant classes. “We saw that as her best opportunity to move forward financially for her family,” says Suzanne Kathman, executive director of Mercy Neighborhood Ministries.

Eventually, Harris found a rental home, made a down payment and paid the first month’s rent.

“I was so appreciative and happy,” she says.

In November, she graduated from Mercy Neighborhood Ministries’ State Tested Nursing Assistant program. And in April, she passed the state STNA exam. These achievements will open doors to a better-paying job with benefits. Harris also continues to pursue long-lasting financial stability by participating in Madisonville Mission Ministries’ financial stewardship program, funded by United Way’s Black Empowerment Works program.

“I’m at the end of a new beginning,” Harris says. “I’m making progress. I’m achieving goals, and there are more goals I want to achieve.”




For more information on Project Lift, qualifying requirements and a full list of sponsor organizations, visit uwgc.org/projectlift.


Help families like Tierra's

Many families are one crisis away from homelessness. Your gift enables the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and its partner organizations to create programs like Project Lift and Black Empowerment Works to help people like Tierra overcome hardship and live fuller, more stable lives.

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