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United Way Helped Reverse a Family's Pandemic Plight

A simple call to United Way's 211 helpline turned a family's life around.
May 4, 2021

Brian is 53 years old and had never considered the possibility of losing his house. He never worried about his family being homeless. “Something like that didn’t cross my mind,” he says, “until the letters kept coming.” The letters warned him he was behind on his mortgage payments.

Brian is a married father with two teenage sons. He lives in the North College Hill house that he and his wife bought in 2006. Heart problems and diabetes prevent his wife—a former hairdresser—from working, but Brian’s job as a machinist provided a steady income.

For two years, they saved money to make major repairs to their home’s roof, porch and address needs for a water heater and furnace. All the work was completed by the end of 2019. “We were feeling so good, but we were broke,” Brian says. They looked ahead to 2020 as the year they would pay everything off.

Enter the coronavirus pandemic: “It was the most devastating thing ever to happen to me,” Brian says.

In 2020, with many people facing dire circumstances, Hamilton County officials entrusted United Way of Greater Cincinnati to form a network of community partners to meet the diverse needs of residents affected by COVID-19. From Nov. 8, 2020, to January 15, 2021, the federally funded Hamilton County Care Coordination Program delivered 1,295 meal kits and 1,140 health kits; provided rent, mortgage, or water bill assistance to 873 individuals or families; connected 260 people to employment services; and linked 216 people to mental health services.

Such assistance helped allay the fear and uncertainty felt by people like Brian. Shutdowns at his workplace led to unpaid bills and food shortages at home. A couple of social-service agencies dropped off groceries, and the church where Brian is pianist scraped together some money for his family, but it wasn’t enough.

The most difficult time was in November 2020 when Brian’s younger son was diagnosed with COVID-19 and severe pneumonia. The teen spent several days in the intensive care unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Brian also contracted the disease and was sick most of December, quarantined in his basement. Fortunately, his wife, at high risk because of her health issues, stayed well, as did their older son.

A turning point came when Brian’s sister, who was researching options for assistance, suggested he call 211, the United Way helpline. “Once I got in touch with United Way, that is what really saved me,” Brian says.

A 211 call specialist connected Brian to Jeff, a United Way worker assigned to the Care Coordination Program. “He was a God-sent angel,” Brian says. “He helped with my mortgage and he cleared up my water bill.” By phone, he even helped Brian perform computer tasks so that he could file forms online.

Brian, who spent much of 2020 gripped by fear, is grateful for something else Jeff did: He listened with compassion. “Every time I got on the phone with him, I would burst out in tears,” Brian says. “I would tell him what I was going through, and he would just listen. His whole attitude . . . saved me.”


Help people like Brian

Many people are one crisis away from losing everything. Help fund our efforts to help people and families overcome adversity and rise above the hardhips.

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