United, We Can

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January 8, 2021
Life was going well for Carman Lake and her family. She was a Navy veteran, with a job in the medical field. Her husband had a good job too and they were checking off the boxes of the “American Dream” – marriage, car, house, children.
Things were going so well that when their second and third children were born – twins – it was decided that Carman would quit work and be a stay-at-home mom.

Then it all fell apart.

When her husband lost his job, their savings were depleted in a few months. They didn’t have enough money to pay the bills and in the middle of winter, their gas and electric was scheduled to be shut off. There was no food in the house.

“I was sitting in my car, completely broken,” Carman recalls. “I was thinking, how much farther do I have to go before someone will help?”

She knew about United Way’s 211 helpline because she often shared it with others as a resource during a previous job. “I picked up my cell phone and called,” she says. “This wonderful lady answered and said, ‘How can I help?’ And I just started crying.”

Carman made a connection that would turn out to be life-changing for her and her family.

The 211 associate who answered began by simply listening. “She didn’t even ask my name at first,” Carman remembers. “It was, ‘How can I help you?’” 

She directed Carman to the Brighton Center, a United Way supported agency that offers community services and a wide range of programs for people in need. The staff there gave Carman a bag of food for her and her family and paid the utility bill so the heat would stay on.

They didn’t stop there.

The staff provided Carman with a pathway to go back to school at its Center for Employment Training so she could earn further certification in the medical assisting field. Carman, in her 40s with three children, recalls thinking, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” But the Center’s staff built her confidence. “We are going to be with you every step of the way,” they assured her.

With United Way funding and grants, Brighton Center was able to provide the training to Carman at no cost to her.
Building on her background in the Navy medical corps and her previous job, she excelled. She was able to complete the program with the help of United Way agencies that supported her with a family-centered approach that was customized to meet her needs. Brighton Center staff provided bus passes when her car broke down, arranged for childcare and helped create a family financial budget, and the Boys and Girls Club provided essential after-school care for her children.

This personalized support system was able to respond to her situation, enabling her to succeed despite the daily obstacles she faced. 

“They help build your self-esteem, so you can say ‘I got this; I can do this,’” Carman says.

With her upgraded certification, she got a job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a job that allowed to stay on her feet when, some time later, her husband left the family.

She’s learned how to budget and save, and her children, now teens, are learning from her. “It’s been a ripple effect,” she says. “They’re more prepared and they’re going to be better off in their future.”

Her call to United Way’s 211 line that night, alone and desperate, has led to a stable job and a family that is able to plan for a promising future. 

“I’ll never forget that woman’s voice when she answered the phone and said, ‘United Way, how can I help you?’” she says. “If it wasn’t for United Way, I wouldn’t have my house, I wouldn’t have my job, I wouldn’t be able to support my three kids right now.” 

About United Way’s 211 help line:
Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dialing 211 connects callers who don’t know where to turn to professionals who can assist them with finding essential community services in Hamilton, Clermont, and Brown counties in Ohio, and Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties in Kentucky.

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