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Success Stories Archive

Norma's Story: Growing Success

Byond Shelter Initiative

Photo: Norma (right), Seeds for Success Promotora with Maria Moreno (left), Bienestar Program Coordinator

Norma has been a Promotora for the past three years with Semillas de Exito / Seeds for Success project in Washington County. Promotores are leaders within their community who are trained to help fellow residents get connected to services through a one-on-one peer mentoring model. By using the Promotores model, this United Way funded project helps low-income agricultural workers with employment support, emergency financial assistance for basic needs, microenterprise support, English language skills, mental health and wellbeing, and much more.

The project, led by Bienestar, is a collaboration with eight other nonprofits and community partners including Adalante Mujeres, AARP Tax-Aide, Dress for Success, Banner Bank, Key Bank, Wells Fargo and others.

Norma is married with four children and was interested in giving back to the community as she always liked helping people and the Promotores project through Seeds for Success was a perfect fit.

"Now I'm very sure of myself. I want to be a good role model for my children so they don't have to suffer like me when I was young."

Not only is Norma a part of the project and helping her fellow community members, she and her children also benefit from the project as a participants. Through the project, Norma is working on her English and computer skills and her children participate in the homework clubs.

"United Way changed my life. Now I know I can achieve many things and I know my children are proud of me. Thank you for supporting the Seeds for Success project."

Eleea's Story, Constructing Green Futures

Constructing Green Futures is a collaborative project funded by United Way that works with women and minorities to provide a free seven-week, intensive pre-apprenticeship project in the construction, mechanical, technical and utility trades. The training project not only provides hands on experiential learning but also assists with job placement and retention as well as informal mentoring relationships and advocacy through civic Eleea Norris - Constructing Green Futures success storyengagement activities.

This innovative partnership between Constructing Hope, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc., Metropolitan Contractor Improvement Partnership, the National Association of Minority Contractors and others has graduated almost 250 workers since it started in 2009.

Before Eleea Norris began the project she was an unemployed single mother on welfare trying her best to find work to provide for her newborn son. A self professed “girly-girl,” she would not have expected to find herself working in construction but “now I get dirty each day at work and I love it!” said Eleea.

The welfare office connected Eleea to the project because of the potential for living wage employment. According to Eleea, prior to participating in the apprenticeship, “I knew nothing about construction, I didn’t even know how to read a tape measure, but I learned a tremendous amount and now I’m a safety representative on a Skanska project site in Portland.”

“Constructing Green Futures really opened doors for me,” said Eleea. “Now I’m independent and off welfare and I’m able to provide for my son.”

Eileen's Story, Byond Shelter Initiative

Byond Shelter Initiative

Melissa Erlbaum, Executive Director of Clackamas Women’s Services speaks at a recent United Way Domestic Violence Summit about the Beyond Shelter Initiative project funded by United Way.

United Way funds a collaborative project led by Clackamas Women’s Services called The Beyond Shelter Initiative, that connects women and families facing homelessness due to intimate partner violence with permanent housing. The Initiative helps families avoid the trauma and revolving door of emergency shelters by supporting them in overcoming barriers to housing.

Last year Eileen and her infant son Sam were evicted from the home she had been sharing with Sam’s dad before he abandoned them. He had been abusive and severely isolated her from friends and family. “I was really stuck. I mean, not everybody can go to a shelter.” Eileen was facing homelessness when she connected with Clackamas Women’s Services and the Beyond Shelter Initiative. When her case manager asked if she wanted her own apartment, Eileen was so relieved that she almost cried.

The Beyond Shelter Initiative helped Eileen navigate the DHS system and qualify for the benefits she needed to rent her own apartment. When a past-due water bill threatened her rental application, the Initiative was able to step in and pay it.

Sam and Eileen have been living in their apartment for nearly a year. “It’s working out wonderfully. Having our own apartment means everything. We have independence; we aren’t living under somebody else’s rule. We are free and happy. Before, when we were in our situation with Sammy’s dad, I didn’t know what to do. I was lost. But definitely not now. We have hope, and a future.”

Egbevado's Story, Village Gardens

Egebevado - Village Gardens success storyIn middle school, Egbevado was having a hard time finding a sense of place after moving from a rural farming community to the urban environment of North Portland. Acting out at school became a regular occurrence until he became involved in a United Way of the Columbia-Willamette funded urban gardening project which helped him establish a sense of place and identity.

The Village Gardens project at Janus Youth Programs helped him grow as a person, learning leadership, public speaking and other valuable skills. Now that he's older, he runs various parts of the project including the youth garden where he helps children learn life skills through gardening.

In recognition of his work on the project, he won the 2007 Oregon Peacemaker Award. In Egbevado's words: "The project helped keep me out of trouble because I finally found my sense of community." Because of your support for this and other United Way funded projects, Egbevado was able to earn a college scholarship as a result of his involvement with the Village Gardens project.

Maria's Story, Project Access NOW

Maria - success storyWhen Maria got laid off her job of 15 years, she found herself without a steady income or health insurance. A mother of three and grandmother of two, she had worked since she was nine and earned her bachelor's degree in sociology just as she entered retirement age. Now, she was forced to take occasional temporary jobs, live off food stamps, and cope with chronic health issues. She had faced difficult choices before. "I was the first one in my whole family to buy a house, to go to college, to have children who all graduated from high school. To think I was going to lose my house just to pay for medical bills was a terrible thought."

She started rationing her pills because she couldn't afford new prescriptions and her diabetes and heart condition got worse. "I couldn't walk or do for myself things we take for granted. And I had nowhere to turn." Maria eventually connected with United Way partners Rosewood Clinic and Project Access NOW which provided free care, stabilized her condition, got her needed medications and testing which ultimately led to heart surgery. Now Maria is healthy and thriving.

Fabian's Story, ROAR

Fabian - Mercy Corps NW success storyUnited Way funds a project called ROAR, operated by Mercy Corps Northwest, that is a re-entry project for people exiting the criminal justice system. ROAR is a collaboration of over 50 nonprofits and government agencies that work to promote successful transition from incarceration back into the community.

The navigators at ROAR connect recently released men and women with basic needs, housing, vocational training, counseling and support and other resources to help them live successful and lawful lives.

At age 50, Fabian Branch had been in and out the criminal justice system on drug-related charges for much of his adult life. He first connected with ROAR in October 2009 after his most recent stint in prison.

"When I came in it was wintertime and I said 'I need a coat,' and that was the first thing they helped me with, and then they helped me get reading glasses and my driver's license which I hadn't had in 36 years.

"Previously I had nothing to fall back on after release and I wasn't able to turn my life around – until I got connected with ROAR and they helped me through. When I was in a bind and couldn't get anyone to say, 'Yeah, we believe in you,' ROAR believed in me."

Fabian now works as a Resident Services Support Specialist at Central City Concern working with people trying to turn their lives around like he did. "I've learned how to interact with people, how to be polite and professional behind the desk and I'm helping people that were in my position find the path to a positive life like I've have.

"Today I lead by example at my job but also with my grandchildren and nieces and nephews. They respect me now. Without United Way funding this project, I wouldn't have gotten the support I desperately needed to turn my life around."

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