What happens when a young girl slips through the cracks at school? Unable to read or write near her grade level, Tanya* was struggling to follow in the steps of her classmates and friends. All the odds were against her; unstable environmental influences, poor behavioral patterns and little to no confidence in herself. Tanya was on the path of destruction, both academically and personally. Attending the United Community Ministries Creekside Community Center afterschool was when her academic troubles were noticed by others. Two older girls at Creekside took on the role of mentor to Tanya. With just a little support, encouragement and acknowledgement, Tanya began to show everyone her resilience to failure. Persevering through her internal and external struggles, Tanya continued her persistence of academic achievement by accepting help from others to improve her reading and writing skills. The positive changes in Tanya’s academic standing were dramatic and immediate; however her exuding self confidence and healthy behavior are the long term changes members of Creekside Community Center see everyday.
"Violence and abuse was a constant part of my marriage, and I was in denial of the abuse," Laura * told her UCM case manager. A mother of three young childen, she came to UCM after fleeing from an abusive husband of more than 15 years. He was an active military serviceman, and they lived on the base. Laura did not want to discuss the abuse with any one. She was a stay-at-home mom taking care of her children and did not have much contact with people outside of her immediate family.
After she registered in a community college for an associate nursing degree, her school counselor noticed that Laura was sleeping in her car sometimes. She inquired from Laura to know what was going on. Laura shared with her some of the abuse she had been experiencing and why she had left her husband with her children. The school counselor referred Laura and her family to the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, where the Family Liaison connected her with our transitional housing program.
With safe housing and the enabling environment of supportive service provided by UCM, Laura and her family were able to begin to heal and piece their lives back together. Luckily for her, the children did not have to change their schools when they moved to the UCM-provided apartment. She continued in her nursing degree program at a community college. She started babysitting to supplement the temporary child and spousal support income she received from her husband, pending the final outcome of her divorce. Laura's UCM case manager provided as much support as Laura and her children needed.
In May 2015, Laura completed and obtained her associate degree in nursing and passed her board examination. With her final divorce decree and increased child and spousal support, in August 2015 Laura and her family moved out of the supportive housing program into a 3-bedroom market rate housing, after about 7 months in the program. Laura has since started a new job as a nurse at one of the major area hospitals. Her plan is to return to school to study for her Bachelors degree in Nursing, so she can better provide for her children.
Failing all of her classes, having emotional and physical outbursts were just some of the problem areas teenage Julia displayed when first attending UCM’s Creekside Village Community Center.
Seeing an opportunity to encourage growth and development, center staff persuaded Julia to join the Pink and Black Girls Club which promotes life and character building skills for girls. Julia started to attend the groups’ weekly meetings in the middle of the school year. The groups’ meetings were focused on anger management, self-control and building self-esteem. Through the course of the groups’ meetings, Julia gradually began to connect her behaviors with her thoughts and emotions; she was beginning to understand why she behaved in negative ways and how to change her behavior. In the group, Julia began to share with the other girls her problems and the root of her anger. With time, Julia showed improvement in her grades as well.
At the beginning of each school year, the Pink and Black Girls Club facilitators collect progress from each group member. At the time Julia’s progress report consisted of B’s and C’s, which was a remarkable improvement from her previous progress reports. Julia was also promoted by the other group members and club facilitators to President of the Pink and Black Girls Club because of her involvement in the group and her improvement outside of the group. As more time passed, Julia made the A-B honor roll and was able to maintain an A average in her science classes. Since graduated from the Pink and Black Girls Club, Julia founded and leads the Pink and Black Sorority Sisters which focuses on serving girls ages 13 to 16.
"I entered the Healthy Families Fairfax program after having my now oldest daughter when I was 16 years old. I was alone. I was confused, scared, anxious, and I didn’t know the first thing about being a parent. Coming from a dysfunctional family with multiple vices didn’t help either. When I had the opportunity to be a part of the program, I was a little reluctant and skeptical that my Family Support Worker could help teach me and mold me into being a good parent.
"But not only did she help teach me how to be a loving parent and about my child’s cognitive and social emotional development, she provided me with anticipatory guidance and support that I didn’t have. I didn’t know the first thing about setting a goal and here I was with my worker, not only setting goals but accomplishing them. She connected me to different resources in the community that I had no knowledge of and after a while she came to be one of the few people that I learned to trust. For the first time I had someone interested in the well-being of my family. And I cannot thank her enough for that.
"Often I think back to that 16-year-old girl who didn’t know the first thing about being a parent. About the teen me who had the dysfunctional family and limited support. I think about where she would have been -- where I would have been had I not had the Healthy Families program. More important, I think about where my child would have been. I didn’t have the knowledge and resources and support that I needed to be a great parent -- and Healthy Families gave me that."
Isaac's mother came to UCM's Creekside Community Center to inquire about their tutoring program. She had received her son's report card and he had performed poorly in five subjects. Because of her hectic work and school schedule, she was struggling to find time to help Isaac with his homework. She was very excited for him to begin the program and made sure that he consistently attended his tutoring sessions. Isaac was placed in the first grade group, where his tutor began providing him with individualized support tailored to address his academic weaknesses.
Thanks to the help he has received at Creekside, Isaac is doing much better with his assignments and has improved in all of the subjects that he was struggling in. He continues to work hard towards further improvement.
The tutoring program at Creekside Community Center is a collaboration between UCM and the Fairfax County Homelessness Liaison's Office. Fairfax County Public School teachers volunteer their time to tutor school-aged children who are struggling in school.
Troy, a sweet, energetic, and social 13-month old child, was enrolled at our UCM Early Learning Center by his mother Celia, a 17-year-old student in the Project Opportunity program at Bryant High School. While he was sweet, Troy had difficulty adjusting to a school environment. With extra effort by the the infant team, Troy slowly adjusted and clung to music and songs, playing games such as “peek-a-boo” and “catch me,” and showing greater interest in sensory activities to get adjusted to the classroom environment.
When Troy turned two, he transitioned to the next class where the teaching team observed that he babbled, had about two to three words in his vocabulary, was difficult to understand, and did not have any simple phrases--a typical two-year-old has a vocabulary of about 50 words and can speak phrases. A Tool for Observation and Planning (TOP) assessment showed Troy was behind in communication skills for his age.
A referral was made to the Infant-Toddler Connection (ITC) for speech language development. Troy's mother Celia, our Center Child Development Specialist, and Troy's teacher identified ways his communication skills could be encouraged at home. Troy now speaks about 10 to 12 words, and they are much clearer. Today, Troy is on the path toward developing his communication and language skills and is a typically demanding and engaging 2-year-old!
Crystal is a single woman who has been working and maintaining her home and livelihood over the past 8 years without additional assistance. She came to UCM in August 2014 for rental assistance after unexpected income loss due to cancer and chemo treaments. Her savings and care coverage plan had been drained by paying her rent, in addition to other new expenses including medication and medical supplies. Crystal had expected to return to work in July hoping to use that income to cover her August rent. However, her doctor did not feel comfortable releasing her due to various risk factors associated to her recovery.
With the help of Fairfax County's Coordinated Services Planning group and special grant funding, UCM helped Crystal to pay her rent and also to receive groceries at our Food Pantry. Crystal’s UCM counselor has stayed in touch with her and reports that Crystal is doing well. She is very grateful for the assistance and the groceries that helped along the way.
Fifteen years ago, Michael was released after serving 2 years in prison. It was just before Thanksgiving, he was 28 years old, and he had no place to turn. Under the rules of his parole, he was not allowed to move out of state to live with his parents. With no place to live, Michael was given $25 and sent to a homeless shelter.
"I had made a lot of bad decisions—that’s how I had gotten to be where I was — but I was determined to improve my life,” Michael recalls. Within a week of being released, he found a job at a fast food restaurant. Unfortunately, he was fired a week later when his application was re-reviewed and it was noticed that he had disclosed a felony conviction. Shortly after that, he was hired to work in retail sales. While Michael felt fortunate to have found a job at all, he knew that there was no long-term future for him in retail. It was not until an acquaintance of Michael’s helped him get an interview in his field of expertise, Information Technology, that his luck began to turn.
Michael was nervous about the interview —after years out of an office he didn’t know if he could fit in. Educated and intelligent, he knew that he had the knowledge, skills and ability to succeed in the position — but could he convince the person interviewing him? He went to UCM’s Back Porch Thrift Store looking for some clothes that would help him look the part and that he could afford. “I found a suit at the Back Porch helped me fit in with the company,” he says.
Michael walked into his interview with head held high and landed himself a new job. He hands much of the credit for his success to the suit, “It was like that suit covered my shame for just long enough to persuade the HR manager that I was a 'normal' person, with a house, a car, clothes ... someone you wouldn't think twice about hiring for an office job." Shortly after taking the job, Michael was able to move out of the homeless shelter and began rebuilding his life.
Michael has been with the same company for nearly 15 years and has a life that he is very proud of, “I have a home; a wife and kids; a good job and I can afford my own suits now. I pay taxes. I give to my church. And yes, I donate to UCM. After all -— you could say it all started with their suit. God bless you, UCM.”
Sachara is a recent immigrant with a banking background and a degree in finance who came to this country with his wife and two children. Despite his expertise, the only job he could get was part-time at Chipotle’s earning minimum wage. Their household income was less than $20,000 a year.
Fortunately, Sachara learned about UCM's Work Center. Sachara’s employment counselor realized he was not successful in job searches because he lacked soft skills and computer skills. He enrolled into the Computer C.O.R.E. program in July 2014, graduated in December 2014 and immediately landed an entry level position at Capital One.
Samantha is a single mom who holds a business degree and has one son who is 13 years old. She fled here from Tennessee from an abusive husband in April 2014. Her mother had been a participant of UCM and suggested that she seek help from us. Samantha and her counselor developed a plan of action taking into consideration legal issues, safety issues and moving the family to true stability.
UCM contacted the Mount Vernon Domestic Violence Group about Samantha's situation. We also helped Samantha register her son for school and consulted with the school counselor regarding her son’s safety. With these basic matters settled, Samantha began looking for work in her field. UCM helped Samantha move into transitional housing and provided Samantha with a gas voucher to help her get to her job interviews. Within a year, Samantha had completed all the items in her plan. She was able to secure a reliable car through Vehicles for Change and had found a permanent home.
Recently, Samantha returned to UCM for rental assistance. Her employer had reduced her hours due to cutbacks, so making the rent payment had become more difficult. Considering her adherence, diligence, and perseverance, UCM wanted to help Samantha again. Because of our rental assistance program, Samantha was able to keep her home and, through our Work Center, is working toward a better, more secure job.
CLIENT SUCCESS STORIES
"United Community gave me hope when I needed it the most." - Michelle's Story
"You helped make our American Dream possible." - Fernando's Story
" I feel strong and excited about my future."- Lorraine's Story
"We are forever grateful." - Deanna's Story
"We are in a good place now." - Monica's Story
Meet our 2016 Valencourt Scholarship Awardees
Camila & Alex's Story - Healthy Families Fairfax
"Thank you for believing in me." - Teen Deneisha's Story
Resume Workshop Success
A Fairy Tale Gone Wrong - Lillian's Story
It's Scary to Be Homeless
Making Strides in School: Isaac's Story
Teen Mom Aira's Story
From Babbling to Bubbling: Troy's Story