Success Stories

Success Stories - What United Way Funded Programs Accomplish!



Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The most important gift of all.

We received the following letter from Penny Albertie, a volunteer and supporter of United Way, to let us know how a United Way funded program impacted her family:

"As a former employee of a United Way funded agency and as a volunteer for the United Way, I know how important the programs our agencies are providing.  For as long as I can remember, United Way has said “you never know when you will need a United Way program....”  We say it, but we really, really believe it when we or a family member actually needs the service.
Let me tell you about my mom and about how the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired has impacted her life.  My mom has mascular degeneration, a horrible eye condition that robs one of their central vision.  Things we take for granted such as reading books, prescription bottles, the controls on the stove, and driving can become difficult if not impossible.  
These everyday tasks were becoming harder and harder for my 86 year old mother, a highly  independent woman.  It broke my heart to see her condition and how it was affecting her life.
I thought I knew most of our United Way agencies, but the Association for the Blind was one I guess I knew little about.  I figured they provided books in Braille and helped the blind.  I also thought they were based in Grand Rapids, so they probably didn't do much around here. I had no idea of how much they do, what they really do,  and how much they could help until I called them.
The agency immediately set up an appointment for my mom in Muskegon at their Low Vision Clinic. We met 3 wonderful women  who did a lot more than exam her (yes, they did an exam and screening).  They patiently explained her condition in layman's terms:  how it affects vision and how it won't go away, but that she wouldn't go blind.  They explained why she could see better with light and assured her that they have lots of adaptive equipment to help with these vision problems.  They have lights, magnifying equipment, special glasses, access to books on tape, and tons more in the huge black boxes for us to see!
Besides giving my mom and I understanding of her condition, they gave her the most important gift of all:  hope.  They assured her that they'll be with her now and in the future to help keep her independent.  We left that day not only with equipment on loan,  but with instructions on how to blow up the print on her computer, how to position furniture to see TV, and a huge smile on our faces.
A follow up visit has been scheduled for 3 weeks out and Kathy will do a follow up site visit to my mom's house.  At that time, she is bringing special lights and more adaptive equipment and will be looking at my mom's house, the needs mom has and helping to find ways to meet them.  
I sleep better knowing that my mom has gotten help from the wonderful people of the Association of the Blind and that they will be by her side during this major set back  in the her life.  (the setback feels more like a bump in the road after her appointment).  The staff have treated her with compassion and understanding and have made a huge difference in her life and her attitude.
My heartfelt thanks to the staff at the Associaton of the Blind and Visually Impaired for the fine work they are doing in our community and  to the United Ways that provide funding to this vitally important agency.  It's so true that “ you never know when you might need a United Way service”. Thank you for helping my mother and my family."


Habitat for Humanity
Home Ownership

Often times the people who apply to Habitat's homeownership program are frustrated and have given up hope of ever getting ahead. They wonder why they often seem penalized for increasing their income and trying to do better financially. Muskegon County Habitat's 100th homeowner was one of those people. Last Christmas Vanessa and her two children were living in the bedroom of a family member because they could no longer afford rent after losing rental and child care assistance when Vanessa got a better job. It was so disheartening to think that working harder and increasing her wages had actually made it harder for her to make ends meet for her family! Fortunately, someone at her new job had volunteered on a Habitat home and knew that Habitat was not only an affordable housing option, but a life changing opportunity for working families like Vanessa's. She suggested that Vanessa apply to buy a home through Habitat. Vanessa was shocked to learn she could actually invest in a new three bedroom home of her own and pay hundreds less each month in housing costs than what she was finding in rentals. After spending all of 2014 taking financial literacy classes and helping to build her new home, Vanessa and her children were able to wake up on Christmas morning in their own bedrooms in a home of their very own. What a difference a year can make when a family is given the 'hand up' they need to get ahead!


Mediation & Restorative Services
Balanced and Restorative Justice

Dave, John and Dean were out goofing around when they made an almost fatal decision. The boys saw a cool old building that looked like it wasn't regularly used and wondered what was inside; probably machinery or maybe cars. It seemed like it would be fun to go inside, see what was there and it looked like it would be pretty easy to get inside so they went to work. They found a piece of cement nearby and used it to break the hasp off the lock and to loosen one of the hinges. They needed to loosen two more hinges before they could get inside when suddenly they heard the police! The boys ran with the officers in pursuit. The first officer caught up with John and Dean; he had his weapon pulled and ordered them to the ground. They complied. The other officer found Dave. Dave and the Officer walked to the front of the building were Dave saw Dean & John on the ground, near the officer who had his weapon trained on them. It was a sobering experience.
The building Dave, John & Dean tried to enter wasn't empty. It was the business and home of Kathy and Gene and they were home when they heard someone trying to break into their home. They had been burgled before, so Kathy knew to call 911 and Gene went to see what was happening. They were relieved when the officers arrived before the intruders were able to enter their home. Dave, John, Dean, their parents and Kathy and Gene met in Victim/Offender mediation. Gene & Kathy had a lot of questions. They asked the boys why they had chosen their home and did they know someone was at home. They wanted to know if the boys had done something like this before and if what their plan was once they got into the building. Dave, John & Dean answered their questions respectfully and honestly; they thought the building was empty and they had no real plan for what would happen once they got inside. The boys had no previous criminal record and they were average to good students at the local school. Their parents were embarrassed and angry that the boys had tried to break into the building; they shared that with Kathy & Gene too. Once Gene & Kathy had their questions answered Gene shared that because they had been burgled before, he now had a conceal carry permit and had gotten his gun when he heard the boys trying to break in outside. A silence fell in the room as they all thought about what might have happened next.

Kathy & Gene agreed that there was no need for restitution from the boys as the damage to the building was very minimal. They did however, ask the boys to work at their business once a month for the next three months and to show them their report cards each marking period through the end of the school year. The boys prepared letters of apology for Kathy & Gene and read them aloud during the mediation. Dean then turned to his mother and apologized to her as well saying, "I am sorry that you had to do this today. I am sorry that I worried you and I will do better."


Catholic Charities West Michigan
Foster Grandparents

Foster Grandparent volunteers spend many hours reading to and working with the students in the classrooms and there are countless stories to be told about the work they do. Here are two stories that demonstrate the impact of this special program:

A Foster Grandparent in a classroom noticed a little girl was having a difficult time and was not able to concentrate on what was happening in the classroom. When the Foster Grandparent noticed this, she approached the student and asked if everything was okay. The little girl said she wanted to learn how to read and she did not understand the reading the class had done earlier. The student asked the Foster Grandparent if she would read her a story and help her learn to read. The Foster Grandparent replied yes. While they were in the back of the room,  the student was engaged, she remained focused listening to the story and was able to recall parts of the story when asked questions. Now the student is anxious and willing to learn how to read, unlike before, according to the classroom teacher. This student is now reading to the Foster Grandparent volunteer and only asking for occasional help with individual words.

One Foster Grandparent this year also received a think you note from a student thanking her for working with him. The note stated, "I did not know addition and subtraction well and I felt stupid. You worked with me to explain it and now I am doing well. Thanks." This same Foster Grandparent also remembers sitting down and talking with a little boy whose sister had just passed away and he was afraid he was going to die as well. Taking care of children's emotional issues is extremely important in being able to get them to a place where they are able to concentrate and learn.

In addition to the stories about the academic success of students,  the senior volunteers report the program gives them a reason to get up in the morning and provides a sense of accomplishment and purpose which can be truly life-saving and contributes to the mental, emotional and physical health of the seniors.


American Red Cross
Senior Transportation Program

Otis arrives on time to dialysis three days a week

Just like clockwork, Otis Lane knows the Red Cross Senior Transportation vehicle will be at his Muskegon home at precisely 5:45 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays –just as it has been for the past 3 years.

“The Red Cross drivers are real nice people, so polite,” says Otis. “I lost my wife of 54 years, not so long ago and my sons don’t live in the area. I count on the drivers to pick me up three days a week, every week for my dialysis appointments. We enjoy some good conversations on those rides.”

The Red Cross provides this unique service to the elderly in our community through the Senior Transportation Service, which receives funding from United Way of the Lakeshore. This free program is of utmost importance in helping older people maintain their health and welfare, as well as their independence.



She dialed 211……… a true example of how 211 makes a difference

 A 47 year old Twin Lake woman called 211 in November, looking for assistance with her mortgage payment.  She contacted 211 several times in the past searching for in-home assistance for her aging mother.  She had never called to request services for herself and was somewhat reluctant to ask for help. She did not qualify for Mortgage Payment Assistance, as she was not yet in the process of legal foreclosure. She was behind on her payments and stressed about the situation reaching the crisis point of foreclosure. The 211 Call Specialist referred her to Neighborhood Investment Corp. (NIC) for Mortgage Foreclosure Counseling. The caller had never heard of the agency or the services NIC provides. She was eager to make Contact and indicated she would call them right away.

The caller contacted 211 again in December to provide an update, She stated, “ I thought the 211 service was great. I called for help with foreclosure, and the connection you helped me make allowed us to work it out so my children and I can stay in our home. Thank You!"

45,550 individual calls were served by this program in 2008 -28,469 direct calls, unduplicated Assistive Calls 17, 081 originated in Muskegon County


Catholic Charities of West Michigan
Teen Parent Program

Being a teenage mother is very hard to cope with in life, but having a baby with a genetic disorder is even tougher. Jill was 15 years old when she had a baby boy with Chronic Granulatomous Disease. The disease caused the infant to be placed in isolation and have no contact with others during the first year of his life. CCWM‘s Teen Parent Program helped give Jill the direction and support she needed. Young Jill was forced to live like an adult dealing with the obstacles due to her baby’s disease, such as keeping medical appointments, obtaining necessary treatments, emergency room visits when needed, keeping the home environment safe, and getting the right health insurance. Today, Jill is 17 years old and persists in pursuing the best for her child, thanks in part to United Way’s funding of the Teen Parent program.


Child Abuse Council
Prevention through Education,
Intervention and Advocacy Programs,
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Ann was an 8-year-old, suspicious, sexually abused child. When Ann was interviewed in a child friendly safe environment that contributed to Ann’s level of comfort, she began to discuss openly and honestly her sexual abuse. She received five individual counseling sessions with a child therapist. Jane, Ann’s mother, was provided with individual support from the Family Advocate during the interview. The Advocate assisted Jane with information on Family Court procedures, filing the complaint, obtaining a Personal Protection Order, and filing parenting time petitions. Jane also met with the child therapist four times. She was provided with helpful suggestions and information regarding typical reactions of children after sexual abuse, methods for providing adequate safety and support to Ann.  Ann learned about sexual abuse, personal safety skills and coping skills.

Ann received pre- and post- evaluations for her symptoms. Her fear of the perpetrator, bad dreams and stomach issues were eliminated. She no longer feared her dad was mad at her for telling on the grandfather. This eliminated the guilt regarding her grandfather being convicted and resolved emotional conflicts caused by the sexual abuse perpetrated by her trusted grandfather. Ann’s mother indicated that she was very pleased with the services provided.

Jane, Ann’s mother, was provided with the help she need to protect her family and the needed counseling for herself and other children in the family. Services provided led to the arrest and conviction of  a habitual child perpetrator, thus assisting in contributing to the safety of our children in our community. The services of the Child Abuse Council of Muskegon County provided many additional possibilities for Ann’s future as a citizen within our community, thanks in part to United Way funding.


Muskegon Community Health Project
Lakeshore Lung Community Respiratory Health Program

In 2008 for the first time Lakeshore Lung was able to go into a local school district to present the tobacco prevention programs to grades K- 6. The program was well received and the hands-on approach was something the students looked forward to and absorbed fully.

It appeared that there is higher than average percentage of students and teachers with asthma disorders in this school system. The program manager calculated that in an average classroom of 22 students, at least 5 students identified themselves as having asthma. Also many students volunteered that they had siblings and other family members who dealt with asthma at home. In the classrooms, the program manager noticed that a number of environmental asthma triggers were present. The schools still used chalk boards instead of white boards with dry erase markers. Some classes had pets such as guinea pigs, and one class had a pond, a huge potential for mold growth. It was very evident that the teachers and staff were not fully trained on asthma triggers or prevention. The school offices did not identify students with asthma or what treatments were appropriate if attacks occurred in classrooms.

Among the recommendations to the district was training for teachers, staff, and parents on how to react to an asthma attack, and to remove common asthma triggers in classrooms and homes. Training and putting an asthma action plans up in each class could help reduce the serious consequences of asthma attacks in the schools. This effective program was funded by the United Way.


West Michigan Therapy
Transitional Living Center

Mary was homeless and abusing drugs when she got in touch with West Michigan Therapy. Her children, Johnny, 8, and Sarah, 16, were staying with other family members and friends due to Mary’s instability. She needed a place to stay while rebuilding her life; within 24 hours, she was at the Transitional Living Center at West Michigan Therapy. She stayed for three months while getting substance abuse treatment and services which helped her re-enter society.

After her stay at TLC, Mary found full-time employment. Her daughter now lives with her and she has consistent contact with her son. Without United Way’s funding of the Transitional Living Center program, people like Mary would likely still be homeless, unemployed and suffering from addictions. West Michigan Therapy provided her with needed support and structure to improve her life, as well as the lives of her children. She is working and involved in school activities with her children.


The Salvation Army
Emergency Assistance Program

Michelle needed help with a utility bill. She called Salvation Army and met with them the next day. Salvation Army, through its United Way funding, was able to offer assistance by clearing out the balance of the account so Michelle could get on a budget plan with the utility. Michelle was able to keep her family in their home, keep heat and get a fresh start on the road to financial stability.

“With funds from the United Way, we can be the light at the end of their tunnel and their strength to continue,” said officials from Salvation Army.


Muskegon Family YMCA
3rd grade Pool School

Tim, 8, of Twin Lake, was afraid of the water. He had a bad experience in Lake Michigan, and was dreading his third grade class’ Pool School. Tim’s mother and teacher asked him to do his best at the classes. It took most of the first class for Tim to get all the way into the pool. In the second class he made more progress, getting his hair wet and learning some rhythmic breathing.

As Tim completed each class, he began to progress more rapidly. On the last day of class, Tim’s mother, who had watched him every day, saw Tim swim the width of the pool without stopping or touching bottom. According to the swim instructor, “it was difficult to determine who was more excited about this remarkable achievement – Tim or his mother.” United Way funding keeps Pool School affordable for schools.


Boy Scouts Troop 1023 Fruitport Michigan

Erich was born with critical health issues; as an 8-year-old with various learning disabilities, it was believed that the scouting program would be a good way for Erich to meet other boys his age. Through the Boy Scouts he could also develop life skills. The Boy Scouts would not only make him a good scout, it also helped him in school, with family, and community.

The scouting experiences culminated with his Eagle Project. Erich planned to raise the funds and direct the building of a nature walking trail at the Leila & Cyrus Poppen Hospice Residence in Muskegon. This project also formed a relationship between his troop and the hospice residence as his troop has done many other community service projects.

Scouting did teach team work, responsibility, problem solving and when a boy attains the rank of Eagle Scout,  develops life leadership skills that truly set him apart from the general public.  For Erich, who was born with life threatening issues, to an 8 year old scout with learning disabilities, the Boy Scout program was more than a way to make friends. Erich became an Eagle Scout, he excelled though high school, received prestigious scholarships and now attends Michigan State University‘s Honor College in the Pre-Med Program. United Way funding helps make Boy Scouts available to youth.


Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore

One volunteer can sometimes make all the difference. Just ask the girls who were in Girl Scout troops 373 and 403 in Muskegon Heights. First formed in 1999, one volunteer leader led the two troops to a wide variety of experiences. With mentoring, programming and financial support from the Girl Scout council, two groups of inner city girls remained together for several years in an area where it has been historically difficult for the Council to maintain long-term troops with consistent leadership.

Many of the girls were from low income families. The volunteer leader was committed to providing the girls with experiences outside of their immediate neighborhood, thanks in part to scholarship help from United Way funds at the Council. Through the experiences of the troops, the girls gained self-confidence, developed healthy relationship skills and participated in community service.

Among their activities, the girls learned traditional life skills such as cooking, financial literacy and communication, while doing local field trips and small community service projects. As they moved into high school, their experiences expanded. Girls traveled to Mackinac Island, Detroit for a statewide Girl Scout leadership conference, Chicago and New York with other Council teen Girl Scouts, Michigan State University for a chemistry workshop and troop camping trips. Two girls achieved positions on the Council’s teen planning board, while one was selected for a national travel opportunity sponsored by Girl Scouts of the USA. They performed community service at Mission for Area People and Every Woman’s Place, at area nursing homes and helped with a food truck distribution. Several girls earned their Silver Award, the second highest service award in Girl Scouts, which is only achieved by about 10% of teen Girl Scouts.


Mercy Health Partners Life Counseling
Family Counseling

Sally, a young woman with three children under age 7, had lost custody of her children due to an addiction to crack cocaine. She began group therapy at Mercy Health Partners Life Counseling. After about four sessions, Sally shared her addiction and her shame at having lost her children because of her addiction. After hearing similar stories from other women in the group, Sally reached a turning point in her treatment. By understanding her addiction as a disease, she worked through some of the same challenges of alcoholics and saw that if she worked to become sober, she would be a better mother.

In time, Sally was able to stop using drugs and have visitation with her children. Mercy Health Partners Life Counseling provided transportation to and from treatment, day care when she had visitation and needed to attend treatment and individual counseling, where she learned better parenting skills. This program was funded by the United Way.