From Recovery to Community Impact

Katie is grateful for United Way-supported programs that helped her overcome barriers and give back to the community

As a young child, I endured both physical and sexual abuse that scarred me deeply. By the time I was a teenager, I was trapped in a cycle of trauma and drug addiction. 

That’s when family troubles left me experiencing homelessness. I panhandled in the streets. I felt embarrassed when people walked by and said I should find a job, even though I was still just a kid.

I often had to sleep on friends’ couches or in unsafe places just to have a roof over my head. Staying with friends made me feel like I was burdening them and intruding on their space.

During those tough times, I did whatever I could to survive. This included doing things I’m not proud of, like stealing from the people I cared about.  

However, even when my situation seemed bleak, I never gave up hope. I knew I had to break free from this cycle of transience and addiction to regain control of my life. Thankfully, my friends introduced me to a network of programs that helps people struggling with poverty, substance abuse, and mental health challenges.

Staff were welcoming and provided the sense of belonging that I desperately needed. I was offered meals, computer access, and enjoyable activities such as crafts and movie nights. It was a safe environment where I didn’t feel judged or pressured to disclose personal information. Being surrounded by friends made it feel even more comfortable and familiar.

I was also introduced to workshops to help me find a job and improve my skills. Programs like these were great ways to escape from the cold and get involved in something positive, away from the hardships of street life.

Addiction often makes people feel isolated, yet being surrounded by others who understood what I was going through showed me that connection is crucial for recovery.

It was comforting to know that the other teens in these programs were also dealing with substance use and came from difficult backgrounds like mine. We all felt like outsiders in society, but being together created a sense of belonging for all of us.

Recovery was a tough journey filled with setbacks and challenges, but I never gave up.

I went back to school with a determination to build a better future for myself. I spent nights studying and days in therapy, working hard to heal both my body and mind. It wasn’t easy, but with each day that passed, I felt more hopeful.

Now, I work as a peer support worker at an agency that runs programs supported by United Way. It’s more than just a job to me. It’s a calling, a chance to give back the kindness and support that helped me on my journey.

I want to use my own experiences to help others going through similar struggles and to be a source of hope for those who feel alone and lost.

My journey hasn’t been easy, and the road ahead is still filled with challenges. But I’m no longer defined by my past. I’m defined by the strength and resilience that carried me through it. And as I look back on how far I’ve come, I can now say I am the person that a younger me would have felt safe and comforted to be around. 

United Way is not just reducing suffering. It’s giving people like me, who have complex mental health issues, a chance to contribute to society and live meaningful lives.

Without the programs United Way supports, many people like me would not be able to share their stories in ways that make a difference. And for that, I’m truly grateful.

Help change lives today.

Sarah HodgsonKatie’s Story

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