Lisa Suarez is the campaign leader for UPS, as well as a leadership giver and Women’s Leadership Council member. While every donor has a different reason driving them to give, Lisa’s longstanding relationship with United Way has transformed over time uniquely, as she started as a services recipient before turning into a donor. Lisa grew up in a low-income family that moved frequently due to the financial hardships they were faced with.
“It really is a vicious cycle. I was never encouraged to go to college even though I was a straight ‘A’ student. That’s just not the priority in low-income neighborhoods…just living day to day is the priority, so most people don’t have the means or even the knowledge to encourage their kids to try to do more and break the cycle. As your grow up, you do what you are familiar with and begin to look for jobs that just get you by. You do what you’ve grown up seeing from your parents–the minimum–because that’s all they knew too.”
“My life would have been completely different without United Way. It’s afforded me a life that I didn’t come from and didn’t think was possible for me, and I looked back and realized United Way got me where I am today. I haven’t reached all of my goals in life yet, but now I know that I’m capable of doing it–and I didn’t know that before.”
“People think those in need aren’t trying for themselves. When you don’t grow up in an area where education is a priority, you just don’t know what your choices are. It’s the beginning of a vicious cycle.”
When Lisa was 16 years old, she became pregnant and dropped out of high school.
“I dropped out of school, not because I wasn’t doing well, but because I wasn’t sure how I could manage everything as a new mom. I was already a statistic as a teenage mother, but it could have led me down the wrong path into becoming one of the other statistics that are often part of this pattern.”
One of Lisa’s teachers knew it would be a waste of talent for her to drop out of school and contacted United Way on her behalf. She was connected to Healy Murphy, a United Way funded program that provided free childcare for Lisa as well as the chance to complete high school in the nonprofit’s building. She received her diploma even quicker than she would have had she stayed on the traditional high school path.
“Once I completed Healy Murphy, I wanted to go to college but was in the same situation I was in when I first dropped out of high school: without childcare once again. United Way referred me to another agency they funded where I could get childcare for my son and continue my dream of going to college. I was the first person in my family to attend college. I had no vehicle at the time, so every day I dropped my son off at daycare at 5 a.m. and began a long day. I would then take the bus to school. After school I would take the bus back to pick him up, take the bus to my grandparents house to drop him off and then take the bus to go to work, but it soon got to be too much. I had to let go of my dream and drop out of college so I could work full time.”
Lisa found she had few options when it came to applying for jobs, with only a high school degree, a few college hours and part-time experience on her resume. She once again reached out to United Way who set her up with job skill training and placement agencies for free. She learned typing, ten-key, and other basic office and computer skills, and was soon placed in her first office job. Her new manager saw potential in Lisa and she was promoted to a sales position, a skill that would lead her to where she is today. Lisa says none of this would have been possible without the assistance she received from the various United Way funded agencies along the way.
In 2007, Lisa found herself in need of support once again when her only child, Nick, passed away unexpectedly.
“I was fortunate to have medical benefits through my job so I was able to access therapy, but not everyone is my family had access to the same care I was receiving and we needed to heal as a family. I reached out to United Way once again, and they put me in contact with a support group of parents and families who had also lost children and were going through similar situations. The group helped both me and my family get through it, even when my medical benefits alone could not. It really helped to be with others who knew exactly what we were going through. This is something my own medical benefits couldn’t provide me.”
Shortly after, both of Lisa’s parents suffered severe strokes within two months of each other. Her father had no medical benefits and her mother, who was in a coma for a month after the stroke, quickly exhausted her benefits while in the hospital.
“I had no idea what I could do for them. Once my mom was awake she progressed to a point where she could potentially live on her own, but she needed additional medical help to get her there and had no benefits left. I called 2-1-1 and they put me in contact with a center for seniors that offered physical therapy–a place she continues to go to today. Now, she is self-sufficient: she drives, she cooks and she lives on her own. It is truly a blessing.”
After experiencing firsthand the various ways United Way could support her, Lisa felt the need not only to give back to our organization but also to lead the campaign at her current company, UPS, and share her story with her coworkers.
“I can’t push United Way enough when it comes to our employee campaign time. People always question where their money goes when they donate to nonprofits…I’m proof that this is where your money goes. I want to encourage young people in my situation and let them know there are options and opportunities for them. United Way is such a great resource. They’ve never told me ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you.’ They aren’t a magic wand, but reaching out helps you take the next step and that’s probably the hardest part–being pushed out of your comfort zone.
I’m thankful that United Way was there to catch me along the way and help me starting back when I was 16. My life would have been completely different without United Way. It’s afforded me a life that I didn’t come from and didn’t think was possible for me, and I looked back and realized United Way got me where I am today. I haven’t reached all of my goals in life yet, but now I know that I’m capable of doing it–and I didn’t know that before.”
Your donation to UWATX supports people like Lisa–those who want to create a better life for themselves, but perhaps do not know how to take the first step or do not know that resources that can help them even exist. We are grateful to Lisa for not only sharing her inspirational story with us and our audience, but also for supporting UWATX as a donor, campaign leader and giving society member so that she can help others who are currently in the situations she found herself in multiple times in her life. Additionally, we’d like to thank UPS who continues to be one of our biggest corporate supporters!