May 20

St. Mary Outreach – Success Story

Posted By United Way South Louisiana

United Way for South Louisiana strives to fund all of its member agencies to the best of its ability throughout the year.  It’s through donations from the community that make this possible.  When our agencies receive funding, they ensure it goes to members of the local community who need a hand up.  It may be during a time of great need, just to get back on they feet, or maybe a major life change just occurred, or a death in the family.  Either way, our agencies work day in and day out to help those looking to make things better for themselves.  

One such story comes from St. Mary Outreach, an organization in St. Mary Parish that provides emergency assistance to those in need in the community.

It all started with a family…

A married couple with their two young children were trying to make a living working in the oil field, when things went from pay check to pay check, to no check at all.  Dad was laid off from his job, and although he was receiving unemployment, their income had taken a big hit.  After several months, the couple decided that they would not be able to financially stay in the area so they moved out of state, back to where Mom’s family could help them.

After a year and a half, and a new addition to their family they made the decision to try the oil field industry again.  Reservations were made at a local motel.  They would call this home until they could find something more.  The family set out on their way to a better, brighter future with everything they owned packed into the family car.  Now most stories would end here with, “And they lived happily ever after,” but they were not so fortunate.


On the way to town, the family car started giving them trouble.  They were able to make it to the motel but that would be as far as the car would take them.  Unfortunately, it would cost more to repair the car than what the car was worth, now they had no transportation.  The little bit of extra money they had saved to use for groceries and expenses until Peter received his first check would now be used for a taxi, which would take all they had left.

Down on their luck, a worker at the motel suggested that they contact St. Mary Outreach.  The family was in need of food, hygiene products, baby diapers and formula, and with the girls going to a new school, they also needed uniforms.  

Mom had called ahead to see what information she would need to provide and explained a little bit of her situation to the caseworker.  After all, they could not afford to make multiple trips so she wanted to make sure she had everything on hand.  Upon arriving at St. Mary Outreach, Mom and the children were called back to the caseworker’s office.  There, the girls played with the donated toys while their mother “talked business with the nice lady.”  The good news was that Dad did have a job, but he would not be receiving a check for two weeks.  Although the baby was on WIC, Mom had to make an appointment at the local office which can take up to 30 days, as well as apply for SNAP benefits.  Mom new that if they could some how make it through the next 30 days they would be able to sustain themselves.  The dilemma was the the next 30 days.

Help was right around the corner…

St. Mary Outreach assisted the family with food, baby formula, diapers, wipes, hygiene products, and school uniforms.  They were also given toys, which made the girls very happy since they were not able to bring many belongings with them.  Due to their transportation issues, on several occasions during those first 30 days, St. Mary Outreach delivered the necessities to the family at the motel.  Also, Dad made a friend at work that was able to bring him to and from work every day.  Things were looking up for the family, but money was extremely tight and would continue to get tighter before the month ended.  Dad developed an ear infection from a burn on his ear that had happened at work.  St. Mary Outreach was able to provide the two prescriptions that Dad needed.  Due to the ear infection, Dad missed several days of work which put the family behind on their motel payment.  St. Mary Outreach was able to assist with the difference, which was a huge relief.

Several months had passed and the family was making ends meet, but they were striving to provide better for themselves.  They had found a home, but with the costs of deposits and still having to pay the motel expense they could not afford the entire first month’s rent.  Mom was hesitant to call because she felt that St. Mary Outreach had done so much for them already.  But, she swallowed her pride and did what was best for her family.  

Mom sat with the caseworker, explained their situation and that she only needed partial help with the first month’s rent.  The caseworker knew that this would give them the help they needed to be able to make it successfully on their own, and she was right…and they lived happily ever after.

Jan 14

Why Do I Give to United Way?

Posted By United Way South Louisiana

One of the best parts of working for United Way is getting to go out and do workplace employee campaigns. It’s a privilege to be invited to speak to the employees of the companies who participate in the annual campaign, educating them about the agencies we fund, the services available, and how those services impact their lives and the lives of those in need. Every so often someone asks if I give to the United Way and if so why. United Way and what we do is something I not only work for, but believe in so I do give and believe my donation along with the thousands of others makes a difference.

The other part of that question is what I don’t usually have time to answer because there are so many reasons, and they all center on the lives we touch and make better. There are those who are fed through the food banks, those who receive life saving medications through the St. Vincent DePaul Pharmacy, the cancer patients who need help with their treatments, the list goes on and on, but there are stories that cement in my mind what a difference our member agencies make and how our donations make that possible.

The following is one such story that was shared by Christen Ocker, the Child Advocate with the Haven.  The Haven provides services to victims suffering from the effects of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. They have a twenty-four hour crisis line, provide group or individual counseling, legal advocacy, and run an emergency shelter for women and children.

These are Christen’s words.

The biggest part of my job as Child Advocate for the Haven is planning and facilitating a daily children’s group for the children who live in our shelter. Facilitating these groups amazes me because I can do the same lesson with two different groups of children, and one group is completely different from the other. I love hearing the children’s responses and connecting with each one of them. I’ve worked with some kids who are extremely hard to get to know and others who are an open book, ready to share and open up from the start. Recently, I worked with an 11-year-old boy who is autistic. He was very much an open book. He and his mother came to our shelter because his mother was being sexually assaulted on a daily basis. While he was at school each day, his mother was raped and abused. Both mother and child lived in constant fear of what the next day might bring.

I remember the first day I met him. He was happy, cracking jokes, and hugging everyone that would let him. As soon as he saw me, he asked, “Do you want a hug?” I said sure, and this continued on every day that he was in our shelter. Sometimes he would even say, “Hugs around the room!” and he would proceed to hug everyone that was in the room. I never minded giving him hugs, but I could see how it could make others people feel uncomfortable. During 27 groups he attended, we talked about many different topics, but having appropriate boundaries is the one topic we worked on the most. We would talk about what his boundaries were, both physical and emotional. We talked about what my boundaries were, and boundaries that other people might have.

One day when we were discussing others’ boundaries, he asked me, “Does my mom have boundaries?” I said of course she does, everyone has boundaries. He began telling me how he didn’t think the man they were living with before they came to stay with us respected his mom’s boundaries. He said that he would always scream at them and touch his mom even when she told the man not to. I asked him how that made him feel, and he said, “It makes me mad. I try not to be an angry person, but I don’t like that man.” I explained to him that it’s okay to feel angry and to feel the way he did. That was the first and last time he ever talked about the man they had once lived with.

Throughout our conversations and activities on boundaries, he learned to ask people before hugging them and not to get upset if they said no. I explained to him that some people may not be comfortable with hugging him, and that he should respect people’s boundaries so that they wouldn’t feel like he did when his mom’s boundaries weren’t respected. He understood and began asking people before hugging them and even giving high fives instead of hugs.

This kid is a huge inspiration to me. He is the most positive person I have ever come in contact with, and his happiness and joy were contagious. He loved people unconditionally and could put a smile on my face every single day. He taught me that caring and love should always be unconditional, and that a smile can truly change someone’s life.

Thank you Christen for sharing your story and for the great work you and the rest of the staff ARE doing at the Haven.

How do you and I make a difference in our community? The donations we give through the United Way for South Louisiana make it possible for people like Christen Ocker to do their jobs and ease the pain of a child who was helpless in the situation he and his mother were in. You give them the opportunity to make a better life going forward in a home where they are safe and where they don’t fear all of their tomorrows.

You will never meet every client of every agency United Way funds, but success stories like this are only possible because of your generosity. Your donation has made a difference to this child and his mother, and just like all the others you touch through United Way we say – thank you.

– Alina Merlos



Jul 23

Impact 2013 – Thibodaux Regional Cancer Center Assistance Program

Posted By United Way South Louisiana

How your donation is being invested in our community:

Thibodaux Regional Cancer Center Assistance Program 

Cancer—it’s a frightening word and a diagnosis that will change your life forever. It’s hard to find anyone in our community who hasn’t been touched by this devastating disease either by going through the ordeal themselves or helping a friend or family member as they start down what is hopefully the road to recovery.

In our family we lost my mom three years ago to pancreatic cancer, and from the beginning we knew the outcome would not be one of remission or cure, but an end of life journey that we filled with as much laughter, happy memories, and comfort as we could. Throughout those nine months of chemo, hospital stays, and multiple medications my mom’s spirits were always good because she said she had us to help her carry the burden.

When she would say that it brought into focus the job the Member Agencies funded by United Way for South Louisiana do for those who face this disease alone or with the added stress of not being able to cover all their expenses and needs. Because of you and your generosity, programs through Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at Terrebonne General Medical Center, OncoLogics, Leonard J. Chabert Medical Foundation – Oncology Assistance Program, Cancer Association of South Louisiana, and the Thibodaux Regional Cancer Center Assistance Program receive funding for the patients who need help with all their unmet needs.

The following letter was written by one of the nurses at Thibodaux Regional Cancer Center on the importance of the Assistance Program and having someone to lean on as a patient starts treatment.

When a patient is given the diagnosis of cancer, they embark on a difficult journey into the unknown filled with so much overwhelming emotion no one person should have to travel it alone. This is pretty much how they feel, isolated and alone and full of fear. This journey will take them and their loved ones on many bumps, detours, roadblocks, hills and valleys. This is new and uncharted territory for all involved, with each person going through their own emotional roller coaster, not knowing what to say or what to do to help each other.

The part the Cancer Center staff and nurses play in their lives is one of the guide, or navigator, and companion. The nurse travels this journey with them, holding their hands as he/she shows them the different paths available to them and how to maneuver around the many roadblocks they will approach. The nurse supports them through the valleys and cheers them on when they reach the hills.

We listen, are ever present and reassure them they are not alone and will not be alone in this journey of emotional and physical pain. We offer encouragement when the long journey tires them and they feel like quitting.

We are there to witness the wonderful sense of accomplishment when they complete their journey, their sense of pride that they did it despite the earlier fears and beautiful transformation into acceptance when the journey goes into a different avenue.

They in turn teach the staff all of the important lessons they learned about the new beginning of their lives from this day forward, and the changes they have made to make the most of what has been given them, through their travels together.

In this close relationship we develop a respect and love that lasts forever. The staff, patient and family become a unit, extended family, a bond difficult to break. These are the good things cancer brings about.

The Thibodaux Regional Cancer Center’s Assistance Program provides a comprehensive, individualized approach to alleviating the burden of unmet needs of cancer patients so they can focus on their health. Programs like this are only possible because you give to the United Way for South Louisiana and the twenty-five other agencies and programs funded through the annual campaign. Your donation stays in our four parish area, makes a difference here at home, and is the difference to every cancer patient who needs assistance in their journey to recovery.

Thank you for your gift, and for LIVING UNITED.


Alina Merlos

United Way for South Louisiana

Jun 13

Impact 2013 – Assumption Council on Aging

Posted By United Way South Louisiana

Many people are blessed with a long life. As we age, life may become difficult because of illness, injury, financial problems, and the decline of physical and mental abilities. Many seniors must survive on fixed incomes, and cannot keep up with increases in costs for basic necessities such as food, shelter, utilities, and transportation. Thanks to the United Way for South Louisiana working in Assumption Parish, many seniors get at least one balanced meal, five days a week.

One such couple in Napoleonville is an example. The elderly husband struggles to care for his wife since she’s had repeated heart attacks, suffers with pain from crippling arthritis/spinal stenosis, and has decreased cognitive abilities due to progressing senile dementia. He, himself, has limitations due to multiple health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and peripheral artery disease (leg blockages).

Overwhelmed by his ongoing efforts to see that her needs were being met, he began to neglect his own, and was not eating well. Proud, and hesitant to admit that he could not continue to manage alone, he finally asked for help to care for his wife. The Council on Aging was able to provide the couple with daily home delivered meals, weekly homemaker services, and caregiver services. These services enabled him to keep his wife from admission to a nursing home. In addition to the obvious physical assistance, they also relieved the mental stress to him and his family, and the added benefit of a friendly visit each day by the meal deliverer.

Thanks to your gift to United Way these success stories are possible. Because of you and your generosity, we are making a difference to those in need in our community.

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