Bridges "Getting Ahead" graduate discovers her full potential

Ana Paula dreamed big and worked hard to get where she is today. She has a good job, owns her own home and is providing a great life for her children. Ana was able to overcome poverty by taking control of her future and taking advantage of the resources provided by her community.

One of the primary resources Ana benefitted from was United Way’s Bridges Summit County. By participating in Bridges “Getting Ahead,” Ana was able to discover her full potential. And, she realized that she had the self-confidence, discipline and strength of character to chart her own course.

Ana’s journey began in Brazil where she was born and later adopted along with her brother and sister by American parents. Life with the siblings’ adoptive parents was hard.

“We didn’t have a good life living there,” said Ana. “We struggled with abuse, depression. We were made to do things we weren’t supposed to be doing as children.”

At 17, Ana begin a life on her own. She started dancing to make ends meet. At the time, Ana believed this life was the only path open to her. Eventually Ana had one child, then another. Then realized she needed help.

“Getting Ahead” workshops provided Ana with a way to examine her circumstances. What’s more, they provided her with the tools she needed to piece together a realistic future that would be attainable with consistent dedication.

Ana said, “The classes really gave me so much knowledge of how to use all the services that the community provides and how to use them to get to where I am now.”

Over time, Ana was able to find a good job as a printer operator for Bridgestone Americas. She was also able to save enough money to buy her first car and a home of her own.

Census figures show that the percentage of Summit County residents living in poverty grew from 13 percent in 2009 to 15.4 percent five years later. 38% of families with female heads of household and children under the age of 18 in Summit County currently live in poverty.

Bridges Getting Ahead is helping people improve their lives and a build better futures for their families. Nearly 900 people living in poverty have graduated from the Bridges Getting Ahead program. A promising 2014 evaluation of the program with a sample size of more than 300 showed that Getting Ahead graduates on average earned significantly more income per month, had a lower percentage of unemployment and a higher number of work hours per week than on program entry.

Ana’s success story is one of many success stories that illustrate United Way’s mission to improve lives by mobilizing community resources to advance the common good in Summit County. After all, families living in poverty face challenges that no single person—or organization, for that matter—can solve alone.