After going through a divorce, Tracy felt that she and her two-year-old daughter, Ava, needed a fresh start. So, she packed them up, took a “leap of faith” and moved from Baltimore to Orlando to begin the next chapter of their lives.

When they arrived in Central Florida, they stayed at a hotel while Tracy searched for housing and job opportunities. Unfortunately, their savings began running out faster than Tracy had anticipated. Before long, she was facing the reality of being homeless — with a toddler.

A resource list brought Tracy and Ava to the Coalition’s Center for Women and Families (CWF). Tracy says, “I was just so glad that we could have a place to stay, because I’d checked out of the hotel for the next day. After a staff member gave me a tour, I was just relieved.”

“I actually come from a case management background. I was a case manager in behavioral health, and my last position was in substance abuse and alcohol. So, I know the transition to going back out into the community, to get employment, housing, and the whole nine yards. It’s the same thing at the Coalition.”
Tracy was assigned a case manager, Ramon Mercado, who guided her through the process of getting back on her feet. She says, “He really cares and has a passion for what he does. I came in knowing that it was a shelter, but I didn’t expect them to have so many services.”

“Ramon gave me a list of things I had to get done like get my Florida Driver’s License, apply for Medicaid, get Food Stamps. The list would just go on and on. It was a process in the beginning, but I was ready. I wasn’t here to sit around. It was now time to get the help that I needed so I could start rebuilding. So, I jumped at the opportunity.”

With that determination to transform her life, Tracy went out to network and look for employment. “Every day I would go to the public library, the Blueprint Employment Office, and the Coalition’s Employment Lab – anywhere I could go to get access to a computer and work on my resume.”

While she was out, Ava was thriving in our on-site daycare. “It was so hard to be away from her, but everything I do, I do for her. She was so strong. She would give me hugs to let me know it was going to be okay.”
One day when she was running errands, she found a nearby apartment complex and inquired about living there. “The gentleman that worked there told me that after I get a job, they have a housing program that’s based on your income. I put myself on the waiting list and then I went about my business.”

Within weeks, Tracy got the good news that she was approved for the apartment and was able to move in. “The only thing I had to do was get the money to move in. I get child support and I was starting a new job the next Monday. I knew that it was going to be okay and that something would work out.”

Shortly after moving into their apartment, Tracy started her job with AmeriCorps, a national service program where citizens support community efforts to overcome poverty. She currently works for an organization that provides resources and activities in low-income neighborhoods.

She says, “I feel like my role in my new job has helped me tap into skills that I didn’t think I had in me. I never thought I could speak in public, coordinate events or keep up with reporting for grants. I also discovered that I have a passion for helping people solve problems. I knew that when I was a case manager in alcohol and substance abuse recovery, but now I actually am the one going out into low income areas and helping build up the community.”

“My life has been an emotional rollercoaster, but it is all worth it. I was so happy to be able to finally have my own place and furnish my apartment in time for Christmas. Ava’s room is the bigger one because I thought that she deserved it. It’s painted pink and decorated in her favorite Disney character, Minnie Mouse. ”

Reflecting on how this experience has changed her, Tracy says, “I think the Coalition was where I needed to be at the time. When I look back, I’m able to see where I started out in Orlando and see where I’m going. I’m thankful for the way everything has happened since I came to Florida. There’s definitely been adversity, but it has changed me to be a stronger and more courageous person than I was a few months ago.”

Each day, your generosity makes stories like Tracy and Ava’s possible. Thank you for helping us change lives.

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