In September 2016, Stephanie, a twenty-three-year-old single mom, desperately needed a fresh start. Her baby’s father had died a month earlier. She couldn’t find work. And she didn’t have her own parents to turn to—her mom deported, her dad passed.
But she refused to let her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Aubri down. She wouldn’t crumble. She’d figure it out. She’d build the life her dad would’ve wanted for her and his grandchild.
Determined to find her footing, Stephanie decided she and Aubri would move from Florida to New York City. “It’s supposed to be a place where you find yourself, live your dreams, and get to be a better you,” she said.
She was excited. Things were going to get better. She even thought her little sister would move with her, and they’d have support from extended family.
But things didn’t quite go to plan. “You’d think the people you love would support you the most but not always,” said Stephanie. She made it to the Big Apple, but she and Aubri made it alone.
The first night they slept together on a single bed at her cousin’s. But space was too tight, and Stephanie didn’t have enough money to cover basics like diapers, wipes, and a MetroCard. She knew she needed help—and fast.
“I looked online to see how to go to a shelter,” she said. “I got on a train with my baby and bag and went to Path Homeless Building. They found me shelter.”
This was not the fresh start she dreamed of, or the life she wanted for Aubri. But it was what she needed to make ends meet while finding a job—a job that would let her build a more stable home.
At the shelter, she joined the First Step Job Training Program powered by Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit funded partially by United Way of New York City. Designed for homeless and low-income women, the program prepares women’s skills for the workforce and aims to strengthen their confidence—all with the goal of helping them land living wage jobs.
It was through this program that Stephanie met Carol.
Carol, a United Way of New York City Women's Leadership Council volunteer and vice president at TD Bank, was a coach at a United Way–run resume review and mock interview workshop.
When Stephanie sat down with Carol to practice the infamous “tell me about yourself” question, she said it was “different.” She was struck by Carol’s warm and open heart. Instead of playing “tough boss,” Carol genuinely asked Stephanie about her likes and dreams.
This familial, comforting approach helped Stephanie appreciate her inner-strengths and talk about her career goals. She saw how much she likes connecting with people, learns quickly, and works efficiently. Most importantly, she saw that she desires more than entry-level work. She wants to own her own business—a salon in fact—or to become a math teacher.
Admiring Stephanie’s friendliness, determinedness, and goals, Carol asked her: “Have you ever thought of becoming a bank teller?” In fact, there was an open position at TD Bank that could be the perfect fit.
“Carol’s belief in me and the opportunity she presented brought me to tears,” said Stephanie. “I’ve never been in situations where I’ve really, really needed something and it happened.”
After three rounds of interviews (that she felt brilliantly prepped for thanks to Carol), Stephanie got the teller job—and it’s a job she loves, filled with opportunity. Her dedication and work ethic even earned Stephanie a sales-focused promotion earlier this year! And she loves it. “I’m making my sales revenue—that’s crazy!” she exclaims.
“I feel like I’m in a place where anything is possible, if you work hard, keep pushing forward, and know what you want everyday,” said Stephanie. “It’s a home away from home; no one wants to see you fail.”
The connection forged between Stephanie and Carol at United Way’s workshop led to what Stephanie needed most—not just a job, but a caring community that believes in you and your dream too.
“When you feel like no one is on your side or nothing is going to fall in your favor…then there’s a person like Carol, who does care and wants to see people do good,” said Stephanie. “It made me feel good to know that another person sees something in me, when I didn’t see it in myself.”
When we first spoke to Stephanie in June 2017, she and Aubri were still living in the shelter. But Stephanie had a job she loved—a job that was nurturing her abilities and rewarding her talents—as well as healthcare and childcare. And Aubri had a mom dedicated to making her future bright. The dreams that initially drew Stephanie to New York City were actualizing. Promise filled our call.
“I’m capable of a lot. And I have something to offer the world,” she said. “My hope is…to build the life that my dad dreamed of for us, and to give my baby a good education.”
Fast forward to today—Stephanie and Aubri are officially out of the shelter! They live in their very own one-bedroom apartment, where each day Stephanie relishes walking into her own home through her own door.
“A year ago, I was like I’m going to get out of this shelter, and look at me now!” she exclaims.
As for her job: “I love TD Bank—oh my gosh!” cries Stephanie.
Moreover, Carol’s support hasn’t stopped. She remains on Stephanie’s side, empowering her to unearth her potential and seize opportunity at TD. Whenever Carol stops by Stephanie’s office they talk, and she coaches Stephanie on problem solving and trusting her professional instinct: “Carol makes me own the situation.”
And owning the situation is exactly what she’s doing. Stephanie is not settling. She’s thinking of her next—even bigger—dream for Aubri and herself. “I’m anticipating going back to school. I think I want to do communications. If I get a bachelors degree, I can do something bigger at TD.” She also trusts that furthering her education will help her be the best mom she can be. “I want to get smarter so I can teach Aubri all the things I know,” she says.
As she builds the life her dad would have wanted for her and Aubri, she knows that “reaching for the stars” would make him happiest.
If this were a movie, now is when the credits would roll. But that’s not the case. Stephanie and Aubri are just the beginning. The bleak reality is that 2.7 million New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet, even though 83% of these households have at least one working adult.
Stephanie and Aubri are on their way to realizing their New York City dreams, but there is still more to do. More we can do to support the men, women, and children who want to realize their potential.
Stephanie’s progress is just one example of what happens when we—the individual, the company, the agency, the nonprofit—come together and help our most-vulnerable neighbors find their footing and walk strongly and confidently forward.
Together, our impact is mightier. Together, we can change lives. With you on our side, we can make a lasting difference in our City. If you’ve already joined us in this work—thank you!
But if you’re looking to rally behind a cause that’s making an impact, we need you in our fight for the self-sufficiency of families all our low-income neighbors.