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Local Love Story: Sara & Tyler

financial stability

A lack of reliable housing support is an #unignorable issue facing Olmsted County and Minnesota communities. 

That’s why we support programs that help keep individuals and families housed and financially stable. It’s all thanks to people like you who show your local love by giving back to this place we call home.

Showing Acts of Local Love can be a fast, fun, and simple way to support United Way’s mission and our commitment to making Olmsted County a better place for ALL to live. 


Sara and Tyler

Sara & Tyler - A Local Love Story

Sara is a single mother of 3 who had been chronically homeless for the past seven years when she moved to Rochester to find a safer place for her family. Struggling to find stability and secure housing, she was connected to the Salvation Army and their program Access Home. They were able to help her obtain transitional housing, as well as guiding her through financial literacy courses. 
Sara has overcome many barriers and with support made possible by United Way and donors like Tyler, she is more eager than ever to plan for the future and is well on her way to homeownership.

TYLER: "What's your journey and what does it mean to be a participant."

"I am a participant in the access home program through United Way and Salvation Army my journey to that program about 3 years ago when I moved here with my family from Lacrosse Wisconsin at that time we were homeless living in a tent in La Crosse for about seven years my family and I have been chronically homeless three to four months each year we did not have a place to live it was so many times has constant disarray.

I'm just constant disarray year after year were messed up I was not making the right decisions in my life and I was stagnant and I needed to change my children needed a change and I knew that I could no longer do that in the city I lived in I had to move I had to change my surroundings in my environment so we packed up the car and moved to Rochester

I have an aunt and uncle that live here other than that I really do not know too many people here at I came here blind but I had a job and I worked 9 hours a day and then I went back to my car to live.

 I stayed in Martin Luther King jr. Park which is close to the prison and the government center which is why I chose that park because I felt the safest there. if anything should happen there was always police driving by that might see something happen."

TYLER: "Were you by yourself at that time?"

"90% of the time yes, through those three months  my son only stayed with me in the car three night. Other than that I found a safe place for him to go.

It was  very long days so I had a lot of time to think about what I needed to do to change things and I went to work and then I went back to my car."

TYLER: "Where were you working?"

"I was working through REM, I was managing a house, I had 4 ladies with disabilities and we did many activities things like that yeah I worked there for some time for about a year and then I quit because my youngest son who has a slew of letters behind his name ADHD or PTSD things like that I was having issues in school and I was getting called out a lot so my personal life was once again in disarray and so I quit my job.

Then I had secured an apartment finally but almost a year later I had to leave in the middle of the night to get out of bad relationship which is where I ended up at the women's shelter and I lived there for 4 months. Within that time I did not have a job again and then in October I found another job and I was a retail supervisor for Harwick cafeteria at Mayo clinic, but once again my son was having issues in school and I was being called out too much and I lost my job."

TYLER: "So is that how it starts? They set you up on a budget so you know what you can and can’t afford and then what do they do from there?"

"They require you to take a budget class, you can learn about having a secure credit card to get your credit back there so many different things that they help you learn about they help you get your self-confidence back because by completing these steps and securing a home, paying for your rent on time and your utilities by going to this budget class by having their support that a lot of that support, knowing that someone is going to be there for you. They helped me get my self-confidence back

so I could I could finally I didn't want to be homeless anymore and then seven eight years I don't want to go back to that again and then the first time in eight years we’ve made it a year and a half."

TYLER: "Your explanation is different that my understanding of the program. My understanding of the program is that it subsidized the cost of housing ?"

"Right, and there are so many different avenues…if they help me with it it's not just paying my rent, absolutely not - they gave me a sense of responsibility back…for my children - to help them grow up in an environment that that is a good environment. I can provide for them in their  community that is stable, yes.

It is that in the beginning yes, they pay the majority of the rent because you're coming from nothing I had nothing and I had a few of my personal belongings but I had really no income. The loss of income, the gain of income, you know if you lose your job you're looking at a good year to get all of that back. You know it takes a very long time and then gradually you become more independent because you learn how to budget, you know how to save your money, you learn how to pay your bills right so by the end of the program you’re paying all of your rent and they're not paying any more."

TYLER: "Is there a length of time that this takes?"

"They say about a year and a half. There was one time that I did get behind and she said but we have the service you can call these people and I said you know what no I'm not because for the last 20 years I have lived off of let me call these people let me call these people I want to do it on my own so I took almost a whole check and I payed that rent that I was behind and it hurt but I did it on my own which felt amazing so she let me she gave me that that rope to go out there and be independent and I thank her for that everyday, so yeah."

TYLER: "It sounds like there was a great support system for you, to get you on your feet. Was there a support system for your children?"

"I guess we were homeless during the program while we were here it is help my son to have a stable living environment or he can come out of the of the trauma or the things that he's been through and have a safe place to do that in when he used to run upstairs when we first moved in he used to run upstairs go to the bathroom just tell me mom I love you. Every time. He doesn’t anymore, because he has a home now you know he always need to know where I was what was going on at that time, he's a very in tune to his surroundings. But he is safe here now.

One day when we were in the car,  homeless in the car, he just looked at me and he screamed and he cried he said I just want to go home."

"When your donor it's almost like you look at the numbers and not, it’s difficult to understand from  a personal perspective of what somebody's going through and so you look at the numbers of this many people were helped it cost this much money and your after your this many people were now financially stable. Those are all wonderful things but it's different to actually sit and talk with somebody. And the human story, the realistic story - we talked about housing because we're thinking of a rent check every month…that's not what housing is to your son. And what you're saying - housing is the stability to know where he's going to be coming home to, where his mother is all the time, and those kinds of things. I am so thankful for this opportunity United Way gave us to interact with you to hear your story - this is what really makes it worth it. Were very happy to partner with organizations like United Way and Salvation Army your story is fantastic. The change that you're having in your life and you know you're not looking for handout but to look for a hand up."

" I appreciate that, and I appreciate what you do in your role as well because if it wasn't for you and donors like you I wouldn't have the opportunity or the self-confidence maybe to even do that.  Community is it is a big, big thing to me. The meaning of “Living United” is strength and community because that's how I made it - that's how I got out of where I was. I took the resources I had where I was living and I made it out and I don't want to go back to where I was so I appreciate that and I thank you."

"Living United as a Community Bank are we thinking of helping Community businesses and stuff like that but we do give back much as we can we try to give back because  everybody is living in their community and everyone succeeds together we don't we super cliche to say but it takes a Village but everybody's surrounded by people that are helping them they might not realize It because its normal for them but normal for one person looks a lot different. When we can we try to partner with these great Community foundations of programs that I can help somebody with a hand up."

TYLER: "What other resources did United Way help connect you with? How were those connections helpful to you?"

"Crisis Nursery a few times they helped me find childcare for my son but  it was short-lived because of his different behaviors and there are not once again many resources for child care for children behavior issues emotional issues unfortunately.

No he has a he's going to be starting with a recover health to do some Independent Living Services we just finished with family services we had to work with them as well but he's also connected with these Behavioral Services for Olmsted County so we do have different things going on…and you know it when you budget, you have to be conscious of what you buy sometimes and it's fortunate that there is a place like that to help me get through a couple days before payday or you know it'll provide a staple of bread or milk you know which is wonderful because my boys can eat a lot!"  

TYLER: "Is Channel One what you’re talking about?"
"Our church has done some packaging of some food and some work down there and people at our bank are on the board and have been in the past. It's unbelievable how much food goes through there in Olmsted County! I think it's really eye-opening to see people when they go there, and the story you hear a lot is that you’ll see people that you know - that are using those facilities. It’s fantastic that it’s available for Olmsted County. I have three kids myself and I can’t imagine the grocery bills when they get older."

"I tried to see Doctor at Olmsted County and they would not provide me with an appointment because she's actually retiring and then they said what you can see a nurse practitioner and I know not really because I would rather see a psychiatrist and they couldn't provide me with one. I do other things to help cope with my mental health I do a lot of mindfulness, I do a lot of reading, my mother is getting me into essential oils so there's a lot of different things I do to cope now instead of you know having to go to a doctor to help me sort things out, and you know my attitude has changed immensely from where I was three years ago - from moving here and I think that's one of the things you have to have is a positive mindset because a negative mindset will get you nowhere."

TYLER: "You mentioned that positive mindset. What was it that made the change for you? Was it hitting rock bottom? Was it what was it that influenced by somebody in your family or you knew that you had to make a change?"

"After I had lost my home in Lacrosse it was, I guess it didn't hit me then yet either, it hit me when we were homeless in the car and my son looked at me and screamed with tears in his eyes he just wants to go home and I vowed that I would never ever be homeless again ever in my positive mindset started I have to be positive for my children, they are watching, we aren’t perfect, we have a lot of work to do as a family and I have a lot of work to do as a person as well on for maintaining and keeping my life any better in my life had a lot of work to do but I'm not done.

And living at the Women's Shelter, my son was sleeping in the car about a street over on the side of the street next to the Greek Orthodox church. That street has no parking restrictions on it whatsoever so every morning when I came there - about 8:30 in the morning, 9 o’ clock, I left and I made someone’s day because there was always a car waiting to pull into that parking spot and park there free all day and you should see the smiles on these people's faces in the car, I was like you know what, I have nothing but look what I just gave somebody - a smile, because they're happy they got a good parking spot you know and that’s what started it.

Then I realized that the community was here for me cuz I knew no one here and then after I lost my job at Mayo, one month later I got a job as the administrative assistant to the Kahler Grand Hotel. The people there played a big role in my life. They're so positive, just constantly focusing on bettering things whether it be themselves or the hotel or the community or any of this, and this and that, and that's why I really want to get involved in the community. I want someone to hear what I’ve gone through -it’s not just bad decisions and things like that you know. I worked at QuikTrip for seven and a half years, destroyed my feet, my doctor put me on pain pills. I went to rehab, and I've been clean for six and a half years off of pain pills. Now that I'm here, I feel like I have a new life and a fresh start, and I want to give back to the community that helped me get here."

"Sterling State Bank is a Family owned Community Bank in Rochester owned by a family that philanthropy is just part of who they are. Our bank, if you look back 10-20 years on average would be around 15% of a pre-tax profits to not-for-profits in business terms percentage, it's just something that's always been part of the family, so there's things that we try to give back to. Programs that that help children, programs that help women - typically it's not just giving money either, it's people being on the boards and being part of the fundraising events.

For the Salvation Army we were a part of Taste of the Town, we’re the presenting sponsor for years and years and years - we take part in the bell ringing program - just a number of different things. It’s really the DNA of our company. We don’t talk about it much, people are going to be wondering why I'm talking about it…it's not a bragging thing. The ownership doesn’t put their name on things for the most part. It's just the idea that we're in this community and  we're all in this together.

I think the banking industry in Rochester – it’s a competitive industry, but we’re in a unique position in the fact that it's locally, family-owned, and that we're seeing the community where the ownership is in the community; going to events, going to the grocery stores, wanting to get involved not just giving the dollars, but actually spending time with the organizations and learning about them. That has really been the history of the bank since the corporate office moved from Austin to Rochester, and probably before that as well. United Way, in the things that they do there now - they're even better equipped, because they're talking with the organizations finding out what those numbers actually mean in people's lives and the choices that United Way makes in terms of what organizations to partner up with - we just find over and over again, are really completely lined up with the things that we want to partner with, so it makes it a really easy avenue to give back to the community."

TYLER: "What are your hopes for the future?"

"I hope to achieve a better life for my family, while I maintain our home and our financial stability. I hope to achieve and be a homeowner one day. I hope to once again have a vehicle one day, but it is it's going to take a lot you know - I'm kind of stumbling right now, I'm sorry."

"My wife volunteered at a hospital in Ethiopia for a year, and they don't talk a whole lot about the future in their situations. Everyone's situation is different, but they don't - you don't even think about hope when you're worried about the day-to-day and where you are going to sleep at night. I’m sure part of this program and part of the positivity, there’s going to be a change of mind to establish that stability and then maybe a feeling of well, where do we go now?  And that's when you can have the time to hope, and to start thinking about those future things. I'm thinking over time it's going to be easier and easier for you to answer the question."

"For so many years I couldn’t look past my tomorrow or that night…I had to take every minute by minute and every day by day. But I am trying to plan for the maybe a house someday, hopefully a vehicle again someday a future for my children to have a better future than I not make the same mistakes as I made, for them to build their own life and be successful in it - that's what I hope for.

And for the community as well you know, to grow and get knowledge of their residents who lives in the community and to help our residents be successful - our business partners, our neighbors you know, our friends, our loved ones. I have so many ideas and that's why I'm hoping this will open doors for me to express those ideas to people, so that way the community can get better and we can reduce unemployment, and we can reduce homelessness in our community, and we all can Live United."

"My hopes for the future are the same thing…you have three children, it's the same thing - you just want them to have wonderful opportunities, for them to be involved in the community, for them to see advantages and not roadblocks. And workwise, all those kinds of things that's always secondary to the family things, but obviously as a business, we want to keep being involved in Olmsted County, and as and giving back in meaningful ways, and meeting people like yourself, and helping people like yourself - to get them to that point where it's okay to ask yourself, not “what am I doing today?” but rather “how can I plan for some amazing things in the future?”.

I’ll take from this experience how amazing you're doing, and just sharing your story regardless of things that are past - that you might not be real excited about people hearing and the fact that you're willing to share everything is going to have a big impact over myself and like I said; that you see the numbers all the time, but actually seeing a human being, seeing yourself, seeing your kids when I came in - the actual lives that are being affected, really changes the view from the numbers on a piece of paper, to you.  I just thank you so much for sharing, and thank you to the United Way for giving me this opportunity just to meet you."


"For me, what I am going to take away from this is that I am filled with a sense of gratitude for allowing me to tell my story, because there is someone out there that may need to hear it so they can get through their trials. If I can do it, I guarantee there are other people out there that can."