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Lisa circled the dark, desolate parking lot before shifting to park. It was the same routine she had done so many times before. With her car’s headlights turned down and her hand on the lock, Lisa eased her seat back and murmured, “God, if you want to take me tonight, you can go ahead and do it.”This was life for Lisa. A car—her home. Trashcans—her food source. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Lisa said. “I wasn’t supposed to be jobless, homeless and hopeless.” Lisa, a mother, grandmother, proud veteran and St. Louis resident, worked the same job for 26 years. Unfortunately, reductions were made at the company, including Lisa’s position.

Alone and unemployed, Lisa began searching for a job but quickly discovered finding one to be a nearly impossible feat. “I would take anything at that point, just to get my foot back in the door,” Lisa, age 58 recalled. “Things just weren’t turning out. The job market was for younger people, and they didn’t want someone my age.”

Depressed and without an income, Lisa was forced onto the streets, with her car as her only refuge. “I was tired of having to find a safe place to live and hoping no one would break into my car at night. I got hungry. I was eating out of a trashcan. I didn’t have any money,” Lisa remembered. “It got to the point where I didn’t want to exist anymore. I was hoping that I could just disappear.”

Lisa had heard about employment agencies that help individuals get back on track with job placement, but it wasn’t until late one night—as she thought to herself, “No one would care if I died”—that she made a lifesaving call. That phone call was to Employment Connection, a United Way supported agency that assists individuals of all walks of life, including veterans, who struggle to overcome the barriers of unemployment.

After that call, Lisa said, “I began to feel like me again.”

United Way’s support allowed Employment Connection to provide Lisa a four-day program where she was taught proper résumé-writing and interview techniques. By the end of the process, Lisa was happier, more confident and within weeks, a full-time employee at Barnes Jewish Hospital. What started as a temp-to-permanent position in housekeeping quickly became a full-time, permanent position within a month. In addition to providing Lisa the necessary tools to get back on track, Employment Connection treated her depression and helped her secure an apartment as well as furnish it.

“If it wasn’t for United Way funding Employment Connection, I wouldn’t be here today,” Lisa said. “I probably would’ve checked out.”

Not only is Lisa working full time again, she’s also studying deaf communications at St. Louis Community College. One day she hopes to use her gift of sign language to help others communicate. Lisa spends her free time helping others as a volunteer on the board for Employment Connection and assisting veterans with their application processes. She also serves as a missionary at her church, cleaning the homes of seniors and making food baskets for homeless families.

“I want to help people so they don’t have to worry about spending money on groceries; they can have the money to buy their medications. They don’t have to make the decision, ‘Should I buy my medication or should I buy groceries?’ They’ll have groceries and medication,” Lisa said.

When Lisa retires, she plans to continue helping others like this every day, full time.

“Not only did Employment Connection give me a job, but they made me feel like I was somebody. I became the person I needed to be again,” Lisa said with a smile. “And that feels a lot better than living in my car.”

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