Success Stories

When you make a gift to United Way of Berks County, your contribution makes a difference in the lives of 150,000 individuals throughout Berks County. Meet some of the people you’ve helped below.

Help from United Way and Friend, Inc. Community Services Inspires Man to Help Others

Whenever Stephen Werner goes clothing shopping, he keeps an eye out for deals. He isn’t just a savvy shopper – – when he buys a coat or a pair of shoes for himself, he often buys a couple more, in different sizes. He has no idea who will be wearing the items, he just knows they will go to someone who really needs them – – a “friend.”

There was a period when Stephen’s life began to unravel after a series of serious health complications. He lost his job, went through a tough divorce, descended into alcoholism and even contemplated suicide. With help, he fought his way out of despair and Friend, Inc., a United Way agency partner, was an important part of his support system.

During difficult times, his family didn’t go hungry because of Friend’s Kutztown food pantry. The organization also made sure his son and daughter had something under the Christmas tree.

Today, Stephen is working, remarried, sober and committed to helping others.

Friend, Inc. case worker, Laura Moyer, said Stephen’s ongoing support helps the organization in a big way. “One day he came in here with coats, and another time with really nice lunch boxes. It is just so awesome.”

Last year, more than 2,300 people received help from Friend, Inc. in the areas of Fleetwood, Brandywine and Kutztown, with the support of United Way funding.

Stephen shared, “I give back because I know there are people going through what I went through. Friend, Inc. helped me get back on my feet.” He hopes those who are struggling and don’t want their family to go hungry, know the agency is there for them, too.

 

Meals on Wheels Gives Kitty Independence in Her Home

Despite being legally blind, Kitty Merkel, 85, lives alone in her small home in South Heidelberg on her own terms. Kitty has learned to navigate her home and receives help with cleaning and other duties that allow her to live independently. As cooking is not something she can easily do, Kitty is grateful to have meals delivered daily to her by volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program through Berks Encore. Kitty says, “I owe my health to a balanced diet from Meals on Wheels. If I didn’t get a meal, I would have a TV dinner or a sandwich which wouldn’t be as healthy.”

Julian Finds Stability and Success through CASA of Berks County

After losing his father, Julian bounced around in foster care, often being moved because of his aggressive behavior. When he was 12 years old, CASA of Berks County had the opportunity to provide Julian with a trained volunteer to serve as his advocate. In visiting him at his fifth placement, Julian’s volunteer advocate quickly discovered that he had never learned to read. The CASA visited him weekly, teaching him how to read, and advocated with his school for additional services. His behavior became more manageable and he grew less angry about losing his father.

Working alongside Julian’s caseworker, the CASA searched for someone who might have known Julian’s father. When an old friend of his father’s was located, Julian was ecstatic to meet him. Their visits increased in frequency and within a short while, the man’s family offered to be his foster care home. Under the encouraging eye of his new foster family, Julian began thriving in high school at both academics and sports. In August 2019, the family officially adopted him. He is on his way to be a responsible, productive young adult thanks to the efforts of the CASA Volunteer Advocate

Aiden Finds Help Developing Life Skills

A journey of love, lessons and challenges is how Idalis Acevedo describes life since her son, Aiden, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. “I was unfamiliar with autism,” Idalis, of Shillington said. “I didn’t know what he would or wouldn’t be able to do.”

Today, Aiden is nine years old and is mostly nonverbal. His mom shares that he can also be extremely energetic, which can be challenging for people who do not know Aiden or understand his autism.

Making friends is difficult for Aiden. An after-school social program at Easterseals, a United Way agency partner, helps Aiden develop friendships with other kids in a safe and understanding environment. Easterseals also provides Aiden with speech and occupational therapy to help him develop skills his mother hopes he will use for the rest of his life. “It’s good; it has given him a new perspective and he has done a 180,” Idalis said. “When he first started therapy he had a five-minute attention span, now he can do 45 minutes. He went from speaking about 10 words to now saying 20 to 30 words.”

Idalis is grateful for the care Aiden receives at Easterseals. “Kids with autism just want to be loved,” Idalis said. “They want to know that they matter in this world, too.”