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‘I’m always forever grateful:’ United Way of Dane County helps woman overcome abuse, homelessness

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Dane County (WKOW) -- Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on all of the good things we have and how far we've come.

For Awa Sibi, her journey started in 2015 when she came to Wisconsin from the Ivory Coast for an education.

She left behind her son, who has cerebral palsy, as she pursued a degree and went back to get him when she was settled.

"Within a month of him being here, we received a letter that says that insurance company had changed the policy," said Sibi.

And that's when things took a turn. Without insurance, Awa suddenly wasn't able to get the medical attention her son needed for his disorder.

"Bills were actually piling up from the hospital," she remembered. "You will make 10 to 20 calls a day to figure out what can we do. Can we get daycare? Can you get help?"

On top of the financial struggles, Awa was in an abusive relationship. It got so bad she and her son had to leave home.

"The first night, it was Feb. 20 2019 when I stepped foot into a shelter. That was it, it almost seemed like it was the end," said Sibi. "When I was doing my intake process, I almost packed up and left because I did not think this was the right place to be in, especially with a special needs child, you know, it was just too hard."

But she knew she couldn't give up. When a caseworker recommended United Way of Dane County, Awa got to work, making connections and taking advantage of the many resources the organization has to offer.

One of the programs that catapulted Awa to success was the Boardwalk Academy. It's a personal and professional development series.

"We really try to identify people who are interested in serving as leaders in our community," said Keetra Burnette, United Way's director of stakeholder engagement.

Awa was a perfect fit.

"And I honestly feel that she was more of a blessing to boardwalk than we were to her because the example that she is of overcoming challenges," said Burnette.

She completed the seven-week program and now runs her own business, making food products and catering. It's something she doesn't think she would have been able to do without her United Way family by her side.

"I'm always forever grateful," Awa said.

United Way of Dane County is just about to wrap up its Capital Campaign. Money raised goes to fund programs like the Boardwalk Academy.

If you would like to give back, visit the donate section on the United Way of Dane County's website.

Video shot/edited by Re'Nesha Donson

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Rebecca Ribley

Wake Up Wisconsin Anchor

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