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Meet Catherine

United Way–supported community partners helped her bounce back from the edge. Now she’s helping others do the same.

Catherine’s story is a classic example of the way one small misfortune can change the course of someone’s life.

Nearly a decade ago, Catherine was working at a downtown Dartmouth flower shop. It was a stable, steady job she liked. When she became pregnant, Catherine was overjoyed. But when her employer found out, they laid her off so as not to pay her maternity leave.

Catherine wanted nothing more than to create a beautiful life for her son. She went on income assistance to stay afloat, but was soon overwhelmed by the small indignities and challenges of poverty. Every day, she was so consumed with staying housed and fed, and preparing for her son’s arrival. Working towards a better future in the long-term seemed impossible.

“I was eight months pregnant,” she says, “and I just needed help.”

Poverty isn’t just about a lack of money

The daily difficulties of dealing with unaffordable and inadequate housing, social isolation, transportation challenges and poor nutrition can make every day feel like a treadmill. You’re moving furiously just to keep up, never making any progress.

Catherine knows that feeling well. She relied on United Way–supported programs over the years, like The North Grove (formerly the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre) and Take Action Society to make ends meet. However, she knew she needed to figure out how to get off assistance in the long term.

“I have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be on the system and the obstacles that can get in the way,” says Catherine. “You get on it and you feel like you’re stuck there. How do I get off? I needed skills and an education so I could find a better paying job.”

Today, she’s a passionate advocate for change, joining the United Way’s poverty solutions task team. There, she offers a unique perspective: her own.

Catherine helped develop tangible solutions to the barriers that she and others face in their journey through poverty. One example is putting Halifax Transit bus passes into the hands of low-income community members.

“I was given an opportunity to share my lived experience, and it made something happen,” says Catherine, who today lives in north Dartmouth with her son, Ben, now nine years old. “It inspired me to want to do more. I believe that when you make it, you help the one behind you. I want to make sure that others have the same opportunity to get off the system.”