There is a little more than a week left to help support the UCF United Way Campaign and the university’s goal of raising $150,000 in support of local charities. When you are deciding to pledge, donate or get involved in any of the campaign’s wonderful events you’ll probably ask yourself these two questions: Why should I donate during such tough financial times? Or, will my support really make an impact?
Those questions can be hard to answer. After all, most people have less money to go around these days. But before you say, “I’ll do it next year,” remember one person: Sherlann Phillips. If anyone knows the difference one dollar can make, it’s this single mother of two who never thought she would be homeless.
Sherlann moved to the United States in 2000 from Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean island just northwest of Venezuela. She lived in Brooklyn with her husband and was working as a nursing assistant. She was working towards her dream of becoming a nurse when her marriage became abusive.
“It wasn’t comfortable or healthy for me or my sons anymore,” she said. “I had to come up with a plan which was to move away from it all.” So this summer, she packed everything she had to her name in a small Nissan Versa and moved her 10- and 12-year-old sons to Kissimmee in the hopes of making her dreams come true.
Sherlann admits starting over wasn’t easy, “I was trying to stay on the money, because I would come here and I (thought) would get a job faster. But that didn’t happen.”
She and her boys were living week-to-week in a small motel. Within a month in Central Florida, her money was running out. Desperate, she contacted Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida after researching the organization online. For more than 25 years the Coalition has provided support services for homeless men, women and children and she thought it was her last chance to stay here.
“I sent an email and tried to put as much information in it as possible and someone responded to me, but they didn’t have room at that time. So I was there (in Kissimmee) hanging in by a thread, until I actually ran out of money,” she said. With no support system in the United States to turn too, Sherlann was faced with the toughest decision of her life. She would have to drive back to New York and ask the one man she never wanted to see again for help.
She describes the 1,100 mile trip up the East Coast as torture. “We were all in my car, and it was really hard for me to conceal (from my boys) what was going on,” she said. “You know it was sad times. They stayed up with me. I made it in one night, because we didn’t have money to pull over. We didn’t have that luxury at all. So you know, one of my sons stayed up with me, one went to bed, the other one stayed up. You know they took turns. And I was like driving, crying, thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ It was really rough.”
Sherlann never had to ask for help in New York, though, because the call she had been waiting weeks for finally came the day she arrived there. Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida had a spot waiting for Sherlann.
“I begged her (Coalition case manager), I actually begged her, to hold a room for me,” she said. “That was a Thursday, I think, and she said she’ll hold it for me until Monday.”
Sherlann didn’t wait. She turned around with her two boys and drove straight back. The anxiety of the drive the night before was replaced with anticipation of finally being able to jumpstart her family plan. As happy as she was to be placed at the Coalition, there was a reality to their situation she wasn’t quite prepared for.
“I didn’t ever think I was going to end up homeless,” she said. Sharing close quarters with strangers lead to some sleepless and tearful nights for her boys and left Sherlann wondering to herself, “How did I get here?” But she stayed strong and kept to her plan.
Coalition for the Homeless is located in one of Orlando’s toughest neighborhoods, Parramore, so she stayed by her boys’ side until it was time to send them to school. Then she hit the ground running in search of employment.
“I used to stay up at night even with the lights off. I was filling out applications,” she said. “I went to every job fair around that time. Every job fair! Every Sunday I used to go by Publix to get the paper, the employment guide, and the job search paper, the free paper that comes out on Sunday. I was very faithful in finding those and looking through there. Actually, that’s where I found my job.”
Sherlann’s determination wasn’t the only thing working in her favor. She had some help from one of the Coalition’s on-site partners, Goodwill Industries.
Muffet Robinson, the director of communications and community relations for the Coalition says these partners prepare people like Sherlann to become more employable.
“They (Goodwill Industries workers) don’t find jobs for people but help them with the skills to go and find the job,” she said. “Everybody has a case manager and a plan and some people are more go-getters than others.” It paid off because Sherlann received a call from Lynx in Orlando. After she passed a physical and drug screening, she began work as a driver for Access Lynx, which provides driving services for people with disabilities and other limitations.
Sherlann says her dreams are within reach again. “You know, I set goals and I’m starting to achieve them,” she said. “And it feels good to be working and doing something constructive with my life, because I’m trying to get myself together so I can start school in January.”
Robinson says stories like Sherlann’s inspire. “We really depend on the community through United Way and in other ways, because, Sherlann is our neighbor,” she said. “It could be anyone of us. Something happens, an abusive situation, or the loss of a job. Look at the economy now. You find yourself in a situation that you never thought you’d be in. So many people that used to contribute to charities are now finding themselves on the other side.”
Sherlann and her boys are planning to take part in one of the Coalition’s housing programs called Scattered Site. It’s a chance for her to be back on her own and enjoy the small luxuries in life we all take for granted, like having your own bathroom.
Robinson says moving clients out of the Coalition is always the ultimate goal. “We don’t want to set people up for failure; we want to set them up for success. And so the next step is within reach and it just shows that when you have the stick-to-itiveness and the fortitude to do it and you have a plan, there’s hope!”
Sherlann is one of the many people you have a chance to help in October. This Friday, Oct. 25, the UCF United Way Campaign is hosting the Spooky Knight 5K, a Halloween-themed run/walk that will benefit Coalition for the Homeless.
The pre-race activities begin at 5:30 p.m. at the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center’s Leisure Pool Green. The run/walk around campus begins at 7 p.m. Registration is $20 for students and $25 for everyone else. Prices increase by $5 the day of the race. To pre-register just go to the Live United website: https://liveunited.ucf.edu/.
It is not the only way to help raise the university’s goal of $150,000. Visit https://liveunited.ucf.edu/ for online and pledge form options and information about the many events. We invite you to an open house at the Ferrell Commons Auditorium this Friday at 11 a.m.
After all, it only takes $1 to impact a life. Just ask Sherlann Phillips and her two boys!