United Way of Greater Chattanooga will work with partner agencies in the area to help people with emergency needs as well as provide services, if possible, to help them become self-sufficient and stable. Call 423-752-0353 if you or someone you know could benefit from the Neediest Cases Fund.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund enters its 100th year helping those in need with donations from readers who generously give to a unique resource available year round. Contributions, which are acknowledged in the newspaper, will be accepted through Dec. 31
When it rains, it pours -- and sometimes, the house is threatening to fall apart, as well.
In 2011, Collegedale resident Charlie Bowers endured the roughest year of his life when his wife died. Even though he was left to take care of his son, Leman, now 8, Amazon cut his job, and the city cited his 100-year-old house for being in dire need of repair.
The city said his house needed new siding -- a luxury the unemployed widower could not afford -- and that one of the aged house's corners was ready to fall over entirely.
"Termites had destroyed a corner of the house, and we didn't realize it," Bowers said. "The only thing keeping the corner of the house from falling in altogether was the interior wall."
Through the charity of the Samaritan Center, as well as some needed construction assistance through the Helping Hands Ministry, the Collegedale community church and local volunteers, Bowers was able to refurbish his leaky house with new siding.
Sharon Smith-Hensley, social services director for the Samaritan Center, praised Bowers
"He's definitely one of our most deserving clients," Smith-Hensley said. "How could you not want to help?"
The Samaritan Center, an Ooltewah-based nonprofit that provides a wide variety of services ranging from disaster relief to help with utilities, rent and school supplies to operating a thrift store, also works with the United Way of Greater Chattanooga to secure immediate help for people in need, as well as provide services that help clients regain solid footing.
"Having a safe, healthy home can be very important for stability," said Kelley Nave, the United Way's director of public relations.
United Way hopes to broaden financial and social support provided through its funded and partner agencies with money raised in this year's Neediest Cases Fund campaign. Each year between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, the Times Free Press asks readers to donate to the Neediest Cases Fund. Hundreds of individual donors, many who have made their Neediest Cases Fund contributions an annual tradition, donate thousands of dollars that stay in this area to help those most in need.
"We want to extend the reach of Neediest Cases Fund donations as far as possible," Nave said. "We are working with many, many organizations, rallying support and resources to provide solutions to very real human need."
The work the Samaritan Center did with Bowers is an example of how Neediest Cases funds can be used to offer clients a hand up.
As construction work on Bowers' home progressed, Smith-Hensley made sure to check in with Collegedale authorities to monitor the status of his citation, making sure the work went as smoothly as possible.
The walls were rebuilt in February 2012, and so were the roads of hope in the Bowers' lives.
Now, Bowers can focus on being the father Leman needs in his life. After a long day of school, the two like to spend time together by watching movies and playing outside.
"Leman really enjoys watching whatever I'm watching," Bowers said. "Just the two of us."
It's one thing to find a short-term fix. But Smith-Hensley was determined to give Bowers the sort of long-term help that would give him and Leman a solid future altogether.
Bowers had tried a stint in higher education in 2000, but dropped out due to a lack of motivation.
"I got discouraged and never really gave it any thought to going back," Bowers admits.
But after Smith-Hensley stepped in and provided the assistance necessary for Bowers to enroll in Chattanooga State Community College once again, he stepped up to the challenge.
"Because Sharon encouraged me to try it again, it gave me the confidence to go back to school," he said.
Now, the young father takes three online classes and one on-campus course to accommodate his schedule. Bowers hopes to graduate with a degree in solar engineering and provide a better second act for him and Leman.
"I really couldn't be where I am now without them," Bowers said.
Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.