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 Caseses 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.
Fearing you'll be rejected by society because of a disability is more debilitating than actually having a disability, said Ashley Grimes.
She's a 28-year-old North Carolina woman with cerebral palsy, a bachelor's degree in psychology from Lee University and, come Thursday, a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Friday, she wrapped up the last day of a yearlong employment counselor internship at Signal Centers' Assistive Technology Services on Bailey Avenue.
She has been teaching Chattanoogans with disabilities about putting off shame, fear and anxiety and going out and getting what they want in the workforce.
"People are not always aware of services or what they legally have a right to, like a job," she said. "I've always said it has to do with a support system, whether it be family or friends. Agencies can provide that, too."
It hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for her, either.
"I've encountered people who are discriminating in their actions and their perception of me," she said. "But my family did really well at supporting me growing up."
She learned the power of knowing your rights from them. They stayed current on the Americans with Disabilities Act when she was a child. Now she's setting the example all over again for a lot of people.
Kelley Nave, spokeswoman for United way of Greater Chattanooga, said Grimes' story illustrates the "stability and support" United Way wants to provide through its partnership with Signal Centers, a group dedicated to helping "those with disabilities and other challenges strive to reach lifelong independence," according to its website.
This year, United Way hopes to broaden financial and social support to its funded and partner agencies with money raised for the Neediest Cases Fund. Beginning annually at Thanksgiving, the Times Free Press asks readers to donate money to the Neediest Cases Fund.
Hundreds of individual donors -- many of them repeating every year -- donate thousands of dollars which help local people in need.
"Meeting these needs and addressing these issues makes our community stronger, healthier and a better place to live," Nave said.
People like Ashley Grimes is where all that work ends -- and then starts all over again.
Grimes wants to make educating, advocating and empowering her life's work.
"I guess why I got into this field ... I've had so many parents come up to me and say 'My child will never go to prom or graduate or get married.' And I've done almost all those," she said.
"When your parents don't see that you can achieve what you want to, that's automatically going to put negativity in your own mind and what you're motivated to do."
Grimes wants to overcome those attitudes. She's thankful for places like Signal Centers, which is making her work -- and the liberation of folks with disabilities from intimidation -- possible.
"I'm so grateful for that," she said.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731.