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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / MaRie Robertson works with Raiven Woodruff, 6, as they make a gingerbread house at the Bethlehem Center during an event for Building Stable Lives program participants on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

Yashika Ward, a case manager for the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, was recently faced with a decision in which it seemed every option had a negative outcome. A client needed a car repair to have transportation to get to work, but spending the money on the repair would leave her unable to pay rent.

"She depends on her car to be able to provide for her household," Ward said of the client, who lives with her 18-year-old daughter and infant grandchild.

Ward turned to the Neediest Cases Fund.

For low-income Chattanooga residents living paycheck to paycheck, unexpected circumstances such as a medical bill, reduction in work hours or necessary car repair can leave them in a situation in which they have to decide between keeping the lights on or paying rent.

(READ MORE: Neediest Cases helps low-income workers in Chattanooga area remain housed when faced with the unexpected)

The Neediest Cases Fund gives one-time assistance to people who, through no fault of their own, are faced with unforeseen circumstances that leave them unable to pay their bills. The fund is fueled by donations from Times Free Press readers during an annual appeal between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

For people who live in the Alton Park area like Ward's client, a lack of transportation can be a barrier to getting a well-paying job because buses stop running at a certain time, Ward said.

With help from the Neediest Cases Fund, Ward's client was able to pay her rent and repair her car so she could get to work and maintain financial stability.

(READ MORE: Fate can change a life in an instant, and the Neediest Cases Fund helps those with nowhere else to turn)

Ward compared the Neediest Cases Fund to the "Community Chest" in the board game Monopoly.

"A lot of our participants that live in that area, they don't have access to go get a loan or borrow from someone with intent on paying them back," Ward said.

Faced with few options, she said many people end up getting payday or car title loans with such high interest rates that it's difficult for them to ever get out of debt even if they put everything they have toward paying off the loan. Then, if they fail to pay it back, they can lose their car or ruin their credit, she said.

One-time help from Neediest Cases helps them avoid that cycle, and so do long-term programs like Building Stable Lives. Ward's client's daughter is a participant in that program, which is administered through the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults at the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park.

Building Stable Lives, which is offered in neighborhoods throughout Chattanooga, provides life coaches that help participants achieve economic and social independence by setting and attaining goals related to education, housing, employment, health, family and social networks. Participants receive training in job skills, budgeting and other areas to help them reach their goals.

(READ MORE: Electric bill paid by Neediest Cases Fund lightens load for Kristi Orick's family)

MaRie Robertson, who also participates in the Building Stable Lives program in Alton Park, said it has helped her with everything from managing her finances to developing co-parenting skills. She will graduate in January after 18 months in the program.

"You learn about a lot of different things that maybe your parents didn't teach you, like managing your finances and just building your credit," Robertson said. "They just have so many resources for people, and I think everybody should learn the life skills and different things that they teach."

She said she's been working hard to build her credit, and her goals moving forward are to buy a house and be the best mom she can be.

"I was down at my lowest point when I started, and now I'm at my highest point," Robertson said. "I want everybody to find out about [Building Stable Lives] and know that no matter who you are or where you're from or how hard your life may be, everything takes time but if you put the work in you can survive and make it through anything."

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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