Chad Crouch's one-bedroom apartment in East Ridge is modest and only has a few pieces of furniture scattered throughout, but the 37-year-old is happy to call it the first place he's ever lived on his own.
Having spent most of his adult life in prison for various offenses, Crouch was most recently released last spring after serving a year for violating his probation. Determined to start a better life for himself, he said it has been difficult learning how to live independently again.
"I was going through an emotional breakdown, and all of my bills hit me at once," he said. "I just had to reach out."
Todd Bragg from the United Way of Greater Chattanooga connected Crouch with Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga so he could receive help from the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases fund, which provided him with more than $1,000 in rental assistance to get a fresh start.
The annual fund provides the opportunity for readers to support their neediest neighbors through financial donations during the holiday season. Clients at local agencies can receive one-time assistance for a wide array of reasons. Residents can get help with utility bills, unexpected car repairs or rent, as in Crouch's case.
Bragg, the United Way's director of stability and community programming, said the felon population being released is growing significantly, and often there aren't a lot of resources in place to help them. The United Way manages the Neediest Cases fund, screens recipients and issues the money.
"Crouch has spent most of his adult life in prison," Bragg said. "He's not even familiar with the things you and I would know because he doesn't know that world. His world is the Department of Corrections."
Originally from Hohenwald, Tenn., about three hours northwest of Chattanooga, Crouch has no family or friends in the area to help him. Before finding his own apartment, he was living in a halfway house.
When the job he has at the Volkswagen subsidiary in town cut his pay from $18 an hour to only $10, he quickly fell behind on his bills.
Sprawled across Crouch's bed one afternoon were copies of his resume, professional certificates he earned while in prison and entrepreneurial magazines he said keep him motivated. He eventually wants to go back to school and learn about coding and programming.
"I'm doing the best I can," he said. "I'm motivated."
Bragg said the Neediest Cases fund pays for Crouch's needs when most other agencies and entities will not or cannot pay for them. He said the fund helps people get their life back on track.
"Mr. Crouch has real potential," Bragg said. "I think he's smart enough to do it, I think he wants to do it and I think he has a great chance of success."
Contact Allison Shirk at firstname.lastname@example.org.