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United Way of Northern New Jersey-Affinity Groups-Impact Stories

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Impact Stories

Read about how our impact is helping the community.

ALICE® Scholarship Provides Chance at a New Life

Tracey Semcer’s life was at a crossroads. After 14 years as a stay-at-home mother, she was returning to school in hopes of reestablishing a career.

Tracey SemcerWithout ALICE Scholarships from United Way of Northern New Jersey Women’s Leadership Council, Tracey says she would not have been able to afford to finish college – putting her future livelihood at risk.

The 39-year-old mother of two was enrolled at Warren County Community College pursuing an associate’s degree in sociology when she set out on her own following the breakup of her marriage. Quickly, it became a struggle to pay for school as well as basic bills when her only sources of income were student loans and child support.

“I knew I was going to be on my own and would need to finish my education,” says Tracey, who had been a legal secretary before having children. “My biggest challenge was financial. I was worrying about how to pay the bills,” she says.

Focus on Studies, Not Financial Stress

This was the first time the Council was able to step in for Tracey and make a difference. The Council, philanthropic women dedicated to improving the lives of women and children, had established a matching grant, called the ALICE Scholarship, with the College’s foundation.

The scholarship is targeted to help students who are ALICEAsset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – afford access to higher education. The scholarships can be used to help pay for tuition, as well as other costs, such as books, transportation or child care.

The scholarship made it possible for Tracey to focus on her studies and her children. Her hard work and dedication paid off. Tracey earned a 3.9 GPA and was named valedictorian of her class. Nonetheless, she felt her financial security was still at risk as she was facing repayment of student loans and the prospect of low-paying jobs.

Tracey was passionate about furthering her education and transferred to Centenary College to complete a bachelor’s degree.

The Council had a similar matching ALICE Scholarship with Centenary. Because of Tracey’s successful track record, she was chosen once again.

“If it were not for this scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate,” Tracey says. 

Solid Foundation for a Second Career

While at Centenary, Tracey was very active in raising awareness about domestic abuse and sexual assault. She led an effort to host a sexual assault awareness event on campus and landed an internship at the Domestic Abuse & Sexual Crisis Center of Warren County.

Following graduation, Tracey applied to the Center for Disease Control’s Public Health Associate Program – a highly competitive, paid, two-year training in public health. Tracey felt it was a great fit for her passions because of the focus on sexual health, HIV prevention, and teen dating.

Out of 5,500 applications, Tracey was one of 230 graduates selected and placed in public health offices throughout the country. Today, Tracey is working full time as a public health associate.

Tracey says it’s a perfect first job in her second-chance career.

Support United Way Women’s Leadership Council and help ALICE access higher education, putting individuals and families on the path to financial stability. Click here to learn more.


A Volunteer’s Inspiration: Improving Life for ALICE

After more than a decade working as a volunteer for United Way, Sue Wetzel had an idea. She knew that women philanthropists liked to work with other women while they were helping those Sue Wetzelin need. So in 2002, she led an effort to mobilize female leaders to join United Way. “We created a council focused on women helping women, where you could volunteer, network, and have a relationship with those whose lives were being impacted,” she says.

It was a huge success. Sue saw the council grow to engage 350 women, and raise $25,000 at its annual breakfasts. Now, as the newly appointed volunteer chair of United Way of Northern New Jersey Women’s Leadership Council, Sue is channeling her passion and the energy of fellow philanthropists to improving the lives of ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) women and families in local communities across our region, including Morris, Somerset, Suburban Essex, Sussex, and Warren counties.

Sue is uniquely qualified for the task. A United Way volunteer for 27 years, Sue also dedicated five years of her career to advancing the common good; three as CEO of the former Somerset County United Way and two with United Way of America. She is currently the U.S. Vice President of Customer Services, Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems Inc., a company that has a long history as a United Way supporter.

Inspired to Volunteer

But it’s really her understanding of why women volunteer and why she herself volunteers that makes her such an inspiration.

Ever since she was in high school and volunteered as a tutor for inner-city children in Philadelphia, Sue has tried to make a difference in the lives of people who were struggling. She served as a Big Sister in college, but it was after graduating that she found her way to United Way. Nearly three decades later, she continues to be inspired to give back.

“I’ve been given so much, I can’t imagine not spending some of my time helping people,” she says. 

The Power of Women for Change

Today, the struggle of ALICE families, who are working hard but still unable to stay afloat, worries Sue, especially in New Jersey where 38 percent of families cannot afford basic necessities. 

“The wear and tear on people living that close to the brink is so difficult,” Sue says. “We have to figure out more creative ways to solve issues around caregiving, education, and career development for working parents.”

As the Council’s volunteer chair, Sue is issuing a rallying call to its regional network of 130 philanthropic women. Through United Way, they have a unique opportunity to invest their time, talents, and financial resources in efforts that result in tangible, long-term, positive impacts on the lives of their neighbors. The Council supports various scholarship opportunities for ALICE, including ones that help families access quality child care, help child care professionals attain higher training, and help female students pursue continuing education programs and complete their college degrees.

But, as economic conditions worsen for families, more needs to be done, Sue says.
Despite the challenges ahead, Sue is inspired by the positive energy and dedication she sees within her fellow Council women.

“We are strong together, and I believe in the power of our women to create lasting change.”

Support United Way Women’s Leadership Council and help to improve life for ALICE families and everyone in our communities. Click here to learn more.


United Way Scholarship Provides a Second Chance

One semester shy of completing her college degree, Crystal Donovan had to put her dreams on hold.

wlcscholarshipCrystal, a mother of two boys ages 7 and 5, had been attending Centenary College in Hackettstown to complete a bachelor’s degree but had to discontinue her studies due to financial complications. She works approximately 33 hours each week, but earns less than what is necessary to cover life’s basics of food, housing, and transportation.

“Every month is a juggling act for what gets paid. It comes down to pennies, there’s no money to be saved,” says Crystal.

Women Make a Difference

Thanks to United Way of Northern New Jersey Women’s Leadership Council, and its joint scholarship program with Centenary College, Crystal was able to return to school to finish her final semester of student teaching requirements. As a 2014-15 scholarship recipient, Crystal received $2,500 from United Way and a $2,500 match from Centenary College. The Council also collaborated with the Soroptimist Club of Hackettstown to provide Crystal with an additional scholarship to cover her academic fees. She is on track to graduate in May 2016, earning a degree in English with a certification in Elementary Education and Special Education.

The Women’s Leadership Council scholarship is designed to help nontraditional female students, 21 years or older, to afford the cost of completing their college education or enroll in continuing education programs. The Council provides scholarship funds at Centenary College, Raritan Valley Community College, Sussex County Community College, and Warren County Community College. Thanks to a generous match program from the colleges, the impact of the Council’s fundraising efforts is doubled.

“Crystal demonstrated a strong commitment to her studies, but was in need of a scholarship like this so she could pursue her academic goals. She was a natural fit for this opportunity,” says United Way Chief Executive Officer John Franklin.

“Receiving this scholarship is a dream come true,” says Crystal. “It has forever changed my life and for that I am grateful. My goal is to teach fourth or fifth grade once I graduate.”

United Way of Northern New Jersey Women’s Leadership Council is a group of philanthropic women dedicated to making an impact in our communities, inspiring and empowering women, and driving community solutions. The Council helps ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) become more financially self-sufficient. A national network, United Way Women’s Leadership Council has more than 62,000 donors. Click here to learn more.


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