UJA’s network of organizations illustrates the strength of our community. Together, we work as a collective that sustains one another and lifts each other up. UJA’s strategic approach to poverty relief helps thousands of people in our community who need assistance to address the complex challenges that lead to poverty, and to help them overcome daily threats of hunger, homelessness, and financial crisis. Our multifaceted approach, through a range of social service agencies, enables us to provide the comprehensive solutions required to help community members in need.
Without the support of our community, changing so many lives would not be possible. Rachel is one of the people whose lives have been transformed with the help of our generous donors. This is her story.
My name is Rachel and I’m pleased to give you an idea of how several UJA-funded organizations, including JF&CS, JVS, and Kehilla, have changed my life.
From a young age, I was a caretaker. My parents divorced when I was five, and by the time I was ten, I was co-parenting with my mother. I performed this role to the best of my ability for a child of that age, but it was never good enough for my mother. For my entire child and young adulthood, I found myself searching for her approval and validation while yearning for motherly love and affection. We have since improved our relationship significantly, but it was a long road to get here.
Ultimately, I moved out when I was 16 because I could not take her consistent verbal abuse. I was treated the same way by my father on the rare occasions I would see him. Unfortunately, that left me extremely vulnerable to search for that type of affection elsewhere.
When I met my ex-husband, I had never been in a serious relationship. I was only eighteen and thought I was in love, but he quickly proved to be an unsupportive emotionally and verbally abusive partner. The abuse was something I was familiar with from my own family and I began to believe that it was all that I deserved.
He was never there for me in serious times of need, would isolate me from my friends, and sometimes he would threaten to physically harm me. I was paralyzed with fear as I realized I had married someone who was mentally ill.
Then I got pregnant.
It was a high-risk pregnancy and my son, Nicholas, was born 6 ½ weeks early. When leaving the hospital, I was told to watch him for anything abnormal because of certain drugs he was given to help his breathing and deal with other complications. I didn’t think anything of at the time—Nicholas was healthy and thriving as he should.
Fast forward a little over a year to the high holidays. It was an extremely stressful time for me, because I was finally trying to figure out how to leave my husband. No one knew anything about my relationship, so I had no support. I was ashamed and embarrassed to admit what was happening to me. It was all too much for me to bear and I ended up in a psychiatric ward for a few days to finally get the help I needed.
I knew from that point on that I needed to do what was best for me and my son and that I could only become stronger. My ex threatened to expose what he called my “nervous breakdown” if I left him—saying I would never get custody of Nicholas. He tried to hold me hostage every moment. However, when I insisted on leaving him, he said if I didn’t seek spousal or child support, he would give me sole custody. I needed his money, but I took that deal without hesitation and I left.
When Nicholas was in grade one, I was called constantly to come pick him up, as the school was unable to manage or control his behaviour through normal protocols. I was absent from work so often because of this, that I was unable to maintain a job to support us. And then Nicholas’ condition worsened. My sweet, sensitive, caring, and very intelligent son that I took pride in raising, was disappearing. The school assumed that his behavioral issues were the result of my separation, but I knew something else was there… call it a mother’s intuition. Eventually, Nicholas was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, oppositional defiance, and high anxiety disorders.
Medication, along with therapy, has helped with his noticeable ticks, anxiety levels, and aggressive and OCD behaviours. Nicholas is 16 now, but my life has become a regimented schedule for therapy, social skills groups, specialist appointments, and other care for him.
When it became apparent that I could not work because of Nicholas’ constant needs and I was in dire straits, I contacted Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS). I was struggling every month to pay for rent, food, and other necessities. Because of the generous funding that UJA provides, JF&CS was able to help me financially. If not for their support, I assure you we would be living on the streets, in my car, or from shelter to shelter.
The past few years have been a roller coaster, to say the least. Since the last time I shared my story a few years ago, my ex and his new wife have manipulated my son into coming to live with them. And, because he’s 16, he could choose who he wanted to live with. For nine months he cut off all contact with me.
They convinced him that I was the threat, and they took advantage of him. They were abusive, neglectful, and violent with him—and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I’m proud to say that I’ve gone to court 5 times for my son, and I have won every time. I knew my ex had no ground to stand on, no case—but since I couldn’t afford a lawyer, I represented myself. I worked tirelessly to research, collect evidence, and find ways to protect myself and Nicholas.
Things are most certainly looking up. When Nicholas was living with his father, he was failing over every subject. But this past semester, he got two B+’s, an A+, and an A—and he’s starting to think about where he wants to go to college. He even recently earned his G1 and has seasonal job working at a relative’s business.
It’s not easy to ask for help. It affects your ego, your pride and your self-confidence. However, I had to ask for help because I had a son who needed me. Everyone I have dealt with at JF&CS and the other agencies has treated me with professionalism, compassion, dignity, and respect.
When I first went to JF&CS, I didn’t even have a working laptop that I could use to apply for jobs or help my son with his schoolwork. I was constantly running to the library or friends’ houses to borrow their computers for job searches, resume updates, and my son’s homework. JF&CS immediately arranged for a new laptop for me and Nicholas. You do not realize how necessary a computer is until you don’t have one.
I was also having issues with my car, and the repairs were going to be very costly. I was trying desperately to clear enough money off my credit card to get new tires, and then suddenly, JF&CS took care of the cost for me.
JF&CS has also helped me earn my diploma as a social service worker and they have facilitated the launch of my own professional organizing and decluttering services for homes and offices, Organizen by Rachel.
They even helped my find the part-time job I’m working at now in addition to my own business, at United Chesed of Toronto, a small Jewish non-profit that offers urgent, short-term relief to families in crisis.
Words cannot express what this kind of support has meant to Nicholas and me.
These are just a few examples, but funds from UJA have allowed thousands of people like me move forward with a clear mind, and their dignity still intact.
* Name has been changed to protect privacy.
If I didn’t have the support of UJA, JF&CS, Kehilla, and JVS, there is no way I would’ve gotten through this period of my life. Of course, I have family and friends, but my support workers never gave up on me. Even when I didn’t believe in my self and wanted to give up, none of them gave up on me. And that’s why these organizations and their donors are so vital.
The fact is, that donors to UJA truly change lives.
Thanks to UJA’s support of over 100 partner organizations in Toronto and around the world, I’m not just planning to break the cycle of poverty and abuse. I’ve already broken it.