Breanna Arce’s four-month internship with United Way of Greater Waterbury has expanded her horizons and taught her something she was almost surprised to learn.  “You can have a job that you love.  I want to come to work and see the results of what I can do to help others.  This feels very empowering.”

American Savings Foundation funded the internship program related to Bree’s scholarship.

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“The internship has made my senior year different, teaching me a lot about my community.”  Bree is a Waterbury resident whose perspective and talents have benefitted United Way’s outreach work.  “One of my big takeaways is the need to make people aware of the resources available in their community.  We have serious issues in this area and United Way is working to understand and address them.”

As part of her internship responsibilities, Bree prepared materials to support the Financial Stability impact area—one of three, along with Basic Needs and Education—where this United Way makes a difference in its 10-town service area of Bethlehem, Cheshire, Middlebury, Prospect, Southbury, Thomaston, Waterbury, Watertown, Wolcott, and Woodbury.

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She took these materials out into the community, encouraging people to sign up as she educated them.  “ALICE Saves (an incentivized savings program with enrollment open until 12/31/22) is a down-to-earth way of meeting people where they are.”  Bree explained that, while anyone can participate and strengthen their ability to save for future emergencies or large expenses, ALICE refers to Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed or the population that earns more than the amount defined as the Federal Poverty Level but barely enough to meet expenses.

People in the ALICE population, which is 31% in the Greater Waterbury area, can find themselves in dire straits when they lose a job or face an unexpected expense such as car repair or medical bill.  ALICE Saves matches $20, when an individual saves $60 over a three-month period so they can build not just the practice of putting money aside a fund that can be used to stop what could be the start of a downward spiral.  Trust Plus provides free, professional financial consulting on an individual basis so the people who have gone through the effort of saving have the information they need to use that money wisely.

Bree recognized the importance of establishing a relationship with each member of the community.  “People have had some negative experiences, and some were reluctant to trust an intern they’d just met.  I’ve worked with our local non-profit organizations to train them on the material.  They can then share the information with clients who trust them because there is a strong relationship there.”

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In addition to creating step-by-step instructions on how to participate in ALICE Saves and accessing Trust Plus, in both English and Spanish, Bree has created flyers to advertise signup and tabling sessions and supported the Basic Needs impact area of United way.  “I worked with Food Resource Committee to help expand their ability to get the word out about local resources.  There is a lot of good that committee members are doing.  Before the internship, I didn’t know how much people care about our community and work so hard to make sure there is an opportunity to access nutritional food.

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“In Connecticut, a family of four needs an income of $45 an hour to make ends meet but the majority of the population is making $14 and struggling.  So many people need food banks and pantries just to eat healthy.  They also have to deal with the stigma that surrounds needing help as they exist in a survival mindset, just trying to make it to the next day.  It’s hard to plan long term in that circumstance.”

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An impression of United Way has evolved during Bree’s internship.  “I didn’t realize the significant role that United Way plays in funding the non-profits on which people rely.  Now, I see how, without that funding, a lot of our non-profits wouldn’t exist.  I see United Way as a critical piece of the community, more than I ever did before, and how it connects organizations that would otherwise not work together.  For me, that’s the ‘united’ in United Way.”

As she returns to finish her degree in media studies with a minor in film at Southern Connecticut State University, Bree has been impressed by her internship.  “I could assist people and I’ll definitely continue to do something with United Way in the future.  I see a lot of empathy and understanding among the staff here.  People never forget how you make them feel.  The staff makes others feel appreciated and seen.  This work has a purpose.”