Jayce - Mom of program participant

After being incarcerated, connecting to her community and starting a new job helped Zoe feel empowered

Working toward a new future 

I played every sport when I was growing up. As I got older, I decided to focus on basketball. It was very exciting and allowed me to learn life skills. I was a social butterfly. One coach kept coming to my games and eventually, he offered me a scholarship. I transitioned from high school basketball straight into college and it completely changed my life.

My father died when I was seven, so my mom was both a mother and father figure for most of my life. But even though my mom was there, she was working hard to support us so that we could live in a decent area. Really, I raised myself.

When I was 18, my mom went to live in a different country. I had to live with my sister, who I didn’t know well. I had to become an adult quickly.

Unfortunately, I got mixed up with the wrong friends, which led me to getting into trouble. After that, I was incarcerated for a year and a half.

I was so devastated making that first phone call to my coach. I said to him, “I don’t want to lose everything.”

I was scared about going to prison. Prison is a really challenging environment full of uncertainties. The only people you have to talk to are the inmates that you live with. But this experience changed my perspective. It showed me there are people in prison who have potential and just need a helping hand. I learned skills that I never thought I could, and I used that time to rethink my life.

When I got out, it was very hard. I struggled to find full-time work. I thought, “How can I get involved in my community? How can I prove to myself and show society that I have something to contribute? How can I show that I’m not a bad person?”

A girl who lived in my halfway house told me about the coffee shop where she worked, a social enterprise funded by United Way. Social enterprises are businesses fuelled by profit and purpose, and they help people like me get back on my feet. I told myself that if I got the opportunity to work there, I would use it to make a change in someone’s life.

Eventually, I did get a job at the coffee shop, and I’ve never looked back. Today, I work there full time, helping other people coming out of incarceration to find employment in the community.

Getting this job made me so happy. I felt empowered—it felt amazing that someone actually gave me a chance. I already had a good, supportive environment from my family and friends. Now I have a good job too. I can actually survive. I can regain my independence and make something of myself.”

Together, more than ever.

“When I got out, it was very hard. How can I get involved in my community? How can I prove to myself and show society that I have something to contribute?”


Zoe had to become an adult quickly and got mixed up with the wrong friends, which led her to getting into trouble. Today, she helps other people coming out of incarceration to find employment in the community.

There’s an issue
For too many in our community, poverty is a daily struggle. It forces people and families to make impossible choices like whether to pay the rent or put food on the table. It leaves kids feeling isolated and robs them of future opportunities. Poverty touches every aspect of a person’s life, making it difficult to get ahead and realize a good future.

You can help
When kids and families succeed, our whole community prospers. United Way helps meet basic needs like food, transportation access, housing and recreation. We also lead long-term strategies to ensure that fewer people are vulnerable in the first place.

27,385 individuals participated in physical activity and/or healthy food access and nutrition programs that build good habits and increase belonging

Here’s how:

  • $52 provides a round trip for one person to obtain the tools required to accept a job and not rely on social assistance
  • $365 provides an 8-week sports program in a rural community so young people can access physical activity close to home at no- or low-cost
  • $1,200 provides a full year of recreation and programming at a neighbourhood resource centre for 23 children
  • Lead agency for London for All poverty reduction strategy, working with more than 60 organizations and 160 volunteers from diverse backgrounds to implement 112 recommendations to end poverty in a generation
Dakota HalfpennyZoe