Be Inspired

Sometimes all the motivation you need to get started is to see someone else succeed. Learn what kept these participants going and what strategies helped them reach their goals. You may even get a little inspired along the way.

  • New Skills. New Independence.

    Throughout my life, my mother has always been my biggest supporter and source of inspiration. No matter how many challenges or disappointments I faced, she encouraged me to stand tall and figure out a way to work through each situation. She and the rest of my family have never really focused on my disability but rather the unique abilities I have.

    In spite of this tremendous support, however, I still lacked the confidence and assurance to gain additional independence.

    Thankfully, I was given the opportunity through Easter Seals’ Project SEARCH program to begin work at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

    While initially hesitant about my new responsibilities and the intimidating list of things to learn, I took a day to day approach to the job. Right from day one, however, my mind was immediately put at ease thanks to the incredible staff at Children’s Hospital. They treated me with respect and made me feel part of the team. From there, I took job skills training and began to learn more about Sterile Processing and Nutritional Services. After just a few rotations, I began to gain confidence that I could not only do this job but also set individual goals as well.

    At the end of the program, I was so proud of what I had accomplished and the opportunities I was given, I began to become more and more independent – I pay my own bills and manage my own daily schedule. For the first time, I want to be independent and be responsible for myself. I don’t want others doing things for me because now I know I can do it.

    All of the experiences and opportunities I have received from this program have instilled in me the confidence and belief that I can achieve my dreams, goals and employment aspirations. It has also prompted me to continue my education and enroll in the Central Service Technician Certification Program at WCTC.

    Now, it’s not just my family who believes in me…I also believe in myself.

    Olivia Q

  • From Safety Net to Personal Success.

    As the Director of Community Affairs and Fund Development at La Causa, Inc. in Milwaukee, I am continually inspired by the children and families we serve at our organization. One such individual who had a profound impact on me and our staff was a young single mother with several children. I am proud to share her story as a great source of inspiration to those in our communities who face similar challenges.

    Referred by a friend almost 10 years ago, Dana (not real name) came to La Causa suffering from severe anxiety and depression brought on from domestic violence in her home. Dana first reached out to our organization for support, respite and for help in keeping appointments for herself to secure employment and research daycare, as well as exploring other healthy options for her family.

    After being the victim of countless acts of domestic abuse, Dana finally made the courageous decision to move forward and file a restraining order. Through this time, La Causa was able to watch her children as she attended appointments with social workers, therapists and legal representatives.

    Following her participation in La Causa’s personal domestic recovery plan, Dana now brings her children to the Crisis Nursery & Respite Center when she needs to make therapy or other important appointments on the road to a healthy recovery.

    She established goals to become a better parent and is enrolled in parenting classes. Dana has also worked hard to strengthen her family and support system and recently shared the good news that two of her children received YMCA summer camp scholarships.

    The Crisis Nursery & Respite Center was and continues to play a crucial role in Dana’s and her families’ support system and ultimately, their well being. We are proud to have made this connection with Dana and her young family.

    While I am unable to personally express the feelings of our staff that worked and continue to work with Dana, I can say that as an agency we are so proud of her and proud to share her story. What we can learn from this example is that not everyone’s road to personal success is the same. Sometimes there are bumps and detours. Sometimes there are situations where you just need a safety net. We are proud to be a safety net for children and families in crisis.

    Janet P

  • A Journey to Financial Stability

    For years, the idea of “must have” products was something that I struggled to understand and, even worse, couldn’t walk away from. There was never a goal in terms of when and/or how I would buy that essential product – if I felt I had to have it, I had to have it now.

    The idea of saving quite simply wasn’t a part of my financial plan.

    It was about four years ago when Make a Difference Wisconsin first came to one my classroom to teach a comprehensive course on financial literacy. Due to the nature of the content, I believed it would be incredibly valuable for my students but certainly not something I would need as a more mature and experienced consumer.

    As I listened to the volunteer speak about the concept of compound interest, however, I realized that I hadn’t considered the ramifications of spending in my own life and was not as financially fit as I once thought.

    The lessons and concepts presented for basic budgeting and savings weren’t just for the young adults of my class…they were invaluable for me as well.

    To begin my journey towards better financial stability, I began reading about good financial practices and for the first time met with a financial adviser to develop an appropriate plan for me.

    As part of that plan, I am now using, which makes me more aware of how much I spend each month and where I am using my money. I also set goals for how much I want to save each month. Since evaluating my spending habits, I now always think before I spend.

    Although it is not always easy to say no to the temptation of shopping sprees and frequent dinners out, I feel so great now that I am halfway to my emergency saving goal. Having savings and not living paycheck to paycheck is a major stress reliever. Now, although having a flat tire that needs to be repaired would be an unplanned and unwanted expense, it would simply be a setback on my goal timeline and not a bank breaker. It is a great feeling to know I am prepared for unexpected emergencies.

    It is my hope that by having Make a Difference Wisconsin in my classroom that students will make wise choices with their finances and avoid the potential pitfalls I once ignored. I also hope they will see the value of volunteering and donating service to others.

    Kathleen E

  • The Strength of a Survivor.

    On Cinco de Mayo (May 5) 2011, I received the startling news that I had breast cancer. Obviously it was a day and event that I will never forget. I was shocked and overwhelmed with the news.

    With the help of medical professionals, my husband, family and friends, I made it through the maze of medical terminology, options, and finally treatments. My therapies included multiple surgeries, 4 ½ months of chemotherapy, and 5 weeks of daily radiation treatments. It took a full year to get that far. It was incredibly hard work and exhausting at times.

    Then suddenly…you’re done.

    It’s great to have gotten through everything but then what? Your daily doctor visits end. Your built in support system quiets down. You don’t have cancer anymore. But how do you get back to being a regular person again? How do you reintegrate into an active life? They have programs to help you if you survive a heart attack, but not if you survive cancer.

    In spite of an extensive background in fitness, I was afraid to start doing normal activities again, to really fully live again. Thank goodness for the LIVESTRONG program at Feith’s YMCA. From the initial program interview, through the last class, the entire Y staff made me feel so welcomed. No, not just welcomed, their entire staff made me feel revered. My bald head, lashless eyes and scars didn’t make them bat an eye.

    The first class, all of my classmates needed a Kleenex box – listening to each other’s stories was emotional and inspiring. But then we got going at what we came for: a fresh start at exercise – and life. Our instructor, Megan Ehler, is a miracle worker. She sees what we’ve been through, but somehow also sees what we can become, and coaches us to get us there. My classmates – well, they’re always encouraging of my efforts and while working on their own goals.

    The weeks flew by.

    And now I’m a LIVESTRONG Graduate! I did it! I’m biking and working out on an elliptical machine at least three times a week. Yesterday I did 24 assisted chin ups. I haven’t done those in DECADES! I’m not worried about straining an old incision. I’m stretching and strengthening all my old surgical sites. But most importantly, I’m stretching and strengthening my life again. My energy is coming back, and my courage is back, not just for exercise - but for living strong! I am reminded regularly of the gift that the LIVESTRONG Foundation, the Feith Y and their staff, my instructor Megan, and all my classmates have given me.

    Each one of them has inspired me, and played a role in helping me embrace life.

    Vicki C

  • Inspiration Worth Saving.

    Less than a year ago, the idea of saving money and making responsible spending decisions was a foreign concept to me. Unfortunately it was something that I had really never considered and my parents had very little knowledge or experience with.

    Then, in the fall, Make a Difference Wisconsin came to our school to discuss and provide advice on making smart financial decisions. With a focus on budgeting and saving, along with understanding checking accounts, credit cards, credit history/scores, and credit reports, the Make a Difference volunteer gave me several new things to consider when managing my money. I truly believe I will now be able to save for today and the future.

    Perhaps one of the most exciting things about what I’ve learned from this program is being able to pass along the knowledge to my parents and have them apply it to their daily spending habits.

    At the end of the day, it feels great being able to teach people who’ve been teaching me all my life!

    Anthony W

  • Coping with Change on Horseback.

    After a series of difficult life and economic changes, my family and I recently were forced to move, which resulted in my having to switch schools. Early in the transition, I lacked a sufficient outlet to help me cope with the changes I was going through.

    One person who helped inspire me throughout this difficult time in my life was Alex Philpin. It was Alex who introduced me to part of the Minikani Equestrian community where I now have made many new friends and volunteer regularly. It is my home away from home.

    From these equestrian classes, I have gained confidence and self-esteem, discovered a physical outlet and I enjoy helping the younger students and volunteers.

    The Equestrian Center gives anyone the opportunity to learn about and ride horses and encourages those of us who have benefited to give back. Without the opportunity and financial assistance given me, I would not have made new friends or been able to cope as well with all of the changes in my life.

    People can see and feel my passion for horses even outside of the equestrian center. I have made multiple videos around my experiences at Minikani and hope to share those with my classmates. This experience has opened up a whole new world for me.


  • Success in Degrees.

    As the daughter of an immigrant single mother raising four children, the dream of becoming the first generation of my family to attend college always seemed like an ambitious goal that was just out of reach for me. However, after working hard throughout high school, with an unyielding commitment to taking my education to the next level, I enrolled at St. Norbert College in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

    While this was a significant step in my journey towards college graduation, I quickly discovered that achieving your dreams requires a series of steps…and sometimes overcoming a series of obstacles.

    When I initially arrived at St. Norbert, it was a difficult transition from high school. As a first-generation college student, I did not know what to expect or how to prepare for college. My first semester, I was part of the Academic Enhancement Program. I found the program really helpful because I learned how to study and manage my time. But I still struggled in my classes and did not get the grades that I worked hard for, particularly in math.

    With persistence and hard work, I finally started to see success in my schoolwork, including making the Dean’s list. However, just as things started to fall into place for me from an educational perspective, a series of events in my personal life began to put my dream of graduating college into question.

    It was at that time that my mother informed me that she had lost her job and that she was not able to pay rent or other bills. My mom and younger siblings had to move in with my aunt because, unfortunately, they had nowhere else to go.

    During this period of desperation, my family wanted me to leave school so I could get a job and help them financially. Despite my family’s wishes, I decided that was not the best option, but that staying in school and getting a college education was more meaningful for the future of my family. It was perhaps the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.

    Because my family could no longer help me financially, it has been important for me to work, especially during the summer. This past summer I worked three jobs. However, even with the additional income, it has been necessary for me to take out student loans.

    What has been truly inspiring to me in this journey is that others have also given generously to help me in my pursuit of a college degree. In fact, after falling short of the money needed to complete one semester’s tuition, an individual from the community donated money to pay the balance of my bill. I was so happy and relieved that someone was that incredibly generous and thoughtful to help me out when I needed it most. Because of this relief I was able to focus on my studies, and I improved in all of my classes.

    In the end, what has continued to drive me throughout this challenging time is that I wanted to graduate college to have a better life and to be a role model for my younger siblings and other family members. In the long term, I know that having a college education will be the best thing for me and my family.

    I have personally experienced the benefits of people (faculty and staff) who believed in me and inspired me to succeed in college. After I graduate from St. Norbert I plan to go to graduate school for student affairs so that I can inspire other students to reach their goals.

    I can proudly tell you today that in just six short months, I will be receiving my undergraduate degree.

    Sandra P

  • Gaining Strength in Numbers.

    After finishing six rounds of intensive chemotherapy, as you may imagine, I was extremely weak both physically and emotionally. Everyday chores that most individuals take for granted began to become extremely difficult for me. When going to the grocery store, I would push the cart to a certain point and then just let my husband get groceries and bring them back to the cart. It was very debilitating.

    It was at that time that I was referred to the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program to find the energy and strength to continue living my life with cancer.

    When I first joined the group I realized, even though each one of us were at different levels of recovery, we were all working for a common goal; to regain, renew and restore our lives. Twice a week for twelve weeks, I attended the LIVESTRONG program where we would work on cardio, strength, stretching and relaxation techniques to help regain stamina. As a group, we motivated each other and formed friendships that will always be with us. As we worked through the program, with each little goal met, there was such a great feeling of accomplishment.

    Within just a couple of weeks of starting the LIVESTRONG program, I was walking a mile on the treadmill and working out with the group for 1¼ hours. At that point, my goal became having the capability to walk two miles in a fund raising walk for the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance. As I continued to train, Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA also offered free membership so I could work out at other times outside the group workouts. I took advantage of this opportunity and then continued with my own membership after the program ended.

    With the encouragement of the group, I was able to accomplish my goal and complete the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance walk in early September. Although this does not sound like a huge accomplishment to the average person, it was for me!

    Unfortunately, I recently had a recurrence of my cancer and underwent surgery and radiation therapy for 7seven weeks. Had it not been for my involvement in the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, I would not have been strong enough to be discharged from the hospital only three days after surgery. I was back at the YMCA water walking in the pool less than two weeks after surgery. I am now working to regain my strength from radiation treatments. None of this would be happening as quickly without the encouragement and support of the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA facilitators and participants and my “family” at the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA.

    The facilitators of LIVESTRONG are a group of wonderful, caring individuals who are trained to work with cancer survivors. They are compassionate, yet extremely motivating. Not only have the facilitators been inspirational, but the entire staff at the YMCA embraces the participants of this program.

    While working out with this group, you develop very strong friendships with other participants. Being part of this program is like being part of a close knit family. Although we all have different types of cancer, we all have so much in common.

    Since completing the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, I have retained my membership at Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA and I now volunteer for each new LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, getting to know the new participants and encouraging them. I have become a strong advocate for this program since I know how much it has helped me. I also volunteer my time for other programs at the YMCA when needed.

    Sue S

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