Zenani Russell’s Story – From Struggle to Stability

Nov 14, 2023

by United Way NCA

In the midst of financial strain, increased costs of living and the undeniable challenge of being a single mother, Zenani Russell found herself struggling to meet the overwhelming demands of daily bills and necessities. This forced her to ultimately seek refuge in transitional housing. Recognizing the need for change to ensure a more stable future for her family, Zenani embarked on a transformative journey.  

Her path then crossed with United Way of the National Capital Area and its powerful network of five Financial Empowerment Centers (FECs). Zenani became one of 12,559 clients helped through our FECs by immersing herself in the workshops and taking advantage of the free resources available to her. The knowledge gained in these sessions became a beacon of hope for her.  

Zenani openly admitted to grappling with a spending issue, a challenge compounded by the responsibility of caring for her three children. Reflecting on her experience, she shared, “I did one of the workshops that helped me control my money. I have a bit of a spending issue. Having three children, it’s a little hard trying to clothe, feed, and still pay your bills to maintain your vehicle. They helped me be able to create a monthly budget to help me control my spending, making sure that my bills are paid. And, you know, I’m able to save for a rainy day. It helps a lot. I plan on doing some more workshops…” 

The impact of the financial workshop was profound for Zenani. Through diligent efforts, she managed to raise her credit score and even acquired a much-needed car. The workshops empowered her to create a monthly budget, providing a structured framework to reduce her spending. With a sense of accomplishment, Zenani expressed gratitude for the newfound ability to ensure bills were paid, and she could still set aside savings for unforeseen circumstances.  

Zenani Russell’s financial journey from struggle to stability is a testament to the transformative impact of United Way of the National Capital Area’s Financial Empowerment Centers. Her success story highlights the tangible difference that targeted one-to-one, and group financial education and support can make in the lives of individuals facing economic challenges. Looking ahead, Zenani expressed eagerness to explore more workshops, recognizing the value they have brought to her life.   

Through our FECs ( South Fairfax County), Prince William County, Prince George’s County, District of Columbia, and Montgomery County) United Way NCA works to improve outcomes for the region’s ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population which represents individuals like Zenani and others that are working hard – often more than one job, but barely able to make ends meet. This translates to nearly 500,000 households or an estimated 1.3 million adults and children in the National Capital Area that earn more than the Federal Poverty Level ($26,500 annually for a family of four) but less than the basic cost of living for the county/state in which they live.   

United Way NCA’s FEC became a lifeline for Zenani, not only offering practical financial guidance but also establishing a sense of control over her financial destiny.  These types of services and workshops play a pivotal role in teaching participants stronger money management skills to build a more secure future and ultimately break debilitating cycles of generational poverty.  

Watch Zenani’s Story  


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