United Way helps mom's dream come true


Jocelyn Van Nevel

Jocelyn Van Nevel always wanted to be a nurse, but she nearly put her education on hold when she had trouble finding day care for her young daughter, Neveah.

She moved her child in and out of four different day cares, either because she was struggling to afford the cost, or because she was discontent with the care her daughter was receiving.

Friends let her know about El Campito Child Development Center, an accredited program Jocelyn could afford and where she could feel secure that her child was safe. Her friends would know; their kids were enrolled there.

So Van Nevel applied for her young daughter to attend El Campito, and was awarded a scholarship funded by United Way that reduced the cost of enrollment, making it possible for Van Nevel to complete her B.S. in nursing at Indiana University South Bend.

“I don’t think I could have earned my degree without the scholarship,” she says. 

Thanks to the El Campito scholarship, Van Nevel was able to work less and shift her focus to completing her degree. It also created enough leeway in her budget to allow the family of two to move out of her parents’ home and into an apartment in Mishawaka three years ago.

“The El Campito scholarship supports families that are just over the threshold to qualify for child care vouchers,” says United Way of St. Joseph County CEO and President Laura Jensen. “Jocelyn worked as a certified nursing assistant while she pursued her nursing degree at IU South Bend, so she earned too much to qualify for state or federal child care assistance.”

About four years ago, United Way of St. Joseph County shifted its focus from directly funding agencies to funding programs within agencies that support early learning, youth success and stable families initiatives. “About 40 percent of households in St. Joseph County are struggling,” Jensen says. “They are just above the line of poverty, so they do not qualify for a lot of federal and state benefits.”

Adopting a more holistic approach to help every family thrive, United Way of St. Joseph County decided to address the whole problem. “We can’t focus on just one thing,” Jensen says. “To help families become more stable, we focus on ensuring all families have access to the building blocks to a better life: education, income and health.”

“There’s also a quality piece,” says Jensen. “For a program funded by United Way to continue to receive funding, the agency must demonstrate that the individuals it serves are better off and moving toward a more stable environment.” Van Nevel’s journey to become a nurse and take care of her daughter is a shining example of how a program funded by United Way helped a family thrive and become more financially secure.

Last May, Van Nevel earned her degree. In June, she began working at Memorial Hospital Childbirth Center. This fall, Neveah started kindergarten at an elementary school in Mishawaka.

“I love my job,” Van Nevel says. “It’s my dream job! The scholarship made the dream come true.”

Faculty and staff: Click for information on how you can contribute to the United Way.