After her old car finally broke down, Piper Thomas vividly remembers trying to get to work.

“I would leave at three o’clock in the morning and walk a mile in the pitch black by myself,” says Piper. “It was so scary.”

Winter weather meant Piper often missed days or was late for work.

“If I had missed one paycheck, my daughter and I would have been homeless,” she says. “I had to find a way to keep my job.”

A friend of Piper’s suggested the United Way-funded Auto Loan Access Program at YWCA Southeast Wisconsin, which helps credit-challenged community members secure low-interest auto loans through financial education and budget coaching.

Piper assumed it wouldn’t be a good fit. “I was worried because I had to do a budget, check my credit, write a letter to the board…I just knew I wouldn’t be eligible,” says Piper.

Shelby, a financial coach at YWCA, met with Piper to review her finances, and gave her tips to help her save enough money to qualify for an auto loan.

“I did what they told me to do and ended up saving $1,100 in 90 days!” says Piper. 

“For so many working households, not having a reliable form of transportation, coupled with a lack of access to mainstream financial products because of challenged credit, keeps them from maintaining and advancing at work and in life,” explains Jackie Carter, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin’s Personal Financial Management Program Manager. “We created the Auto Loan Access Program to provide for these very needs — financial capacity development and reliable transportation.”

Once she was approved for the loan, Piper did her research and began car shopping. She had an important deadline: her daughter Jamila was starting her own salon in Atlanta and Piper wanted to be there for the grand opening.

Piper found her perfect car, a cherry red 2007 Ford Focus, just in time to road trip to Atlanta and attend her daughter’s salon opening. “It was the best day of my life, seeing my kid launch her career,” said Piper, “It was onward and upward from there.”

99% of participants in United Way-funded financial literacy programs report having an increased sense of wellbeing and have made progress toward their goals. 

“So many individuals and families in our community are working, but living paycheck to paycheck,” said Krystina Kohler, Financial Stability Portfolio Manager at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. “They lack the means to weather the storm if a financial emergency hits. Programs like YWCA Auto Loan Access give hard-working people like Piper the boost they need to build a successful future for themselves and their families.”

The first day she had her new car, Piper drove past her old bus stop and picked up as many of her co-workers as she could fit.  Now she drives them every day to work. They help with gas money and pitch in when Piper needs a repair.

About a year after buying her car, JCPenny pulled Piper’s resume and got in touch. “I interviewed for a regular customer service position, but ended up being hired for a supervisor position,” said Piper.

With a stable job and reliable transportation, Piper thrived. “Since I started, I haven’t missed a single day,“ said Piper. “In the past year and a half, I’ve been promoted twice. Soon, I hope to be in a management position.”

Piper no longer worries at the end of each month how she will pay her bills. She encourages her co-workers to use the YWCA Auto Loan Access Program. “I tell everyone: if they can help me, they can help you. As soon as I got this car my life changed.”

These days, Piper enjoys being able to drive her parents on errands and take them to appointments, and picking up her grandkids to take them to lunch and the park.

For United Way donors, Piper has a personal and important message: “This car made me independent, financially stable, and gave me the confidence to put myself out there and get a new job. This car and the support United Way gives to the YWCA’s Auto Loan Access Program motivated me to jump out there! They helped me get my life back.” 

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© 2021 United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County is a 501(C)(3) Nonprofit registered in the US under EIN: 39-0806190.