Felicia Kohler – A Journey to Self Sufficiency

Thanks to assistance from the United Way and partner agencies, Felicia Kohler, 35, is now headed in the right direction.

A single mom with five children—Yelena, Giselle, Emma, Jurnei, and Nathan—Kohler is clinging to the motto, “hand-up, not hand-out.”

Her life-changing journey started when Kohler met Darcy Gunter, co-founder of Living Bridges Ministry.

A Christian-based nonprofit, Living Bridges serves the region’s low-income and impoverished population through various programs like a clothes closet, food distribution, and transformation class.

Participating in the transformation program, Kohler realized it was time to make significant changes in her life.

A three-phase program that takes 15 to 18 months to complete, weekly lessons focus on helping participants move out of poverty into a self-sufficient life.

“I’m a Christian now, but before, I made some very bad choices, and I was struggling,” said Kohler, who moved to Valdosta in 2016. “Taking the classes was a challenge, but with support you learn to make a commitment and be there every week.”

Class topics include goal setting, finding and keeping a job, and financial stability.

“I learned skills and concepts that were foreign to me,” she said. “Now I know that it’s up to me to make changes, or I will continue to struggle as my mother did.”

Often called the “generational curse,” Kohler is determined to create a better life for her and her children.

“Now I am learning everything I should have learned when I was growing up,” she said. “It’s important for me to learn these skills, but imperative to teach my kids so they can be successful and teach their children how to do the same.”

Budgeting, earning a living wage, and having both a savings account and mutual fund are just a few lessons she has implemented in her life.

“In the financial literacy part, we had to keep track of where we spent our money, all of it, even the little things you don’t think about,” Kohler said. “I saw how getting cash from the ATM and going out to eat two or three times a week starts to add up.”

After tallying the small items—about $250 a month—Kohler said, “That money could have been used to pay a light bill or water bill.”

On her climb out of poverty, there have been a few bumps in the road, including moving her family into LAMP’s New Horizon Shelter.

“At LAMP, the volunteers gave us hope,” she said. “My girls didn’t really see the hardship while we were there, even though it was during the holidays, because they made it a happy time, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

Now back on track, thanks to Habitat for Humanity, Kohler is reaching her goal of homeownership.

“Getting a home would not be possible without the transformation class,” she said. “Graduating from the class was a huge accomplishment. I hung my plaque right by my front door, so I can see it every day and be reminded of just how far we have come and to remain focused.”

Kohler said she sees the positive impact in her children, including her oldest, Yelena, who was one of five students with Valdosta City Schools this year to receive the REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Georgia scholarship award of $10,000 for college.

“She wrote in her application that she was going to be the first in our family to graduate from college,” Kohler said. “She is already researching colleges, and I am so proud of her.”

Kohler’s daughter, Giselle, positively benefited from Girls on the Run, another United Way partner agency.

“She used to be shy with a lot of self-esteem issues, but this year she is the student council treasurer, as well as finding excitement in learning band,” Kohler said. “Girls on the Run mentors helped inspire that change. Because of the struggles they have watched me go through, Yelena and Giselle both are grabbing onto every opportunity they can. My girls get it now, and we as a family are growing because of support from the entire United Way family, volunteers, and sponsors. I am so grateful.”

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