“We did not speak English nor did we have housing.”

In March 2000, Ellen Muñoz started a new chapter in her life by coming to the United States as a young teenager, “which was not only a new country but also a different culture and language.”  

Ellen Muñoz, 30, is a Sr. Solutions Specialist at FedEx and looks forward to volunteering with United Way of the Mid-South every year.

Ellen’s father, a minister, was offered a position in Chicago through their religious affiliation. He was hired to supplement the need for Spanish-speaking pastors for their church. The family was living in the Dominican Republic for nine years when they left the world they knew for an unfamiliar land.

Relocation expenses did not come with the new job so Ellen’s family lived with a church member for a few weeks. Soon, her father discovered Casa Central in Chicago, a Hispanic social services agency and a United Way agency.

“I just thought we were surrounded by really good people who wanted to help us. I can personally testify to the great value and benefits that organizations supported by United Way bring to the community.”

Today, Ellen is a Senior Solutions Specialist at FedEx. She is part of the Sales Technology team, focusing on supporting Sales organizations with mobile app development to drive productivity and efficiencies in the US and around the world.

Ellen was new to Memphis when she started volunteering with United Way of the Mid-South four years ago. She knew very little about the city and not much about our poverty problems. Before, she lived in Concord, North Carolina where the poverty rate was 10 percent of the population.

“I give credit to my dad’s nomad spirit that encouraged me to move to several states pursuing job opportunities, and which led me to live in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and now here in Memphis.”

Ellen was already a faithful donor to United Way of the Mid-South, but it was speaking with a coworker who encouraged her to become a more active volunteer that curbed her curiosity.

“I had questions about whether the money I was donating was truly going to the right places, and was it impacting my local community.”

After living in Memphis for a year, she joined a United Way allocations team, visiting partner agencies to observe what the organizations do first-hand.

Ellen gets emotional as she recalls visiting Y-CAP, a prevention and early intervention program for at-risk youth offered by the YMCA of the Mid-South, a United Way partner agency.  She was taken aback to witness former juvenile delinquents and teenagers who once had behavioral issues present a comprehensive business plan.

“The children had to develop a business model for a new restaurant and create a vision and mission statement. It was so exciting to see these kids learn skills at such a young age, skills I didn’t learn until college. They put a lot of work and effort behind it. These are things they couldn’t have gained in a regular classroom. The leaders of the program do such a good job with tracking each child’s progress, from improved behavior to the improvement in grades. These aren’t just afternoon programs; these are initiatives that really teach life skills for children and their families.”

Y-CAP also partners with and supports parents through counseling, giving a holistic approach to their environments and other external and internal factors that could affect a child’s development. 77 percent of families in the Y-CAP program are “low-income.”

Ellen’s time volunteering has led her to acknowledge some of her privileges and “blessings” while igniting her desire to get involved and find solutions to the many challenges in Memphis. 

“When you see these kids and you see the work these organizations do for them and their families, it humanizes the issue of poverty. This is their reality.”

Ellen has become a community advocate, enlisting fellow employees to not just donate money, but also their time and resources through United Way of the Mid-South. She plans to continue to volunteer, anticipating learning more about the realities of poverty in Memphis and creating solutions.

“Every year, I’ve had the opportunity to visit different organizations on my own. It’s eye-opening to see all the local effort. I didn’t know much about poverty besides what I see on the news. I just didn’t know. As long as you don’t see it, you don’t really think about it and it’s easy to move on with your own life. But when you see it, it’s hard to ignore it.”

United Way works with thousands of volunteers who contribute monetarily and give of their time and service. Our volunteers serve a vital role to the mission and vision of United Way of the Mid-South. They make it possible for us to support our network of agencies that help people living in poverty.

“I support United Way 100 percent. I think focusing on supporting people in poverty is great and much needed. We have to ask ourselves where can we make the greatest impact as members of this community. I know United Way will touch all areas that drive poverty, and I’m excited to be a part of the allocations team again this year.”