Struggling for Stability

Nikki is new to town. She came to Bismarck to live with her sister. The plan was to work together, share expenses and raise their children together. Nikki has three and her sister two.

Nikki is a very capable, strong, hardworking woman and things went well. She quickly found a job and within weeks she was looking at a promotion. The kids were excelling in school and enjoyed having their cousins close.

Every day she dropped the kids off at school looking like a million bucks – freshly combed hair, backpacks slung over their shoulders, homework complete, big smiles. Things looked good.

But in reality, things were far from good. One day after walking the kids into school, Nikki went back to her car and broke down. Something had to change. She composed herself the best she could, and decided it was time to ask for help. From the school parking lot she placed a call to Neighbors Network, a United Way program targeting at-risk students attending Bismarck and Mandan public schools. Within minutes, she was sitting across the table from a social worker explaining her situation.

She explained how things had gone well at first, but her sister was an alcoholic. She drank every day. After a few short weeks, in a drunken fit, Nikki’s sister kicked her and the kids out.

In a new place with no support network, she had run out of options. For the past two weeks, the family had been living in their car. After school, the kids would meet Nikki at work and wait in the car for her to finish her shift. Each morning, they would stop at a convenience store where Nikki would get the children ready for school. Giving attention to detail, she spot washed each outfit and did all she could to reduce the side effects of their situation.

To top off their bad luck, the nights were getting cold and the car’s heater was not working. Seventy dollars a month in child support and the wages from Nikki’s current job were just not enough to get them into their own place.

United Way case workers were was able to link the family with resources already available in the community. They helped find affordable housing, and when bad luck threw them one more curveball, and the family’s car broke down, they were linked with United Way passes for the CAT Bus. With the support of their social worker, Nikki was able to find a better job with health insurance for her children. Food from United Way’s Backpack Program helped get them through the toughest times, the transit passes prevented Nikki from losing her job and they have safe shelter. The future is looking a little brighter for this family.

Neighbors Network is a central force in United Way’s Education Initiative, a collaborative effort of local nonprofits, schools, businesses and individuals working together to provide wraparound services – stabilizing families and providing children with the support they need to succeed in school. For more information about United Way’s Education Initiative, visit or call 701-255-3601.