It's time to chart a new path

September 29, 2021

By Julie Capaldi,President, United Way of Pickens County

PICKENS COUNTY —A few years ago, United Way of Pickens County was asked to teach basic life skills to high school students.

It was shocking how little they knew about navigating the real world … especially about managing their money. Honestly, we worried “how would they even survive after high school?”

Occasionally, we would bump into these students who expressed how grateful they were for what we taught them. Even though we did our best, clearly, it wasn’t enough. The class ended and we went on with other important work, but we never forgot those high school students.

Fast forward to 2021.

The havoc that COVID-19 created in Pickens County was — and still is — terrible. I am sure you were affected too. We all were, but families living on the edge, paycheck to paycheck, were plunged into poverty faster than any time in our history.

They ended up sitting across from us pleading for our help.

Thanks to our incredibly generous community, we were able to meet their short-term needs like shelter, food and utilities. The reality is that it was only a Band-Aid. To really make a difference we knew that we had to address the real cause of problems: the lack of knowledge about the basics of personal money management.

We talked about this … a lot! We thought about our “kids.”

Then we met Charlie.

He’s a single dad working two jobs to survive. He lives paycheck to paycheck. Growing up, loans with crazy high interest rates and bank fees were just a part of his life. To Charlie’s family, these things were just the cost of getting money. Charlie was not taught how to save money. He didn’t know there could be another way.

So, when he was unable to pay his bills, the first place he went was to a payday lender that offered him a loan with an 89.7% interest rate. He borrowed $1,800, but ended up owing over $3,000.

Even working 70 hours a week through multiple jobs, he wasn’t making enough to meet his family’s basic needs. The hole was so deep that he couldn’t crawl out. The constant worry made him feel sick, all of the time.

Charlie wasn’t the only one. Day after day, we met families who just couldn’t get ahead no matter how hard they worked.

We knew something drastic had to be done. Despite COVID-19, United Way of Pickens County took a leap of faith and created a new program called Pathways, with the tag line Manage Your Money, Change Your Future!

Who even starts a new program during a pandemic??? United Way of Pickens County did. Why? Because we can count on the support of our community. I can’t wait to tell you about it.

Pathways is a long term, one-on-one, intensive financial coaching program for hardworking people like Charlie, who need and want the opportunity to finally achieve freedom from worrying about money.

They may struggle with things like debt, bad credit, low wages, high medical expenses. They typically have no idea how to manage their hard-earned money. Pathways is the program they need to learn — once and for all — how to go from having their money control them, to being the one in control.

Pathways is a two-way street. Participants walk side by side with their coach for 6-18 months and invest a lot of time and effort to improve their finances. There is sacrifice and it’s hard. But the financial freedom is oh so worth it.

I am here to tell you some good news. Pathways works!

After just three months in the program, Charlie has erased that 89.7% high interest loan due to his hard work. For the first time in his life, Charlie is tracking his income and expenses. He joyfully expresses how he loves knowing where his money goes. He finally has dreams! He has established an emergency savings account. Charlie is improving his credit score. The ULTIMATE GOAL? Buying a home of his own.

Charlie is teaching his teenage son what he is learning from Pathways so his son won’t make the same mistakes as his dad. Isn’t that what everyone wants??? A better life for their children?

Pathways needs to grow and it needs to grow quickly. There are families waiting in line to join the program and change their lives. We know we can count on our community. You will break the cycle of poverty once and for all. YOU WILL CHANGE THEIR FUTURE!

To contribute to Pathways, visit Email me or call me, 864-850-7094 x101.

After 27 years leading United Way of Pickens County, I think Pathways is “the answer” to address generational poverty.


Julie Capaldi is the president of the United Way of Pickens County. Reach her at


This editorial first appeared in the Sentinel Progress on September 29, 2021.