Stephen Mercado knows what it’s like to have nothing. At 23, the young man struggled to support his infant son and girlfriend and believed an education could change the course of his life.
But the choice to go to college came with sacrifices. He sent his son and girlfriend to live with her parents while he put all he had into studying Computer Science at Millersville University.
For the next month, Stephen was homeless.
He often left class unsure where he’d eat next or where he’d sleep.
“It was one of the toughest times of my life,” Stephen says, “and I only got through it because people were there for me.”
Even when someone didn’t have an extra bed or couch for him, they offered up their shower or kitchen so he could bathe and have a meal.
Today, Stephen’s firm handshake and pressed suit give little indication of his life’s journey. But it’s thanks to the compassion of a community that he now pays it forward so others can find hope in their future.
Sharing his story
It’s easy for Stephen to lend a hand thanks to the company culture at Glatfelter Insurance Group. It’s where he’s spent the past 18 years, most recently as a business analyst.
“Art Glatfelter really believed in making it possible for each person here to make positive contributions,” Stephen says.
When he was approached about giving to the company’s United Way of York County campaign, it seemed like a perfect fit.
“I love what the United Way does for people through their literacy programs,” Stephen says. “In college, I discovered I had dyslexia and realized why learning had always been hard for me. I know that it’s not just whether someone likes to read. There can be some very serious challenges that have made it difficult for someone to learn how to read.”
Stephen’s commitment to the United Way of York County went beyond his regular payroll deductions.
Several years ago, he participated in the United Way’s Loaned Executive Program, which allowed him to see what United Way does behind the scenes. Loaned Executives assist the United Way staff with conducting employee campaigns and communicating the benefits of a contribution to the community.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to share my story with people and let them know that what they give makes a real difference,” he says.