Single mom overcomes poverty to give back with the help of United Way

As a single parent, Juanita Baxter found herself in need of many services that United Way of York County helped fund. When her circumstances changed, giving back was a top priority.

Written by:
Katie Elwell
“It just always feels good to feel like I’m giving back in some way,” says Juanita Baxter, “even if it’s just some small way.” (Photos by Katie Elwell/Our York Media)

With no car and little money, Juanita Baxter remembers taking her three young kids on the rabbittransit bus each day to get them to daycare before going off to work.

That’s what it took as a single mom, she remembers, to make sure her family had enough to eat and a home in a safe neighborhood.

Grinding through adversity, though, was nothing new for Juanita.

“I grew up on welfare and oftentimes needed help,” she says.

She can list the different nonprofits that assisted her family with everything from food boxes to paying utilities: Salvation Army, York County Food Bank, Child Care Consultants, and Crispus Attucks — all organizations supported by United Way of York County.

Today, United Way plays a different role in her life. Her circumstances have changed, and she wants to make sure the organizations that supported her continue to help others.

‘A long journey’

When Juanita reached high school, she found out she was pregnant with her son. She dropped out of school and discovered Bell Socialization Services shelter, another of United Way of York County’s 34 partner agencies. After her son was born, she joined the Bell Bridge Housing program.

By the time she was 20, Juanita had her third child and turned to the programs available in her York community for help.

She put her kids in daycare, attended free job prep and GED prep programs, and signed up for a program the helped her get her first car as well as her certification as a medical office specialist.

“When I look back, I feel like it’s been a long journey,” she says today. “I’ve come a long way. I’ve had a lot of different experiences.”

Giving back to United Way

As Juanita got her feet under her, she knew she wanted to give back to the community that supported her when she needed it most.

Her job at the time encouraged employees to volunteer with United Way, so she joined United Way’s allocation panel, which reviews applications and outcomes for nonprofits that applied for United Way funds. In her role, she had the opportunity to meet with leaders from many of the organizations that had helped her and her family along the way.

In 2007, WellSpan York Hospital Trauma Services hired Juanita as an admin assistant. She rallied her department to join its first United Way Day of Action, where the team helped paint a home for children near Farquhar Park.

“It just always feels good to feel like I’m giving back in some way,” she says, “even if it’s just some small way.”

‘Never give up’

In 2020, Juanita earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Penn State. Last December, she transitioned to a new position as a manager in WellSpan’s Community Health division, whose mission is to promote healthy eating, exercise, check-ups, and community well-being.

In the past few years, she’s helped develop the gun violence reduction project with York City Group Violence Intervention (GVI) and served on the board of directors for the York County Literacy Council and The Program It’s About Change.

Personally, she’s recently engaged and just sent her youngest daughter off to college.

Looking back, continually pressing forward and accepting help when she needed it has taken Juanita through hard times financially and mentally.

“It’s been a long journey, but I don’t ever feel like I’ve reached the finish line,” she says. “Never give up, keep striving even though life will not always be what you picture it to be. Just keep going and keep moving.”

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