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Guest speaker Brooke Pratt, right, speaks with United Way community schools resource coordinator Shelly Bybee during a question-and-answer session at the United Way of Laramie County’s annual fundraising luncheon on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, inside the Red Lion Hotel & Conference Center in Cheyenne. Pratt spoke mostly about how United Way-funded agencies have helped her get back on her feet. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Brooke Pratt’s eyes filled with tears and her voice faltered slightly as she sat on the stage, microphone gripped tightly between her trembling hands.

Though moments earlier the Cheyenne native had bravely shared a list of former life struggles – including drug addiction, her six boys being removed to state custody and losing her home to a fire – none of those stories caused a loss of composure.

Pratt shared with those attending Tuesday’s United Way campaign kickoff luncheon that her longtime boyfriend had proposed to her on their anniversary. Then her obvious joy quickly turned to sadness.

“As we speak, my fiancé has entered surgery. He fell off a ladder and shattered both of his ankles and heels,” Pratt said. “So that’s been really hard ... basically we both lost our jobs to this, and we’ve had to spend time away from our kids.”

Despite the latest setback, though, Pratt said they are staying strong, thanks, in part, to a volunteer from CASA of Laramie County. Although he no longer represents her children in court, the volunteer has continued to be there for her and her family, she said, and for that she is extremely grateful.

And that’s the reason Pratt was sitting on stage at the Red Lion Hotel when she really wanted to be close to her future husband. She was there to share with those in attendance how much several agencies that are funded, in part, by United Way have impacted her life.

For example, her kids have attended the Boys and Girls Club of Cheyenne.

“That was something that was stable for them, no matter what chaos was going on with me and their dad,” she said. “That was always something they knew they were going to do after school. They were completely amazing, and they are actually still using Boys and Girls Club. They are so excited they’re going to start going back the first day of school.”

Pratt said she also relied on financial help from the American Red Cross when her house caught fire and she needed to get into an apartment. And Peak Wellness Center helped with counseling services as she gradually got her children back from foster care.

“I don’t think that I’d be as close to my kids as I am (without Peak),” she said. “I think it’s kind of what kept my kids together, which kept me together, which brought us back together.”

Representatives from each of those nonprofits and more were on hand Tuesday to talk about the services they offer as United Way of Laramie County staff and volunteers officially kicked off their 2019 fundraising campaign. Executive Director Connie Sloan-Cathcart shared that although overall donations slipped just below the $1 million mark last year, she’s hopeful they will get back over that magic number this year.

“The impact on our community when we don’t meet our goals is significant,” Sloan-Cathcart said, noting it causes United Way’s “program partners” to struggle to find other ways to fund their work.

“What impact does it have on our neighbors who are striving to change their lives? You heard in Brooke’s journey about how connecting and seeking and accepting help changed her life. We believe in opportunities for all in our county, and it is heartbreaking to all of us to think that anyone who wants change may not have services available.”

Sloan-Cathcart said that’s why she, her staff and the campaign’s many volunteers – some of whom were recognized at Tuesday’s luncheon – are so passionate about what they do. Many of those volunteers serve as coordinators for United Way Pacesetter companies, those firms that conduct their employee campaigns in June and July to give the fundraising effort a boost before it officially gets underway. That amounts to $210,000 this year.

Now it’s time for others to step up and help out. Sloan-Cathcart said there are many ways to donate, including online and via text message. But no matter how it’s done, she said, the funding is critical.

Pratt said despite her family’s current circumstances, she’s comforted by the fact United Way agencies and their services are there, if needed.

In fact, she was recently told she is eligible to apply for a house through Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County. She and her family currently live in a three-bedroom apartment.

“Our kids are only getting bigger, so that’s not very much space,” Pratt said. “In order to live the happy life that I’m wanting, it would be nice to have a home – you know, something that we can call ours. We’ve never really had that ...”

Brian Martin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s managing editor. He can be reached by email at bmartin@wyomingnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @briankmartin.

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