Client Stories


Estrada 1The Branches Ways to Work car loan program provides financial education, a low-interest car loan, and support to working families who are committed to repairing their credit status and gaining a higher level of financial security.  Clients use the loans to purchase reliable used cars to help them retain or move ahead in their jobs, reduce lateness and absenteeism at work, access additional education or job training and meet their family’s needs, such as transporting children to childcare and school
Mrs. Sonia Estrada, a hard working wife and mother of three, was in desperate need of reliable transportation for herself and her family. Mrs. Estrada begins each day very early, preparing breakfast for her children, taking them to school and then continuing on to the non-profit where she works. The family’s oldest child also has cancer and Mrs. Estrada must often take him to doctor appointments, recently even having to go to the emergency room. Mrs. Estrada, a caring mother who wants nothing but the best for her children, also goes out of her way to make sure her other two children attend their daily enrichment activities. Doing all this without a car is almost unimaginable and has caused Mrs. Estrada a lot of added stress, and has even caused her to be late to work quite often or forced her to leave work early to make it on time to appointments for her or for her family.
However, in October 2012, Mrs. Estrada received approval for a car loan for $6,000 and purchased a 2004 Nissan Altima through one of Branches’ reliable auto dealer partners. Mrs. Estrada has not missed one loan payment and is still happily working for her employer, a local non-profit organization, and is able to much more easily transport her family. She is extremely grateful for this second chance program!


Martine Oct 2013When Martine Marcelin was 5 years old, she and her mother boarded a boat in Haiti to make the uncertain journey to the United States. Fortunately, they arrived safely and settled in Florida City. Martine well remembers attending first grade and how the other children made fun of her poor English and heavy accent. Finally when Martine was in sixth grade, she was referred to Branches Florida City for after school tutoring. Kim Torres, the Director of Branches’ Student Services, had seen too many girls enter their teen years, become pregnant, drop out of school and generally waste their potential.
Martine loved the care and attention she received at Branches and would spend most of her out of school hours at Branches. Kim encouraged Martine to apply to a magnet middle school program that launched her journey through a competitive high school. Martine succeeded in school and had the motivation to attend college. But one of the biggest obstacles Martine faced was how to find the funding to attend college. Through a long process of visiting colleges, researching scholarships, and filling out applications, Kim worked with Martine to find the right fit for her. In May 2009, Martine proudly graduated from Florida Southern College under a full scholarship.
After college, Martine returned to Florida City to serve as a Branches AmeriCorps member from 2009-2010. Not only did she grow as a professional through this full-time position but she also served as a role model to the children who attended Branches. While Martine worked at Branches, she met her husband Gary Marcelin who also served as a Branches AmeriCorps member. Through Gary’s work with the youth in the Climb program, he felt a strong call to ordained urban ministry and enrolled to pursue a master’s degree in Washington, DC, where Martine worked for a local non-profit. Gary graduated seminary in May 2013 and both Martine and Gary decided to return home to South Florida serve.
Martine’s decision to return to Branches as a Program Manager for the new Grow and Climb programs at Branches Lakeview is because the person she has become today is a testament to Branches’ teachings. Her decision to live for the service of others and betterment of the community has been defined, clarified and validated by her experience at Branches. Branches is beyond proud to have Martine on our staff, guiding our children and youth towards success.


Martine with Dennis dec 2013-1 - CopyWhen Martine Marcelin launched the Grow program at Branches Lakeview in August of 2013, she quickly realized that 23 of the 25 students who came to the program were reading below grade level. As a result, the Branches team is focusing on reading and comprehension. One of the children named Dennis, a 2nd Grader, came to the program unable to read. Within the first week of school, Martine saw that Dennis had a weak literacy foundation and could not do any of his homework. Dennis was discouraged and negative, and he was a challenge to work because of his low self-esteem.
Martine decided to speak with Dennis’ father about his inability to read, his father said, “I don’t know how to help him, I’m only a truck driver and I can’t read.” His parents didn’t know how to help him because both his mother and father do not read their native Creole, yet alone English. Martine decided to tackle Dennis’ issue head on. Dennis is not allowed to say anything negative or use words such as “I can’t.” Dennis receives special attention and one-on-one homework help every day after school as well as tutoring focused on basic phonics foundations for reading. Only 3 months after working with Dennis, his confidence has increased tremendously, he has developed a positive attitude and Dennis is able to read well enough to understand the subject matters and complete all his assigned homework. Martine and her entire team is extremely proud of him!


Summer 2012 Darren and DebraDebra was referred to the United Way Center for Financial Stability, which Branches houses and operates. Debra found herself alone and in a desperate situation. Debra came to us looking for support and guidance for herself and her family. Debra had just emigrated to the United States from Israel, along with her husband and her five young children.
Shortly after arriving in Florida, her husband walked out on her, leaving her alone with no financial support to take care of her family. Debra had been fortunate enough to secure a job and was now looking for help to resolve some IRS issues. Debra met with Darren, one of our financial coaches, who was impressed with her resilience and positive attitude, and her desire to provide the best possible future for her children. Darren helped Debra secure a much needed tax refund and establish concrete financial goals.
We are proud to report that Debra just passed her GED and will attend Miami-Dade College this Fall to pursue a career in the medical field, and even received a scholarship for herself, and for three of her children who are now able to attend better schools. Debra is also still working with Darren to clean up her credit, reduce her debts and manage her budget. Debra’s incredible attitude has helped her achieve her goals and continues to seize every opportunity that is available to her and her family.