Community Health Worker Overcomes Odds, Gives Back

Cree Paul making food deliveries at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic

One of the harsher realities for agencies providing social services is that not everyone can be saved. The experiences, decisions and circumstances of many individuals can be so overwhelming and bleak that the chances of successful outcomes are too remote to expect any kind of sustainable success.

There are measurements and tools that agencies use to evaluate who is a good prospect for a return to self-sufficiency and who is unlikely to achieve that. It helps focus where to use scarce resources where they will have the best prospects for success and do the most good over the long haul.

But sometimes people who are downtrodden defy those measurements and beat what seem to be overwhelming odds against them. Cree Paul, now a Community Health Worker in SNAP’s Ride to Health transportation program is one such individual.

Born into an unloving and physically and emotionally abusive household, Cree ended up bouncing around the foster care system most of her young life. She became pregnant at a young age, suffered more physical abuse, this time from her baby’s father, and ended up homeless. Sometimes she found shelter with the Union Gospel Mission, sometimes at Alexandria’s House run by the Volunteers of America.

“I was a lost cause to everyone,” Cree says. “Including myself.”

Then SNAP reached out to help her find the stable life she had never known. Through SNAP, Cree was placed in her first apartment and was able to take over rent payments within a year of being placed there. With help and coaching from SNAP, she put together a resume and found gainful employment. Through SNAP’s First-Time Homebuyer program, she put together a plan that resulted in her buying a home of her own, where she and her children have lived for the last two-and-a-half years.

What Cree got from SNAP was recognition of her value as a human being and a non-judgmental helping-hand and practical guidance that led to real life positive changes. She was also made welcome as a community health worker for SNAP’s Ride-to-Health program, where she has been serving clients since last December.

Teeming with confidence, Cree is very remarkably non-judgmental, supportive and talkative. When she provides a ride to a young single mother to a doctor’s appointment or someplace to get food supplies, she provides much more than just transportation. She listens, encourages, and offers her story as a way to impart useful advice and information about how to access basic needs: Where to find food and housing resources, how to talk to physicians about post-partum depression, how to advocate for one’s self when dealing with medical and other professionals.  

“When young mothers ride with me,” Cree says,” “They don’t get some silent Uber driver.”

The destination, for many, becomes a more secure sense of self with a more hopeful outlook. It represents, in very real terms, the kind of difference SNAP tries to create with every client interaction.

“More than anything else, SNAP gave me a sense of infinite worth,” says Cree. “I had never experienced that before.”

Cree represents the fulfillment of SNAP’s mission. She overcame the odds that were stacked against her, and with a strong will and wraparound support from a multitude of SNAP programs. Now, she is in a position where she is stable and thriving and able to recognize the infinite worth in others.