Ashley Davis remembers being a little girl, looking up at her mother as she fixed her hair. She would sit patiently as the woman would twirl each strand before letting her get a closer look at the finished product in the mirror.

She liked that feeling this new hairstyle gave her. So, she said she started fixing other friends’ hair when she was middle-school aged. By the time she got to high school, she was able to dual-enroll in courses, attend a technical school and receive some formal cosmetology training.

“I would go to the technical college for half of the day, and that’s where I found out that this was something that I wanted to do,” Davis said. “My track was supposed to be to go to college and get a degree and then go back to cosmetology school. But, life happens, and then I got sidetracked.”

Davis earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Clayton State University, and she had begun master’s courses at Brenau University with a focus in human resources. She gave birth to a son, Lennox, who is 2 now, and had to take time off from school—life happens.

“It was hard for me to get back [to school], and so I started doing hair myself,” Davis said. “It was easier to do that than have a job and get daycare.”

But she still had this dream that lingered. She wanted to start her own cosmetology business.

It soon became obvious the only way to turn this into a career was to get her license, though. Because she had that degree, she didn’t qualify for federal aid, she says. The out-of-pocket costs were going to be too much, and she had Lennox to worry about now.

That’s where United Way of Greater Atlanta was able to help.

“I ended up at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, and they were way cheaper than anything else,” Davis said. “The program lasts a little bit longer, but I’m not working a traditional job right now, and I need all the help I can get.”

So, she applied for tuition assistance through United Way’s Financial Empowerment Services. She received $1,000 tuition assistance and $600 for childcare assistance in August 2018.

United Way understands that communities cannot thrive unless our children are thriving, and families need to provide financial and emotional support for these children to reach their full potential. At the end of its last strategic planning meeting, United Way found children in Greater Atlanta’s 13 county-region were handed a disadvantage based on the zip code in which they were born.

So, they looked at ways to reverse this, and born out of this meeting was the Child Well-Being Index, which took 14 different child, community and family measures to determine a CWB score for your zip code.

One of the most important ways United Way helps reverse the child well-being index is to enable women to work to their full potential.

Today, there are 200,000 single women listed as the head of their households in the Greater Atlanta area, with more than 40 percent of these women earning income below federal poverty level. Lack of childcare and early learning programs can keep them out of the workforce or cause them to quit a job.

United Way’s Women United Advancement Initiative attempts to remove barriers women face in order to let them reach their full potential.

The Women United Advancement Initiative is designed to provide educational and professional training for women, financial assistance and coaching for women, health education and supports for women and children and access to safe and quality learning environments for children. The Women United Advancement Initiative works in conjunction with United Way’s Child Well-Being Impact Fund and the long-standing work United Way and its partners have been doing to improve Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties.

Davis wasn’t going to let the barriers she was facing determine her future. She said she was put in contact with United Way through the office at the technical college. United Way has a memorandum of understanding with each college. The student support services and financial aid department diverts students who meet criteria to United Way’s onsite staff for tuition assistance, child care support and transportation assistance.

Davis called right away and was put in contact with a person who was able to answer her questions quickly.

“With all that, it makes you be that much more determined,” Davis said. “Some people just say, ‘Forget it.’ But this is what I want to do, so there’s no other option of starting over and getting a regular job. I just said, ‘I’ll figure it out, and I will do everything that I can do. I’m going to try everything I can try.”

Many of Davis’ classmates face the same financial challenges she did, she says. But she’s patient and determined. She said it’s that patience that helped her in school and now in her career.

“All the other girls are going through something, too,” she said. “At this point, though, you’ve got to be self-motivated because it could be easy to give up.

“I’m going to finish by any means necessary.”

To learn more about how you can help the women of Greater Atlanta, visit advancewomen.uwga.org.