United Way Prosperity Center grant

Whit Grice, a recent United Way of Citrus County Prosperity Center student of the year, is shown with the program director, Jess Ebert. Thanks to the United Way program, Grice was able to graduate from the Law Enforcement program at WTC — all while holding two jobs as he attended school. After graduation, he was hired by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.


Jess Ebert, United Way of Citrus County Prosperity Center director, loves her job.

She gets to help motivated, dedicated, hard-working adults who are pursuing their education to better themselves get the boost they need to reach their goals.

“The people in my program are inspiring to me,” Ebert said. “They’re committed and motivated, and a lot of them face a lot of different obstacles. I have clients who are at CASA (abuse shelter) or are homeless, yet they’re continuing to push through and go to school every day.

“Some are single moms cutting corners or couponing and doing everything in their power to continue to stay in school,” she said.  

Depending on a person’s situation, the Prosperity Center program helps students who are enrolled in a GED or postsecondary education program with things like gas cards, books, testing fees, electric bills, childcare costs or help with rent.

The thought is: If the student knows that the United Way can help with certain things each month, that’s one less thing on their minds and they can concentrate on their education.

Unfortunately, of the United Way’s four programs — Mission United, which helps veterans, Reading Pals, Rapid Rehousing and the Prosperity Center — the Prosperity Center is the only one that does not receive federal funding.

So, along with working with clients, Ebert also needs to fundraise.

Recently, she learned the Prosperity Center has been selected as a Top 200 finalist for a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant. 

The top 40 projects to get the most online votes from the community will each be awarded $25,000.

“If we are awarded this money, it will allow us to assist 20 certificate students with textbooks and gas assistance for the school year, along with paying all testing fees for 100 GED graduates,” Ebert said.

How can you help?

Between Aug. 14 and 11:59 p.m. Aug. 23, anyone and everyone 18 years or older with a valid email address can vote up to 10 times a day every day for the United Way of Citrus County Prosperity Center Program.

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Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.

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