Robert Marrabell of Brookings bags groceries at Hy-Vee earlier this week. Marrabell has served as a sort-of United Way spokesman this year for the 2012 fundraising campaign, after the organization gave him a hand up. Photo by John Kubal/Register
• ‘Circle of support’ helps Brookings man
BROOKINGS - Don't suggest to Executive Director Kate Treiber that the Brookings Area United Way is in the business of giving handouts to people who can't or won't make it on their own.
You do that and she'll tell you how United Way offers hard-working people and those who really need it a hand up and a "ladder to climb."
One of those people whose story is being told by United Way is 38-year-old Robert Marrabell of Brookings: a TV Productions video, "United for Robert," is being shown in the 2012 campaign to raise $700,000.
With a little help from his friends and fellow Hy-Vee employees, First United Methodist Church, and United Way, Robert is climbing the ladder of independence, living on his own, paying his own way and giving back to United Way – $20 out of each paycheck.
Robert works 38 to 40 hours a week at Hy-Vee at a variety of assignments, including bagging groceries, collecting carts and working in the stocking area. He's been at Hy-Vee for five years. Laughing a bit, he says he just had his first vacation.
Smiling in recounting – "to make a long story short" – how he came to settle in Brookings, Robert noted that he was born in West Virginia and raised in New Jersey. He said, "My parents moved around a lot, like from New Jersey to Pennysylvania and back to New Jersey."
Robert came to Brookings to visit a brother who had moved here; he worked for awhile at the Swiftel Center in the catering department and at South Dakota State University; but he returned to West Virginia when his mother became ill. He said that hisparents had wanted to move to Brookings, but they died before that happened.
He came back to Brookings to stay. But his settling in to the independence and self-sufficiency he now enjoys came only after a rough ride on the road of life.
Co-workers, United Way step in
Robert was born with a cognitive disability. That led to his being taken advantage of by two individuals with whom he lived here in Brookings. One of them stole his identity and began taking money out of his account and signing loans in his name.
When the money in Robert's account was tapped out, the duo turned to other ways to cheat him, such as pawning things of value, like computers or cameras. He found himself alone and isolated. Facing financial disaster and feeling afraid and frustrated, Robert knew he had to get out of his living situation; but that would have led to homelessness. So how to do it?
Picking up on his desperate situation, Robert's Hy-Vee co-workers took a big step to help: They connected him to several United Way partners across the Brookings community. They pitched in with such services as financial assistance, advocacy, training, personal care and transportation.
An initial contact was the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter. While best known for its work with women being subject to abuse and neglect, the agency is now beginning to offer referal services and support to people facing homelessness.
Jackie Kyllonen, an advocate for the shelter, said that initial contact started "a chain reaction of services that surrounded Robert."
A key piece of that chain reaction was finding an advocate for Robert; enter Patty Bordeaux Nelson of Independent Living Choices, a United Way partner. She helped Robert, "advocating for him with payday loan situations" and "in the sense of making referrals to the Department of Social Services, to the consumer credit counseling."
Other United Way partners who helped Robert climb the ladder to individual independence were Jim McGuire, a credit counselor with Lutheran Social Services; Amy Lacek, manager of the Brookings County Food Pantry; and Mike Mullaney, assistant director of Brookings Area Transit Authority.
Making it on his own
Robert is most appreciative of the assistance he has received. He said, "Without the community's help, I could never get out on my own. And because of the financial burden I was in, I probably would've never gotten out ot debt."
McGuire was able to teach Robert some strategies that helped him reduce his debt and manage his money better. Additionally, he witnessed Robert's perserverance when he set out to get his own apartment and ran into some obstacles.
McGuire said that Robert "just kept on going, kept on coming back, kept on getting some hints and tips and general counseling. … He moved out on his own and just kept on going."
Lacek was able to provide the food that Robert needed in his quest for independence. She said, "Robert came in and he was looking for temporary assistance for food. We target at least two weeks, so we were able to give him some frozen items as well as bread and milk, along with canned goods, dry goods and anything else that he needed."
Finally, BATA provided Robert transportation to and from his job at Hy-Vee and to other places around the Brookings community.
Mullaney said, "Robert is such a good example of just one thing that we do for the community, but we do that repeatedly, 400 or 500 times a day."
Looking back on where he's been and where he's at today, Robert acknowledges and is grateful for the support he has been given by United Way and the Brookings community.
"I have a circle of support in my life. It makes you feel good and you know they're going to be there to help you when you need it."
With his winning smile, he adds, “I just want to say thank you.”
The Brookings Area United Way video "United for Robert" provided material for this report.
Contact John Kubal at jkubal@-brookingsregister.com.