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Becoming the Best You Can Be

As a teenager living in a small town just outside New Orleans, La., Garrett Shelton struggled. He lacked direction and found himself in and out of trouble with the law. He needed a fresh start, so at age 17, he dropped out of high school and moved to Hinesville, Ga., with his sister.

Garrett was soon connected with United Way of the Coastal Empire and started a new path forward.

Through a United Way-funded initiative at Savannah Technical College, Garrett was admitted into a program that helped him earn his GED, a welding diploma, and ultimately a career.

The high school equivalency diploma was completed in six weeks, and Garrett then went through the two-year welding program. While in school, he worked for Great Dane Trailers and then DS Smith Lumber, both highly-respected companies to have on your resume.

“Welding school helped me develop into an upstanding citizen, a good employee, and taught me a work skill and, really, how to work,” he says. “It was trying, but it was great.”

Today, Garrett is a maintenance planner and supervisor at DS Smith. He has been a trusted team member at the reputable lumber company for more than seven years now, earning four promotions along the way.

“Since I am here, I’ve learned even more about responsibility, a strong work ethic, and how to be a team player,” Garrett explains.

He also learned to give back. After years in the workforce, building a successful career and a rewarding life, Garrett remembers the helping hand he received from United Way and does his part to pay it forward.

One initiative he’s joined is a DS Smith Lumber campaign to build wheelchair ramps for those in need who can’t afford one. He is especially appreciative to work for a company that performs outreach and tries to improve the community.

Garrett also speaks to young people through a youth program that focuses on at-risk teenagers in similar situations as his. He has addressed groups of up to 200 students, telling them his story of how he turned his life around and the happy, successful career he’s been able to build for himself.

“It helps when the message comes from someone who has been through it,” Garrett says. “Kids know you’re speaking from experience, and it means a lot more. I mainly tell them to keep striving to be the best you can be.”

Garrett’s experience with United Way opened the door to education, work skills, and a pathway for upward mobility. This opportunity was ultimately the result of support from the United Way Community Fund, a resource for services and programs that strengthens our entire community through a collective effort.

“I’m extremely blessed. I know that I have to give back for what I was given,” said Garrett. “I live a great life, but I understand that through what I was given, it’s my job to give back to the community.”

Giving to United Way’s Community Fund helps many people in unique circumstances, just like in Garrett’s story. When we all help each other, we all move Forward United.

Watch this video for more on Garrett’s Story

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