Since leaving the Bahamas for the United States 25 years ago, Denise Lewis has known nothing but hard luck. The 50-year-old single mother of four, who was only beginning to rebound from a divorce that led to foreclosure on her home, was hit with the latest bad bounce. The company she worked with for the past 16 years abruptly announced it had filed for bankruptcy and her job as clerk and shipping liaison was in jeopardy. As she headed home from work to tell her kids, Lewis did her best to put a good face.

“I was scared, but I didn’t want my kids to see me frantic,” said Lewis, already pushed to her limits, juggling the full-time job by day at Sunex International with classes in Marketing Management at Broward College by night. “I didn’t want to look the same way when we lost the house. When I’m scared and jittery, my kids can see it on my face.”

Denise LewisInstead of panicking, Lewis reached out to a case manager at the Urban League, who connected her to Broward UP™. The community-centric approach launched by Broward College last year aims to break down barriers to education and improve social mobility and economic development. Broward UP supports communities in zip codes across the county where unemployment is high and postsecondary education attainment levels are low.

For the remainder of the summer, while the courts evaluated her company’s bankruptcy petition, Lewis left work in Deerfield Beach, stopped to pick up her kids, drop them off at their home in Pompano Beach, then rushed to the Broward UP evening classes at Urban League facilities in Fort Lauderdale. Her drive to improve her life culminated with certification in Supply Chain Management

“Even though half of the staff had already lost their jobs,” said Lewis. “I was no longer as concerned because I had certified skills that were marketable.”

Certified and Marketable

With an updated resume in hand, Lewis interviewed with Atlass Hardware Corporation, the company that was purchasing the holdings of her former employer. The new owners asked about her certification.

“I was able to tell them how supply chain management relates to my current responsibilities, and they saw that I was also taking courses in marketing management,” said Lewis. “They liked my ambition.”

Lewis liked the new job offer more. Not only would she be rehired as an export billing and compliance administrator, Atlass agreed to boost her salary by $10,000.

“I was like ‘wow,” said Lewis. “Celebration is not the word. Right now, money is tight. I do my budget every two weeks, and there’s never enough. The extra income will offset a lot.”

Hurricane Relief

The money is nice, but these days, Lewis considers the work she does just as valuable. Most of the customers she assists live in the Bahamas. She is responsible for ensuring the islands get the hardware they need to rebuild from the devasting damage left by Hurricane Dorian.

“I’m in touch with my hometown every day,” said Lewis, who is eager to assist her native country in any capacity she can. “My mom and dad are safe, but there are family members in Abaco we haven’t heard from yet.”

As many as 10,000 Bahamians remain homeless. Lewis hopes the generators, the flashlights, and the batteries she coordinates for shipment provide some relief. She remembers the time, not too long ago, when she herself was homeless, living off handouts from local ministries. Things are different now, she believes. She is rebuilding her credit — the poor decisions behind her, stable employment ahead of her.

“People don’t always bounce back,” said Lewis, who boasts of one son in the Air Force, the other starting a business. “Life is definitely getting better.”

If you are dedicated to promoting opportunity and pushing residents of Broward County to achieve their highest potential, Broward UP™ is a countywide movement for you to get behind. Here’s how you can partner.