A glimmer of hope: How United Way changes lives

United Way came into Dr. Glenn Miller’s life at a time when he needed help providing for his family so that he could focus on his goals. Fortunately, United Way has a strong safety net that gives thousands of people across the St. Louis region like him a chance to pursue success.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Miller was no stranger to neighborhoods rife with drugs, gang violence and poverty. For him, his mother and older sister, every day was a fight for survival. Avoiding the toxicity of a struggling community while trying to make ends meet made life difficult and almost impossible to see a way out, but thanks to a dance group Miller joined in 7th grade, he was able to see that there was a world beyond the inner city of Chicago.

“This program took us to Canada, and we got to compete against teams from Brazil, Japan, Africa, etc.,” said Miller. “That was my first real exposure to other cultures and other ways of living. I got to see that the world was so much bigger than the block that I lived on, and that sparked my curiosity to want to learn more.” 

After Miller finished high school, his curiosity led him to St. Louis to pursue higher education, but after just one year in college, failing grades and the death of his grandmother forced him to drop out and move back to Chicago where he worked various low paying jobs. A few years later, he returned to St. Louis with a renewed sense of determination. He knew if he wanted to make something of his life, he couldn’t afford to have another opportunity pass him.

 “I had to do a lot of reflecting and that gave me the courage to move back here,” said Miller. “I had to be intentional about my education because I knew the ramifications of what could happen if I didn’t do better.”

Fighting for a better future

After moving back to St. Louis, Miller re-enrolled in college to study to be a chiropractic doctor. He found his new passion and enjoyed his studies, but life outside of school began to become chaotic.

He held several part-time jobs, but still struggled to make ends meet. Now with a newborn baby, he struggled to put food on the table, pay utility bills, and afford other essential needs. One day while on the phone with a bill collector, Miller was encouraged to reach out to local nonprofits that could help him, including United Way. After struggling for so long, he realized that he couldn’t make it on his own; he had to reach out for help. 

“I had to get as much help as I could possibly get, I didn’t want my daughter to have to go through some of the same things I had to go through growing up,” said Miller. “Eventually I had to start embracing United Way and their [partner agencies] as family because I had to trust them to have my back in a way that you only want your family to have.”

He began using United Way’s 2-1-1 information and referral helpline that connected him to United Way-supported agencies that gave him the resources he needed for sustainable living such as food access, transportation assistance, and rent and utility assistance. Most importantly for him, he was able to provide for his daughter. 

“There was one particular weekend that I had my daughter, and I didn’t have a single dollar to my name, and I remember looking around for some type of help that would help me get food,” said Miller. “There was a food pantry that I was able to go to and seeing how much food that was available almost brought me to tears. I walked out with three or four bags of groceries; I knew my daughter and I were going to be able to eat good.” 

Despite all of Miller’s struggles, his goal of graduating from college finally came true. In 2019, he earned a Doctorate’s degree in Chiropractic Medicine.

Given all that he went through, from growing up in poverty on the South Side of Chicago to struggling to find his way as a young adult, being able to call himself “Dr. Glenn Miller” was surreal. 

“When I walked across the stage to shake the provost’s and president’s hands, I broke down,” Miller said. “I had such a unique journey, and I knew it was never going to be given to me, I would have to earn it. Every time I hear someone say, ‘Dr. Miller’ or see it somewhere, I’m still in disbelief.”

Success and service to the community

Miller’s chiropractic degree opened a world of opportunities for him. The trip he took in 7th grade with his dance group was just the beginning of his interest in traveling and exploring new cultures. His education gave him the opportunity to travel to foreign countries to introduce chiropractic practices and help people gain access to basic resources for health and wellness.

He also began life coaching, co-authored a book, became an entrepreneur, and serves as an adjunct professor for several colleges and universities. 

When he decided to begin his charitable efforts, he knew he wanted to find a way to get involved with United Way because of the support he had previously received. He decided to join the cabinet for United Way’s Charmaine Chapman Society (CCS) in August.  CCS is the No. 1 philanthropic program for Black leaders in the nation where members pledge a gift of $1,000 or more each year that helps the community. The program has raised nearly $60 million since it began in 1994.

With this Society, Miller enjoys the opportunity to connect with likeminded community leaders while supporting the St. Louis region through time, treasure, and talent. 

This year’s campaign is special because 2022 marks United Way’s 100-year anniversary. Miller said he encourages others to support United Way because when you do, you are giving a glimmer of hope to someone who may be struggling like he was. 

“United Way has reached a point of service to the community that is historic,” said Miller. “All of these years of service to the community gives people the hope they need in knowing that regardless of what situation they’re in or where they’re at in their life, there is an organization that cares about them and has resources to help alleviate the pain and suffering that they have to go through every day.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries

Rodney Humphries is the Communications Specialist for United Way of Greater St. Louis and a proud graduate of Webster University where he developed his passion for writing. In college, he combined his love for writing and sports, serving as the primary sports writer for his school newspaper while also developing his own sports blog. After graduating, he continued his love for writing as he served as a freelance writer for various publications. Rodney continues to be a fan of Webster athletics, you will often see him sitting courtside at a lot of their basketball games.