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A female presenting individual against a deep blue wall. A female presenting individual against a deep blue wall.

Meet Ellen

Navigating Life’s Challenges with Community Support


My friends didn’t get it. They didn’t really understand.


A senior in her 70s, Ellen had been a Marin County resident for nearly 50 years when her life took an unexpected turn – she was diagnosed with breast cancer.


They caught it early. But after that, things sort of went downhill.


As she grappled physically with medical treatments, she also found herself grappling with increased financial strain that made meeting her basic needs more difficult.


It wasn’t until a nurse navigator pointed her toward the Marin Center for Independent Living which, in turn, recommended Community Action Marin, where she also found a supportive community and essential services.


Like so many, Ellen was skeptical at first. But what she discovered was more than just financial guidance; she found compassionate allies.


I just didn’t want to ask for help. I think a lot of people go through this. I think there’s a stigma around it; not wanting to tell friends what’s really going on. I just really had to start over. I finally made the appointment, and it was a perfect fit.


Together, they navigated the intricacies of her financial situation with support and programs that became central in Ellen’s journey to getting back on her feet. Programs like Free Tax Help offered through United Way Bay Area (UWBA), allowed her to save money by replacing her costly private CPA firm.


Still, one of the hardest parts of Ellen’s journey is that for a time, she thought she had to go at it alone. Many of her friends, her neighbors, and the people she was used to seeing every day had no idea what she was really going through.


They didn’t really understand how much help I needed financially. I had no savings. I didn’t own anything. I didn’t share that much [about myself] because I didn’t want to sound like I was begging them for anything. I don’t see many of them as much [anymore] quite frankly. That’s just life.


Today, Ellen has recovered from her bout with cancer and serves as an ambassador for UWBA, quietly but passionately spreading awareness within her community. Her story is a glimpse into the often-unseen struggles faced by seniors in the Bay Area. It is a reminder that things are not always as they seem; our neighbors across the Bay Area, in every community, may be in need regardless of how it appears outside.


*The image and name have been changed to protect client privacy.