The day second-grader “George” didn’t show up for school, Tamera Dixon made a phone call. As family support liaison at Madison Elementary School in Davenport, it’s her job to check in.
The boy’s mom answered the phone.
“She was very honest and told me it was too cold for him to walk to school without a winter coat,” Tamera explained.
It was on that day in November that Tamera realized the importance of her role at Madison. She had only started there a few months prior, and it was her first job out of college.
“I was distraught,” she said. “It never really dawned on me that there are kids who just need a winter coat and something as simple as that affects a child coming to school.”
Tamera assured the boy’s mom she would have a coat for him in an hour. And he didn’t miss another day of school last year.
“The coat was green and blue – his two favorite colors,” she said. “His entire face lit up like he had just gotten a new toy. Seeing him wear it made my entire day.”
Tamera set in motion a series of events that reflects the impact of United Way’s mission in our community. When a student’s basic needs are met, they can focus on what they’re at school to do – learn.
Beyond things like winter coats – Tamera connects families with gas cards for transportation, rental assistance, the school’s food pantry and even fundamentals like diapers and wipes for infants. By addressing these essentials, Tamera helps students focus on their education without the distractions of unmet needs.
“I knew I wanted a career where I could make an impact,” Tamera said. “At one time, I was the person who needed help. Now, I want to be the person who can be there for someone else.”
Everyone Has a Story
Tamera grew up in the Quad Cities and graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 2022 after studying social work, family services and mental health. She knew she wanted to work with children, especially after working Sundays in high school at her church’s daycare and then volunteering at the UNI food pantry. Working with kids, she thought, opened the door to making an impact on young people’s lives at a critical time.
“I never want anyone to feel like they’re facing their problems alone,” Tamera said. “I know how it feels. It’s a lot to try to go through it by yourself.”
In high school, Tamera struggled with anxiety and depression. She tried to convince herself she was fine, but her parents recognized she was struggling. Because her family had the access and resources, she was able to get the support and therapy she needed — for which she says she’s “forever grateful.”
Now Tamera sees herself in her students at Madison — all her honorary little brothers and sisters, each with their own story to tell. Her dedication to making a positive impact on young lives reflects United Way’s own core values — to build a Quad Cities where no one faces their problems alone.
United Way’s partnership with Madison Elementary brings crucial support to students and their families facing tough choices. “Having these community resources in my back pocket really helps,” she said. “I could not do my job without them.”
The Choices No Family Should Have to Make
George’s story, in which a simple coat transformed his school attendance, mirrors the broader impact United Way strives to achieve. By uniting nonprofits, businesses, and change-makers, United Way creates a network of support that addresses not only immediate needs but also tackles the root causes of challenges faced by our region’s children.
The Quad Cities community faces its share of challenges, where many hard-working families struggle to cover their basic costs of living despite being employed. Unexpected expenses can force nearly 35% families into heart-wrenching decisions, like choosing between paying their rent and other necessities like a coat. The collaboration between United Way and its United for Schools partners, like with Madison Elementary, brings the resources and hope directly to where the students and families are.
Our youngest have the biggest potential. Stories like Tamera’s remind us that the smallest gestures can have the most profound effects. The coat Tamera provided wasn’t just a piece of clothing; it’s a symbol of hope and care that removed a barrier that was in the way of “George’s” success in school. A book, a haircut, another caring adult — any one of these things can leave a lasting impact that may shape a student’s entire future.
The next time Tamera makes that important phone call to a family, it’s a reminder that a single act of support can change someone’s day — maybe even their life. United Way’s commitment to creating a brighter future for all is evident in stories like “George” and Tamera’s, inspiring us to continue investing in the potential of every child in the Quad Cities.