" "
Need help? Dial 2-1-1 to contact a United Way call center specialist or click here to find resources.


Army veteran’s life transformed with one call to United Way 2-1-1

June 20, 2018

Betsy Odell


Betsy Odell knew she hit rock bottom when she started living out of her car. She remembers parking under lights and on church properties to feel safe.

“The humiliation was unimaginable,” Betsy said.

Just weeks before, Betsy was living in Delaware with her then husband. Both military, Betsy was honorably discharged for medical reasons, and her husband just returned from yet another tour overseas.

Experiencing post-traumatic stress and difficulty re-adjusting from his recent return, her husband was physically and emotionally abusive. They also both were battling substance abuse.

“I needed to get out as quickly as possible,” Betsy said.

Betsy decided to pack up her car and drive to Florida, seeking refuge – or so she thought – with friends who lived in the Jacksonville area.

“Everything fell apart when I got there,” she said. “You don’t ever hear about how quickly and easily you can become displaced.”

Her living arrangements fell through, and Betsy was forced to live out of her car for two months as she still struggled with anxiety and alcohol abuse.

It wasn’t until she received an information sheet on free community resources from Catholic Charities at an Arlington church that her outlook began to improve. The individual who gave her the list of resources pointed out to Betsy 2-1-1, United Way of Northeast Florida’s free information and referral services hotline.

Betsy returned to her car and immediately dialed.

“Everything else is a recording,” she said. “I called 2-1-1 and someone picked up. And when you’re desperately living in your car and a real person answers the phone, you just pour your heart out. I can’t describe the relief, the hope that I felt.”

The United Way 2-1-1 call center specialist connected her to a military relief office at Mayport Naval Station. She said the relief office immediately gave her a case number and assigned her a case worker. United Way partnered with the relief office to ensure the coverage of Betsy’s vital expenses until her HUD-VASH housing voucher came through.

In a matter of days, Betsy received a check to cover first month’s rent, and she was off the streets and in her very own apartment.

“It was a very modest apartment,” Betsy said. “As soon as I walked inside, I laid on the carpet and just wept. I felt so safe.”

From there, she said she went into “total military mode” to get her life back on track, including getting sober and going back to school for personal training.

“[My apartment] allowed me to have an overabundance of confidence,” she said.

Now, remarried and in a stable home, Betsy volunteers for veterans causes in order to give back, including public speaking and advocacy work.

She’s been sober since March 16, 2010.

“It strengthened me,” she said of her previous life. “I am not ashamed of one second.”

Betsy is just one example of the thousands of lives saved by United Way 2-1-1 and our partners every day. Moreover, 2-1-1 is just one initiative of nearly 80 that our 71 United Way partners provide those in need in Northeast Florida.


How you can help

When you support United Way, our entire community grows stronger together. Donate now to United Way of Northeast Florida to help change more lives like Betsy’s.