United Way responsible for Baptist director’s life path

“I wouldn’t have had a career if it weren’t for the United Way.”

In 1980 Darla Belt, administrative director of quality for Baptist, started life like many other young mothers, working and trying to make ends meet with 3- and 5-year-old daughters. Two months shy of finishing her LPN program in Texas, the married mother relied on her part-time job and her husband for support.

All of that changed one day when she came home.

“My husband left us. And when he left, he took everything we had in the bank and all the cash. I had nothing.”

She immediately went to her program director and explained the situation, and that she had no choice but to drop out of the nursing program. “She begged me not to, telling me I was at the top of the class and if I could just get through the last two months, I could have any nursing job I wanted.” Darla, however, insisted she had to quit.

Her program director gave her the name of a woman at Catholic Charities, the United Way vehicle in her area. Darla finally consented to go. “My daughters and I arrived before the office opened. As the time neared for the doors to open, more people kept coming. When the doors opened, this throng just surged forward, grabbing at the lady who was handing out pieces of paper. I was crying, my girls were upset, so I just decided to leave.”

About halfway down the sidewalk, her 3-year-old girl caught her attention. “She said, ‘Mom, I got your ticket.’ I didn’t realize they were handing out appointment slips, and she had stuck her hand up to get one,” said Darla. Darla knew at that moment, that God was giving her a sign.

United Way charity arranged for rent and utility vouchers, then sent the young mother to a food bank. “I had never taken charity before.” The help, however, did get Darla to graduation day. She graduated at the top of her class and accepted a job in an ER.

From her first job, Darla donated one hour of her salary to United Way. “I was making about $7 per hour.” She stayed in that position for 13 years, eventually advancing to director of the department. “They estimated I had repaid that initial donation more than 10 times.” Darla was asked to share her personal story in 1994 at a United Way symposium.

Eventually, she was recruited to Baptist DeSoto and accepted a role as director of quality. Now, at Baptist Memphis, she says even though her positions have changed, one thing has not.

“I remain committed to the United Way and the work they do. You never know when circumstances will change and you find yourself in need.” With two daughters, five grandchildren, a great grandchild on the way, a 78-year-old mother and a 95-year-old grandmother, Darla expresses immeasurable gratitude for her ability to give back, both through the United Way and to her family. “I wouldn’t have had a career if it weren’t for the United Way.”