Amber of Muskegon did not think she needed any help raising her daughter, Emily, who was born prematurely nearly five years ago and suffered from cerebral palsy. After all, she already had older daughter, Mackenzie, now 12.

But when Amber missed too many of Emily’s medical appointments at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids because she lacked transportation, the state of Michigan’s Child Protective Services stepped in and put her custody of Emily at risk.

“I had a bad attitude at first,” Amber admits now, as she thinks back to a time when she broke off an abusive relationship with a boyfriend and “I was losing my house and there was an open CPS case for medical neglect of my daughter.”

That changed after she was referred by the state to the Protect MiFamily program of Catholic Charities West Michigan.

“Protect MiFamily gave me the inner strength to be the best mom that I could be,” Amber says. “They really built me up. They put a little drive in me to buy my own house. I was on a bad downward spiral before Protect MiFamily, and they intervened to get me going in the right direction.”

The key to success for Amber was the close relationship she forged with her Protect MiFamily caseworker over the 15 months she was in the program, which ended last fall.

“She provided transportation to all of our appointments at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital when I didn’t have a car,” Amber says. “She came with me to the medical appointments and helped me ask the questions I needed to ask. She was helping me figure out how to make it on my own.

“I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have Protect MiFamily to help me when I needed it,” she says.

That support at a crucial time has turned things around for Amber.

“Now, I’m a 31-year-old homeowner who paid her own down payment on a house, got a part-time job delivering newspapers and bought a vehicle. I have been very blessed. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without the Protect MiFamily program. It makes me want to be stronger.”

One example of this helping hand is how her Protect MiFamily caseworker made Amber aware of community resources she could tap, such as the food pantry and baby and toddler pantry operated by Catholic Charities West Michigan in Muskegon.

And when Amber was ready to move into her new home, the caseworker provided many essentials.

“With donated funds, she could go buy me all the things I needed to start my home,” she says. “She physically helped me move. She brought me pots and pans, dishes, laundry soap, shampoos and clothes to use at my new home.”

The caseworker also helped Amber stabilize her financial situation.

“She helped me file for Social Security disability for my daughter. She gave me that drive and strength to make my life better.”

Amber, who grew up in foster care without her birth parents and had her first child at age 19, is focused now on her growing daughters and their futures.

“I hope they grow up to be strong, happy and healthy girls,” she says.

Because it helped her keep her family together, Amber says the Protect MiFamily program is the “best thing that ever happened to me.”