Valerie Thayer thinks back to that August day in 2010, when her life changed forever. That was the day her ex-husband suddenly passed away.

Although Thayer, a Bristol, Va., native, and her ex-husband had been divorced for three years prior to his death, it was heartbreaking for her and her three children, who were 12, 9, and 5 years old at the time.

Just like that, she became a single parent.

“Even though we shared custody, after his death I felt as if I was now playing the role of both mom and dad. We both just wanted the best for the children,” Thayer said.

At the time, Thayer was working as a registered nurse and needed a safe place where her children could go in the afternoon until she got off from work.

“Between my schedule and his schedule, we made our schedules work for the kids,” she said of their father.

She realized she needed help.

So she got busy and found the Boys and Girls Club of the Mountain Empire, one of nearly 30 local agencies supported by the United Way of Bristol.

The United Way is in the midst of its annual regional fundraising campaign, with a goal of $1.4 million in donations. The theme of this year’s drive is Making Our Communities a Better Place to Live.

To help people like Thayer and her kids, the club needs money to operate. Currently, 19 percent of the club’s budget comes from the United Way.

After touring the facility, Thayer realized it offered much more than just a place for her children to go after school.

“The staff has become a part of our family. They supported the four of us in many ways in the weeks after the death, including moral support, and just being there for us,” she said.

Thayer admits that while the first couple of weeks weren’t easy for her or her children, she remained optimistic.

“Knowing that your children are safe and in a structured environment makes not only yourself be at ease, but the children adapt well too. Plus, the children aren’t just a number; the staff knows who they are,” she said.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Mountain Empire was founded more than 60 years ago. Through the years, the organization has seen some changes, including moving to a new building and allowing girls to become members.

But one thing has stayed the same. It provides a place where children can go to meet new friends and be guided by a group of professional development staff members who want to make a positive impact on their lives.

“Valerie was in need of after-school care after the abrupt and sudden passing of the children’s father, and I’m glad our organization was able to provide that,” said Jessica Rose, assistant executive director for the club. “The most important thing for us was to put her mind at ease.”

While the past two years have been an emotional rollercoaster, Thayer said, the ordeal was made easier by those at the club.

“The Boys and Girls Club has been a godsend. I don’t know what I would’ve done without them,” she said.

Thayer added: “My prayers were answered through the Boys and Girls Club of the Mountain Empire, and for that I’m thankful.”


Client: Valerie Thayer, a single parent

Agency that helped: Boys and Girls Club of the Mountain Empire, 334 Rebecca St., Bristol, Va.

How it helped: When Thayer’s ex-husband suddenly passed away, the club provided after-school care while Thayer worked.

Boys and Girls Club of the Mountain Empire

What it provides: Positive child care for children and teens, including homework assistance and educational opportunities.

How to help: Learn more about contributing to the United Way of Bristol by calling (423) 968-4912 or

Reprinted with permission by:  Zach Irby, Bristol Herald Courier, (276) 645-2574

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