Success is most often a Process, not an Event
What a difference a year makes
She was a homeless 18 year old high school senior. Twelves month later she was beginning her second semester at UW-River Falls.
How Shelly went from being homeless in January to being a college student the following January is a testimony to her hard work and her maturity as well as to the fact that she honored the faith and respected the opportunities provided to her by North Central CAP. We provided Shelly with a variety of services that would ensure;
· Residential stability
· Completion of her high school education
· Access to basic needs such as food, clothing, health care, and transportation
· An opportunity to pursue a college education
Critical to the success in the process of securing the above was case management. Our outreach worker became an advocate as well as advisor for Shelly. Shelly was provided over 600 hours of subsidized employment (funded under a HUD Supportive Housing Program). This opportunity provided Shelly with the chance to earn a small income, gain valuable work experience, learn soft skills as well as budgeting skills, and most importantly be an integral part of her own success.
$’s Well Spent
Most low-income families cannot afford on “off-budget” unforeseen or unplanned expenditure. They live from paycheck to paycheck or month to month praying that they make ends meet and stay afloat.
Such was the case with the ‘A’ family. Two parents and six children, ages 2 through 10. While traveling up north to visit Mrs. A’s hospitalized mother, they were involved in a traffic accident. Fortunately, no real serious injuries resulted, but the vehicle was badly damaged.
Repairs would be expensive and, on a limited income, would cost them dearly. At the time, their monthly income was $1539. Work hours for the husband had been reduced leaving this household with extremely limited resources.
Monthly rent payments were $625 and represented about 41% of their monthly income. To pay the needed car repairs, the had to use their rent money. Ten days or so after failing to pay their rent and with really no hope of getting caught up, they received an eviction notice. Frantic, Mrs. A came to North Central CAP to see if she could qualify for assistance in paying the delinquent rent. She qualified for assistance and the family was not evicted and needed no other services.
For most recipients of emergency housing assistance, the ‘A’ family’s story is typical. They seldom seek or get help but when they do it is because they have no alternative. Making sure that a family of eight does not end up homeless helps not only the family, but the community.
An Extraordinary Case…it could happen to anyone
The JL household is no different than most. A mom, a dad, and three kids. They have worked and paid their bills faithfully for many years—never needing or seeking anyone’s help. Like most of us, everything is fine until something unexpectedly goes wrong.
Late in 2015 Mr. L was hospitalized with cancer. A diabetic, he was already receiving kidney dialysis treatment. One of his legs was amputated and death was a near certainty. With his lost income, Mrs. L had difficulty keeping current on their rent and gradually fell behind by two months. Complicating matters, Mr. L now needed more prescription drugs, special foods, and diabetic supplies.
With the landlord threatening eviction, Mrs. L came to NCCAP’s office seeking emergency housing assistance. In reviewing past and projected income levels, there was little doubt that this household would find it possible to catch up on two months of back rent without help. North Central CAP made a decision to commit resources to assist this family and put an end to the possibility of eviction. NCCAP utilized local funding to provide this assistance.
In addition, North Central CAP facilitated a heating assistance program application and provided referrals to other partner programs such as Food Share. Mrs. L has since taken a second job and is able to make ends meet.
AmeriCorps Success Story
Summer is a busy time with Summer Learning programs and AmeriCorps members play a vital role in the success of these programs.
Members work long days helping with classroom support in the District Summer Learning classes in the morning and serving as youth leaders in the afternoon with Community Connection. Community Connection is collaboration with multiple agencies and local resources that rotate programming among the five sites. Each site has 60-65 children, grades K-4. This program exemplifies community collaboration and collective impact.
It is tremendous to watch the growth of those working in this program. We have two Site Coordinators who are former AmeriCorps members. We have many AmeriCorps members returning and doing additional terms of school year and/or summer service. We have former high school Community Connection staff that have become AmeriCorps members and are grooming some current high school staff to consider future service. I am confident that some of our future staff will be current participants.
These members all bring unique knowledge and skills that they are eager to apply in their interactions with students, some who are studying to become social workers, guidance counselors, teachers, doctors and nurses. Over time, some who had not considered a career with children have changed direction after service to work with children and families. In talking with some members whose parents are educators, I learned that they have gained a deeper appreciation and respect for the work their parents do each and every day and have for years.
This summer it has been wonderful to watch the staff at each school function as a team. They have strategized together how best to group the students. The need for time before the program starts to spend time together to bond, prepare and better understand their role was a goal for this year and by observation it seems to be greatly improved.
They all have stories to share….children pulling fire alarms; children obsessed with touching things at the Woodson Art Museum; children who got on the wrong bus on a field trip day; children who came along on their field trip who were not enrolled in Community Connection; children who refused to go on field trips; overly affectionate children with head lice; children who need a million band aids or ice packs a day; children who go into deep water even though they do not know how to swim; children who seem to be both the victim and the perpetrator of conflict. Members seem to recognize that they find special connect ions with some kids that other members do not and they are able to make adjustments. It was noted by one member that one of his challenging kids is much like himself at a young age.
But they also have stories of students so excited to see them out in public during non school hours. The positive relationship between the AmeriCorps members and children was so evident at a family night at Memorial Pool. AmeriCorps members lined the entrance, greeted children and families and gave them wristbands. It was heartwarming to see the interaction between the AmeriCorps members and the children. It was evident that these are key people in their lives this summer.
I coordinate out-of-school programs during the school year, which between all the sites serves over 2,000 children. But for some reason this 6-week period is one of my most intense time periods. It is many months of preparation, which seems disproportionate to the length of the program. However, it is vibrant and a time when one feels a great sense of accomplishment (this year had many challenges with construction at several of our facilities).
As a coordinator, I love the energy, passion, humor and commitment of the AmeriCorps members. They are beginning new adventures for weeks 7 and 8 of Summer Learning. Like me, they are ready for Community Connection to conclude and to experience new programs (Summer Stretcher, Summer Saunters and Camp Friends).
I congratulate these folks for a job very well done!
We match federal dollars with private and public state and local resources to address local problems using local solutions and resources in support of services, labor and the personal/professional development of AmeriCorps members, their students, families and community. Our focus area is Education, and our primary audience is potentially at-risk students due to income-eligible households as defined by free and reduced lunch eligibility.
I refer to it as a win, win, win, win, win, win, win, situation. By that I mean the students tutored and mentored win. Their families benefit. The teachers and staff benefit. The host sites win. The community at large wins, especially when we also consider the community service projects and events the members plan, participate and engage in. The AmeriCorps family, including the Corporation for National & Community Service, Serve Wisconsin and our grant’s fiscal agent, North Central Community Action Program all win because what we accomplish is all in line with each entity’s mission statement, goals and purpose. I win, because it is especially rewarding to work for a worthwhile and meaningful cause that I sincerely believe in. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the members who serve win as they develop, grow and mature both personally and professionally. They, along with the students they serve are our future, and as I contemplate and reflect upon our impact, I am filled with hope for our future! The care, compassion, concern and dedication that I witness and experience within this program and community is awe-inspiring. The tears I’ve heard about in the school’s faculty restrooms due to the stress, anger and/or frustration of the situation at hand are as real as the tears I encounter in the AmeriCorps office as members describe their personal challenges that are heightened by the nearly overwhelming challenges of their AmeriCorps positions, responsibilities and commitment coupled with the tasks of making ends meet on a “modest” AmeriCorps living allowance. And then, there are the tears at the end of each program year, as members attend their students’ graduation ceremonies, and receive the hugs from the little elementary students they’d helped learn and grow throughout the year as they all recognize that this chapter is coming to a close…
I am most impressed by this latter win. It is what we refer to as member development. AmeriCorps is, similar to what Peace Corps was for me, a life-changing experience. I’ve grown on to see, recognize and appreciate the bigger picture, and understand my role in it. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my efforts do make a difference, and that my impact is significant, even when it seems simply miniscule. And I am proud of this. I believe we all have reason to be proud. I am grateful for the support of those around me, both personally and professionally. I am content that my community, both locally and globally is benefitting from the investment of AmeriCorps and matching resources. I am with AmeriCorps, and I will get things done!
Steve Frodl has been the NCCAP AmeriCorps Team – Greater Wausau Area Program Director for a bit over eight years. He was an AmeriCorps Host Site Supervisor prior to that for five years with the Boys & Girls Club at DC Everest/Greenheck and for two years with the Salvation Army Community Center. He served three years with the Peace Corps in the Comoros, Africa after graduating from the UW Madison with a degree in French and a Certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language. He has worked in some capacity with Education his entire adult life, and considers himself to be a life-long student/learner.