Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our mission: End homelessness, impact poverty and remove barriers to self-sufficiency for the families we serve.

It’s really cold here this morning. The temperature is still in the teens.
During another cold snap the week before Christmas, we took in a family of six on an emergency basis. The father told a co-worker at his new job that his family had no place to stay. Because of the frigid temperatures, the emergency shelters were full.
The co-worker took him home to stay at his house, but the family didn’t want to impose when they saw how many people were already living there.
Instead they asked to sleep in his car overnight - turning it on and off to stay warm.
The next day the co-worker took the family to two different emergency shelters, but they weren’t allowed to stay because the parents weren’t married.
The co-worker knew our Housing Coordinator Tammy Mayhue, so he called to ask us for help.
Tammy and our Children’s Program Director Ryan Blake stayed late to help the family settle into one of our Immediate Housing apartments. The next morning, our Intake Specialist Holly Gardner interviewed them and admitted them to our Interim Housing Program.
When we asked if anyone could help the family out at this late date, one of our board members, Dr. Raymond Cattaneo, reached out to others and made sure this family of strangers had a Christmas.
We are truly blessed by all of the board members, staff, volunteers and donors who have taken this mission into your hearts.
Happy New Year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Surviving to thriving

By: CTI Case Manager Sara Barrett
This Christmas is bringing a whole new kind of gift to a Community LINC family. Jodi came to Community LINC to gain independence from a cycle of domestic violence that was dangerous to her and her children.
Jodi was housed in a  rental home within thirty days of her entry to Community LINC's campus. She held on to her job in Customer Service and managed to keep her three children in school. However, working off of one income was a new challenge for Jodi.
Upon moving into her rental home, Jodi agreed to participate in Aftercare Services, including weekly case management. During that time, Jodi was able to develop new spending habits and secure a manageable budget for her family. This opened up an opportunity for her to continue her finance and business education and grow her very small business she ran out of her home. In addition, Jodi was able to purchase a new vehicle to improve her transportation and allow her children to be in extra-curricular activities to promote their social well-being.
Because of her drive and her responsibility in using the resources offered to her, Jodi was referred to a program in the community which could provide her with the opportunity for no-interest home ownership.  Jodi's story captivated community leaders, and this Christmas, to her surprise she will receive ownership of a new home in her name.
Jodi is proof of a motto Aftercare Clients often repeat throughout their time in services; "I don't have to just survive, I can thrive." Community LINC not only gives families a boost in finding and acquiring housing, but opens doors to financial stability, community resources and ownership.
In one year, Jodi changed her situation from homeless to homeowner, car owner and small business owner...she is a picture of thriving, not just surviving.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Intake Matters: One family at a time

By Intake & Resident Specialist Holly Gardner
I’m sure there are many factors, both conscious and subjective, that play into screening a family into our program. Everyone who enters the program is literally homeless, has a dependent child, and has barriers that make it difficult to get housing.  Beyond that, the differences can be vast. Educational levels vary, work experience and aptitude and, most importantly to me, attitude.
Ms. D and her children were referred to us from one of the area shelters.  She could only be housed there for 30 days so they referred the family to us.
Just prior to entering a shelter, she had been living with her mother who had lost her job and was evicted.  This left Ms. D without shelter or support. She found herself having to be more resourceful in finding help for her family.
Maybe because she is about the same age my oldest daughter would be and thinking on that - how hard it must be to not only be homeless but have your support system as you know it completely break down - but her story touched me. This is a multigenerational family crisis and this young woman has maintained a positive attitude in spite of her circumstances.
She was composed, well-spoken, and always saying ..."I need to do the next best thing I can for my kids."  She took responsibility for her current situation and did not seem to place blame or dwell on the past. It was always ... "I need to do the next best thing I can for my kids."
Ms. D  moved in and was working in the job lab the very next day.  Clearly, she was on a mission.
During her group orientation, she shared her experience at Community LINC thus far. She is in love! She explained that she can finally lay her babies down at night and rest fully.  She feels like she has a safe place to rejuvenate and it makes her feel excited for her future.
Yes, attitude makes such a difference, and yes, intake matters.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Therapy Matters: Hope springs eternal

By Director of Mental Wellness Gail Byers
Community LINC provides counseling for adults and children. 
A major challenge is addressing the stigma of mental health being synonymous with being perceived as ‘being crazy.’  So you can only imagine the response of parents when they are told their child will be receiving counseling services.
As a result, we also focus on developing relationships with parents via parenting classes and access to the respective child therapists for guidance as well as crisis intervention.  This has been instrumental as a catalyst of change of the perception, the value and acceptance of mental health.  It is about laying seeds, seeds that educate, increase understanding and promote overall well-being. 
The fact is that in this current society our children are not always ‘seen’…we don’t take into consideration that whatever lifestyle we as parents are leading, negative or positive, is the exact same lifestyle our children are exposed to.  We often focus on developing coping and social skills for adults, not acknowledging that our children need the same skill sets.
Our children are sometimes not seen until they ‘act out’ which is how children communicate when they do not have the tools to express themselves appropriately. 
Community LINC recognized and addressed the mental health needs of the children served. 
So far, the children have welcomed the experience of being in counseling.  It is certainly a win-win situation.  The child has someone who has their undivided attention and listens to them.  Listening is an expression of love.
This is a tremendous support to the parent, the parent who is in the process of establishing or re-establishing his/her stability. 
When the children come into counseling the therapist always talks to them about confidentiality. 
One parent reported that she asked her son what he and his therapist talked about and his response was “that’s between me and my therapist.”  Out of the mouths of babes. 
These positive experiences will encourage families to seek mental health services beyond Community LINC.
Why, because the myth has been dispelled.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Program Matters: Reflections

By Senior Director of Programs & Operations, Jeannine Short
With the end of the year approaching, I’ve stolen moments of time to reflect on my personal experiences, challenges, accomplishments, and perhaps missed opportunities; and have asked myself “did the year really count?”
As I expand these reflections to the work that we do as an agency, I have to wonder if we have really made a difference in the lives of the families we serve. Were we at times so enmeshed in our day-to-day functions that we missed the small opportunities? Did we become so overwhelmed by the challenges of a new program model that our efforts seemed and felt futile? Did the year really count?
Perhaps the answer to both questions is yes, but when I remember the stories…. The family of six that we moved into a unit within an hour of hearing that they had slept in a car the night before; the single dad who became obviously overwhelmed when it “hit” him that he could finally provide a stable environment for his two girls; and the mother who, after paying off her debts and moving to permanent housing, exclaimed that she had never ever felt so free and relieved.
When I reflect on these and similar stories,  I think I can say that it’s been a good year, and yes, it did count!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Jobs Matter: Preparing for maximum return

By Employment Specialist Constance Taylor
Because the barriers are enormous due to poor choices made once upon a time, T decided one of the ways to increase his employability was to make himself a more attractive candidate. 
Although, he has altered his past approach to life, he also decided to improve his probability in the selection process by sharpening his skills and knowledge.  In the past few months, he has become certified to drive a forklift and is currently attending G.E.D. classes. 
He not only wants to prove his worthiness by working every day at a minimum wage job, but the object is to demonstrate that he is dependable, reliable and trustworthy. 
He has a broad future ahead of him, a wife and a child to care for.  His goal is to strive to become trained and educated until he maximizes his potential and creates the living wage he desires.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Programs Matter: Because money matters

By Housing Coordinator Tammy Mayhue
Residents who have jobs and income begin working with a volunteer budgeter and establishing savings as soon as possible after they come into the program.  The vision is to teach residents with income how to save and maximize their money by keeping all receipts from pay period to pay period and learning to budget spending. 

A while ago, Dave, one of the budgeters, asked “What happens to participants who are not assigned budgeters due to little or no income?  How are they being helped with money management?”  These were very good questions because in life skills we teach our families that it does not matter how much money you earn, but how you spend the money you earn. 
Dave suggested a workshop for families who fall into the group of little or no income so that they begin to learn, even if there isn’t much for them to apply it to. Teams of two budgeters teach about money management, savings and budgeting.  Participants are in a small group setting which makes it possible for families to share, if they like, and ask questions. 
The budget workshop has received some excellent feedback from the participants.  Community LINC is grateful to Dave and the team of budgeters for their commitment to the families they serve.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Aftercare Matters: Thankful

By Aftercare CTI Case Manager Sara Barrett
Thanksgiving takes on new meaning for those families who have graduated from Community LINC’s Interim Housing program and moved into in-home Aftercare Services.
“Thanksgiving doesn’t require a turkey or a huge gathering. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of that stuff. But Thanksgiving is a heart issue. Look at all I have, Sara,” said a current Aftercare client.
Sitting at her dining table, we surveyed the rooms around us and made note of how the once bare apartment now looked like a home.
We took time to talk about the successes achieved since leaving Community LINC’s onsite program.
“I have so much to be thankful for every day. We will celebrate the holiday with a special meaning this year, in our home, but we carry thanksgiving in our hearts every day for what Community LINC has done for us.”
Once again, I am humbled and challenged by the words of the clients we serve every day.  I often forget the humanness behind the work we do, and how, really, we could not do it without them.
Thanksgiving takes on new meaning this year for me, as the Aftercare worker, also. I am thankful for the honor of walking with them on a piece of their journey of rebuilding their lives and thankful for the humble insight they offer to the real meaning behind days like Thanksgiving, a treasure often forgotten during the busyness of the holiday.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Families Matter: A new role for some fathers

By Family Coach Frenchie Pulluaim
One of the fastest growing homeless family types is that of fathers raising children.  Due to chronic drug issues, domestic abuse and mental wellness, fathers are finding themselves as the sole caretaker and provider for their children. 
Mr. F. G. is one of those fathers. 
We always think of women when we hear about abusive relationships, but we are finding abuse to be an equal opportunity issue.  Mr. F. G. found himself to be a victim and was injured by someone connected to his estranged wife.  Although he suffered life altering injuries and scars, he was left to support and care for his two daughters.  His injuries caused him to lose his employment and his home.  But, he continued to have faith because of his love for his daughters.  He immediately began to work on his comeback, struggling to make ends meet until he applied and entered the City Union Mission homeless shelter. 
He received a referral to Community LINC for rapid re-housing back in October.  He quickly began to job search and apply for positions.  He was hired in November, and he immediately started applying for childcare and other services that would assist him until he made his first pay check. 
He found it virtually impossible to get through the process of applying for childcare, but he stuck with it, his family filling in where they could, etc.  He still has not gotten state paid child care, although he is eligible.
Mr. F. G. is learning the pitfalls of having to depend on programs and agencies. The process sometimes seem never ending, and you are at the mercy of the social worker following through for the services you are applying for.  Mistakes often happen, but sadly it is the person who is in crisis and in desperate need for services who pays the price for the mistakes.
Mr. F. G. is saving and working hard to pay fines and tickets that are keeping him from getting his driver’s license. His next step will be to purchase a car as soon as possible.  A car will make it much easier to get his girls to daycare and assist to work each day.
He has won several gift cards at work for quality control, (Panera Gift card, and Applebee’s Gift card). 
Mr. F. G. is a hard worker and is focused on getting permanent housing for him and his daughters.  I appreciate the opportunity to work with him and his family.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Children Matter: College should be an option

By Children’s Program Director Ryan Blake
Recently I sat in on one of our teen classes while they were discussing where they saw themselves in 5 years.
One of our young men said with a very sad tone that he was going to have to join the military. I met with him the next day to discuss his answer. He explained to me that his mother had a rule that once he and his brothers graduate high school they had to either go to college, join the military, or move out and work full time.
I asked why he had already picked the military. He said college was “out of picture” for him because of his grades and how much it costs. He continued by explaining that he wouldn’t be able to afford the things he wanted in life with a job that only required a high school degree. He continued by saying that he didn’t really want to join the military but he thought that was his only realistic option.
 The next day I met with him to discuss admissions standards to local colleges and scheduled a tour of UMKC. After the tour I asked him if he thought college was a realistic option for him and he told me that if he tried harder in school he might have a shot at getting into a college.
I have been amazed at how many of our students don’t know anything about college or believe that they have the ability to go to college. The fact is many of our students know more adults who have been incarcerated than have graduated from college.
One of the goals we have for our teens is that education after high school is an option for them. For this reason we are now making it possible for each of our teens to visit universities while they live at Community LINC.
For the young man who was planning on joining the military, seeing UMKC made the idea of college more real for him. He also was able to make the connection between working hard in school now and reaching his goals in the future!   

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Volunteers Matter: Behind the Scenes

By Volunteer Coordinator Kate Nevins
At Community LINC, we are very grateful for our regular program volunteers, who help us deliver services to families. These volunteers help with budgeting, healthy lifestyles, in the Employment Lab and in the Children’s Program. We couldn’t achieve our mission without them, and they deserve all the recognition and appreciation we can show.
However, there is another group of volunteers who serve Community LINC less visibly to clients, visitors and fans of Community LINC, although they are just as essential to our efficacy. The board of directors and professional committee members are constantly working “behind the scenes” to help us improve operations and ensure that we are growing in the right directions.
In addition to our board of directors, we have committees for marketing, finance, public policy, buildings and sites and human resources. The people who serve on the board and in these committees share generously their skills and their time, and the end result is that they help hold us accountable to our mission.
In the season of gratitude, I would like to thank all of our “behind the scenes” volunteers helping us impact poverty and end homelessness.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A hand up for the parents for the sake of the kids

By CEO/Executive Director Laura Gray
Because we are celebrating our 25th year, I did some research to see what prompted the community to form Community LINC back in the middle of 1988.
Would it surprise you to know that the term homeless first began being used in the 80’s? Before that, terms like hobos and bums were used. That tells you that most of the homeless before the 80’s were thought to be single men.
The 80’s marked an increase in visibility for the homeless. Instead of being concentrated in certain areas of a city, people saw homeless people sleeping in parks, on the street, etc.
Community LINC was started because some concerned people became aware that there were homeless families, as well.
Even in the 80’s though, homeless families weren’t highly visible. They stayed with family or friends, or lived out of their cars, rather than sleeping on a grate or a park bench.
It was more likely that the congregations and the homes association were approached for assistance and that lead them to create a program to end homelessness for families.
What struck me is that the values of the organization have been so consistent over all these years. The belief in “a hand up, not a hand out” has been a guiding principle from the beginning.