Friday, December 11, 2015

When Failure is Not an Option

By Employment Services Manager Constance Taylor

Lanette’s life took a spiral turn for the worse after interviewing and waiting for 2 weeks to report to a new job and discovering that they had hired someone else. It never entered her mind that she would hear the words, we couldn’t wait and we had to hire someone else immediately.  Now she had no income and she and her three boys had to go to a homeless shelter.

In our interview she discussed her past poor choices openly and convinced our team that failure was not an option. She was definitely motivated and ready to move forward. Her barriers were overwhelming but we knew she would do well because of the   compelling discussion concerning the goals she set for herself and her family. She was honest about the past mistakes that landed her in prison and was determined to take the steps necessary to improve her future. It was not the jail stay that changed her mind but her desire to become independent and self-sufficient. She wanted to work a professional career, earn a livable wage, dwell in a nice home, and care for her family. She won the battle against alcoholism and was ready to put the pieces back together.

She told me one day, “My boys are watching me and I have no choice but to make this work.” She hit the ground running. Every morning she would come to the lab ready to go: dressed for an interview, her hair well groomed, and a big smile on her face.

We discussed that networking would be her best asset. She went to every job fair, every felon-friendly assistance program, and tons of community events. Lanette did everything possible for a person with her background to secure employment. She knew she had to work ten times harder than the next person. She came to the job lab every day and attended the life skills and budgeting classes. She meets with her Case Manager and also receives encouragement from the Mental Wellness Manager.

She was not afraid or opposed to taking baby steps but knew she needed a good job to cover her family’s monthly expenses. She went to interviews each week repeating her story of defeat and remorse. 

The day finally came when she told me that she had landed a position making $13.65 as a customer service representative. Not only is she feeling self-sufficient again, but she has regained her self-esteem and sense of purpose. Her sons and Community LINC were the motivation and support she needed to regain her independence.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"

By Mental Wellness Services Manager, Griselda Williams

Most of us have heard the poem by Robert Fulghum. In his poem he shares how we learn life skills early in life.  In Kindergarten we learn to take turns, have respect for others and their property, how to play fair and how to care for our bodies with nutrition and hygiene.

I was not allowed to attend Kindergarten as I was raised in rural Missouri during the time of the civil rights movement and discrimination kept me from attending school until the first grade. I did however have a strong, supportive, resilient family and extended family that made sure I learned these skills for life.  I was fortunate as a child to have been taught these skills because occasionally I see a parent or two here at Community LINC who was not taught these life skills.

Often in our parent groups we discuss topics like discipline, child development and we even discuss the parent as a role model for their child. These conversations make me realize that some of our parents weren’t shown or taught these skills but are now trying to learn these skills. This is truly exciting because even though they may not have been given these skills, most want them for their children. One parent shared the challenges she experienced as a result of not being given such skills, because she was not taught how to “hold hands and stick together”. Instead, in her family, she was often hit and screamed at and her family did not work together as a team. Another parent asked questions about how to teach his children to play nicely with one another as the two older children often bullied the younger sibling.

Those that ask these questions are often the families that grow in their awareness of life skills in the four months they reside here at Community LINC. When we see these things as staff, it continues to inspire us because we can be instrumental in assisting some of our parents with learning what others did in Kindergarten and they in turn can pass them on to the next generation.

 “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten"
By Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need
to know about how to live
and what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sand pile at Sunday school.
These are the things I learned
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life
Learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance
and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world
Watch out for traffic
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Children's Matters: Resilient Tree

By Children's Program Coordinator, Josh Chittum

A fantastically-talented volunteer with the Children’s Program painted this Resiliency Tree in our elementary program space a few weeks ago. There are three ingredients that help resiliency grow, which we emphasize to our children and youth. These ingredients are: thinking about what you have as opposed to what you don’t have; thinking about what you can do as opposed to what you can’t do; and thinking about who you are and the things you like about yourself.

Each month, children will decorate or write a sentence on a leaf that highlights one area in their life that boosts their resiliency. Each leaf will fall into one of the three categories discussed above. Last week was the first time children were able to hang their decorated leaves and they all thoroughly enjoyed it. Their leaves included statements like:

I have a loving family
I am sweet
I am respectful
I am cool
I can follow the rules

I feel fantastic when we give our children opportunities to focus on what’s right in their lives rather than what’s wrong. Of course, we don’t do it because it gives me warm fuzzy feelings. We do it because it’s necessary and beautiful for our children to recognize and internalize how awesome they are. Ultimately, this resiliency tree is a metaphor for the resiliency inside each of them. The mural gives them an opportunity to share with others the beauty of their internal tree. Our programming offers water and fertilizer, but the kids themselves are the ones to make their resiliency grow stronger and more beautiful. That’s how amazing they are.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Putting the Past Behind

 By Employment Job Coach, Constance Taylor

It’s always exciting to see a Community LINC graduate family gainfully employed, in their permanent home and happy again. I recently walked into a gas station and heard a voice call my name. A former Community LINC resident, Jalissa, spotted me, and told me, “I thank God for Community LINC. I knew I could do it but the program really helped me get it together. We have our own place now, I have a car, and I am still working. I am a manager at the store now. We are so happy. One of her children said to me, “I spilled some ice cream on the seat, but my mother wiped it off.” WOW but a sight to behold! For the next several days, I cried every time I thought of them.

I remember the day this young lady showed up in my office really sad and discouraged about her life. We cried together. She had a temp job when she entered the program, but was not hired on full time. She shared how she was tired of instability, and wanted a better life for her son as he grew older and more aware of their lifestyle. She told me how her son would lie down beside her in bed at night and ask questions trying to understand her life.  I told her that her life could be different.

 We cried and prayed and she left determined to do something different. Finally it happened, Jalissa got a job working as a sales associate. I would see her walk some of her children to daycare, put others on the school bus and then walk to work. She continued to put money in her savings and finally she was ready to move to her new home.

Jalissa and her children are happy. She received a promotion at work, and with her new budgeting skills, was able to purchase her own car. She overcame her barriers and created a healthy, wholesome environment for her children. She vows to never go back but only move forward. This is how you put the past behind. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Power of Language

By Victoria Stracke, CTI Case Manager

Language is powerful. We have the opportunity, especially as front line workers, to empower the people we work with. This begins with the words we use and the way we frame our sentences. As an example: Is someone homeless? Or are they experiencing homelessness? The first sentence is likely the more popular phrase, but places someone in a box. It allows homelessness to define an individual. The second phrase comes from a mindset that the person is just that, a person.

When we use person-centered language, we acknowledge the challenges someone is facing while still recognizing their humanity and individuality. Person-centered language is hopeful, instead of placing someone in the role of “victim. “Individuals identify less with their challenges or limitations, and instead see a path for change and growth.

Communication is a powerful tool that can, and does, influence perspective (not only for individuals, but society as well). In knowing this, I am making a personal effort to be mindful of my words, especially when working with our residents. I believe by doing this, we have the opportunity to help our residents see past their barriers and provide them with the hope they need to imagine a brighter future for themselves—a future where they are not defined by where they live or what they can afford, but instead are recognized for who they are and what they are capable of.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Finding Community in Kansas City

By Myra Jenkins, Children’s Program Volunteer

Community LINC is a community within Kansas City.  In these buildings, there is a vibrant, safe place to call home. Though temporary, it offers support and steps to heal, regroup, and stabilize.  Staff, therapists, facilitators, advocates and donors come together with families in time of need. 

At Community LINC I have the privilege of being a Volunteer Advocate with the Children’s Program.  While parents receive support and skills to be re-housed and employed, we are trusted and responsible for watching over their children and teens – the neighborhood’s children.  I am part of a team that provides an environment for stress-free fun and learning resilience during a period of sudden change, stress, and uncertainty. 

I grew up in a family that felt being part of a community was a privilege that came with responsibility.  Through my parents I learned the importance and benefits of belonging to a community.  Every individual and family in our neighborhood was an active participant on one level or another, at one time or another, which allowed our community to thrive.

Our community came together in times of celebration, support or need.  Borrowing an egg, a cup of sugar, an ear to listen, giving a kind word and watching over the neighborhood children not only took care of a need, but bonded families and affirmed that we all needed each other.  It is how the good Lord made us – human.   It is how places become communities.  Though I am now miles away from that neighborhood and now call Kansas City my home, I continue to live life in the same spirit of sharing and service.

If being a member of a community means giving and receiving for the good of the community, then yes, I have become a member in Kansas City at Community LINC. I offer only time, support and friendship, but my spirit has gained so much more from this opportunity, this community.

Volunteering is a part of who I am and it all started as a teenager. My first volunteer role was candy striper at the local hospital. As an adult, I volunteered in hospice, as a grief facilitator, as a patient advocate in both nursing and assisted-living facilities, as a high school parent liaison. I volunteered with the American Red Cross during Hurricane Katrina, and with other various church and community activities. 

Life changes have blessed me with an opportunity to pursue a new career and because volunteerism has impacted my life, I am currently completing a degree in social work at the University of Central Missouri.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Acceptance Instead of Judgement

By Dacia Moore, Aftercare Mental Wellness Therapist

 “I want to be a momma!” That is the slide that changed my life. 
On Wednesday, I attended a lunch presentation on poverty.  The speaker, Dr. Donna M. Beegle, is a former homeless woman who has successfully risen out of poverty to the middle class with an earned doctorate and financial stability.

Her presentation described how we, as community leaders/helpers can be more impactful when dealing with people in poverty.  Donna, as she likes to be called, lived in generational poverty.  Her parents and grandparents were migrant workers. That was the expectation she had for her life as well, but something changed her.  It was a pilot program that helped her move from poverty to the middle class.  Donna shares her story around the country, helping agencies and schools understand poverty, not only from her own personal experience, but also from the communication theory and resiliency theory body or research.

During the middle of her presentation she displayed a slide…  “I want to be a momma.”  Donna went on to explain that many people in poverty already feel hopeless about their future.  They don’t expect to do better, they don’t believe they will be successful and they struggle with self-esteem issues.  Since everybody wants to feel good about something, what’s left?  “I may never be rich, but I know that at least I can be a good momma,” is the thinking of many women in poverty. 

I was stunned.  I have been struggling with the fact that a few of my aftercare clients are pregnant, again.  My middle class mind was thinking, “How can you have another baby? And WHY would you want another baby?  You can’t afford the kids you have now!”

But that is Donna’s point. Our clients don’t have middle class thinking; they think differently than we do, and as providers, we need to understand that.

As an example, before having this “ah-ha” moment, I may have responded to this client by saying “Can you afford a child right now?  That may not be a good decision.”

Now, after my ah-ha moment, I may respond with “I understand you want to make a difference with somebody and matter.  Let’ talk more about that.”

Do you see the difference?  Response one was judgmental, not at all what my client needs.

Response two is more understanding and accepting; it keeps the door open for more conversations.

As providers we need to understand the culture of poverty and not be so quick to judge or rescue. 

I’m working with an agency to bring Donna back to KC and will make sure that we all have the opportunity to attend.  I sure hope she returns, I could use some more “ah-ha” moments. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Mother's Dream Come True

By Constance Taylor, Employment Job Coach

When Edwina joined our family at Community LINC she was very pleasant, but withdrawn and extremely independent. Although she wanted to finish college and get her degree she knew her highest priority was to continue working to secure permanent housing for herself and her two little boys. School would have to wait until the future as her children needed a place to call home.

Edwina had a few barriers prevented her from moving forward:  lack of transportation and several outstanding bills.  After working with Edwina and noticing her attitude towards reaching her goals, I realized that she was highly self-motivated.  She was introduced to Community LINC at the right time. Having a place to stay for a few months without the responsibility of paying rent and utilities, she was able to put herself in better financial position by saving her money.  Within a short time she had located a warrant amnesty program which removed $3,000 in traffic tickets and fees. Her face truly beamed as she shared her good news. Without a valid driver’s license and reliable transportation, Edwina had struggled to maintain employment and was unable to transport her children to and from daycare.  Through the Community LINC budgeting classes and savings plan she will be able to soon purchase her own car

Sometimes our dreams are not always bright lights.  Edwina works a split shift at a local restaurant.  In between shifts she picks her children up at the daycare and brings them home. Later she returns the children to daycare, then returns to work to finish her next shift.  Although she is making minimum wage Edwin has managed to save more than $1,000.  A few weeks ago, during apartment inspections, we entered Edwina’s apartment and found her fast asleep still in her work uniform.  Edwina wants the best for herself and her children and is willing to do all she can to overcome homelessness.  Recently, she informed me that she located an outside agency to assist in paying off a past judgement that will clear the way for her to move into the apartment complex of her choice with her boys.

After she moves to her new home, her next goal is to improve her income and finish school. One of the most exciting things in the world for me is to witness participants like Edwina overcome their barriers and move forward. The big smile on her face every time she meets an expectation is an over the top experience that brings my heart joy. Edwina and her sons are definitely moving in the right direction to become self- sufficient again.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Children's Matters: The Barriers to Change

By Josh Chittum, Children's Program Coordinator

         Ending homelessness and transforming lives are the phrases that inform our mission.  As we carry this mission out, I intimately observe the process of change in the families we work with. From the outside looking in, this process can become frustrating, especially when time is of the essence to secure permanent housing. This frustration subsides when the reality of the difficulties of change in my personal life come into focus. Recently, something came into focus in a very vivid way and helped me gain a new layer of empathy for our program participants.

         It started with my anxiety. Since my earliest memory, I've experienced anxiety in some shape or form. Panic Attack Disorder started as a teenager. And for the majority of the last ten years, every time I've left my house I've carried a little orange bottle that serves as my safety blanket in case anxiety attacks me while I’m having dinner with friends. 

         Roughly one year ago I sought to take another step forward, having previously taken many steps, in my quest to escape anxiety’s grip. I purchased a book that came highly recommended and its intention was to teach the reader how to combat the worried mind with mindful acceptance of that worry. In the opening pages the author stated that my dependency upon that little orange pill bottle actually made things worse. Cutting myself off from it, he argued, would in the long run improve my coping skills and lessen my symptoms. This concept would not sink into my brain deep enough for full comprehension. Instead, I viscerally rejected the idea and placed the book off to the side where it has since remained unopened.

        Then, a few months ago my wife and I went camping and I placed the bottle in my camping pack. Returning back to the city and back to the routine of work I realized after three or four days that the medication was not on my person. I had forgotten to unpack it from the camping trip and I gasped at the fact that nothing terrible had occurred. In fact, in the following weeks I weaned myself off the pill bottle almost completely and indeed my symptoms have improved. 

        These are the messy stages of change. Incomprehension. Fear. Resistance. Painfully slow steps forward and backward. And forward again. It is unbelievably hard to implement change, even when I do not have the same set of obstacles before me as the wonderful people I interact with every single day at Community LINC.

        While some of our residents are fully aware of the changes they need to make and are working towards those changes, they cannot flip an immediate switch. Others are more like me and viscerally react to a proposed new way of doing things. They put the idea on a shelf for another, unidentified time in the future. 

        But as an agency, even when those individuals are not yet ready to wrestle with the scariness that change presents, we continue to walk with them. We listen to them. We provide resources to them. We encourage them. We may even gently push them at certain times. And we plant seeds in them. These seeds may not sprout until months or years after they've left. But that’s the true anatomy of change. That's the work I’m proud of us for doing. That's the work of transforming lives. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Toxic Relationships

By Dacia Moore, Licensed Professional Counselor

I am reading a book this summer entitled Toxic Relationships by Dr. Clinton W. McLemore.  It is an in- depth look at styles of communication and how some patterns of interaction can be more hurtful then helpful.  According to the author, “toxic relationships leave you feeling gray inside and sometimes sick.  They may prompt you to get down on yourself or become angry at the world.”

 So many of our program participants are dealing with toxic relationships.  Here at Community LINC, we try to show them a different way of interacting with others and with the world.  And to me, that is one of the major challenges that we address in the mental wellness health department. We help our residents become less “toxic” and learn to identify a potentially toxic relationship early on.  We even discuss how a family member or a spouse can be toxic and how to manage that relationship.

One example is a client that I am working with in the aftercare program. Ms. C appears to be married to a toxic man.  When she doesn’t do as he commands or drop everything and give him her full attention, he ridicules her, tells her she is a bad wife and a terrible Christian. He calls out her name and embarrasses her in front of her children.  As a result, Ms. C gets so upset and stressed out that she goes to work late, if at all, and has become physically ill on more than one occasion. 

As the Aftercare Therapist, my job is to help her, and all of our aftercare clients, to think more rationally so that they don’t make an emotional decision that leads them back down the path to homelessness. When you are in a toxic relationship like Ms. C that is a real possibility.  Ms. C and I have a good relationship and she now calls me right after an incident so I can help her calm down, think clearly and make good decisions for her future. She is not ready to leave this toxic relationship yet, so, I will help her navigate through her difficulties until (if ever) she is.

Toxic relationships are everywhere and our residents seem to struggle with them more often than most.  That is why the mental wellness health and aftercare components of our program are so important.  They help our clients identify when they are getting close to a toxic situation, and teach them tools to use for self-calming and self-care so they can continue their upward progress towards permanent housing and a good life.

Ms. C is doing better now, but still needs help (don’t we all!).  Thank goodness for a community of caring people who work with our clients at each step of our program to show them a different way of doing things that is not TOXIC!!! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Supporting Our Families Through Complex Trauma.

By Griselda Williams, Mental Wellness Manager

I recently read an article from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. The article explored Complex Trauma in adults and children who have experienced homelessness. Complex Trauma was identified as “exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive interpersonal nature”, i.e. physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, community and domestic violence. The article lists things to look for in parents who are traumatized when they enter a shelter or housing assistance program:
  •  Easily overwhelmed, irritated, or withdrawn
  • May suddenly “fly off the handle” or “shut down” (called numbing emotions)
  • May be disorganized in thought or speech or have trouble remembering detail, completing parenting tasks, attending appointments and/or following through on requests
  • Difficulty separating emotions from those of their children and may have difficulty providing what their children need, like a sense of safety and structure
  • May lack knowledge of appropriate developmental stages in their children
  • Repeated trauma may impair the ability to be open to participation in available services
 Focusing on the parent reactions due to trauma is helpful for me as a mental health provider. This list helps me remember that if a parent does not appear to engage with staff right away, the impact may be a result of trauma. When the parent appears too anxious to focus on tasks or regularly forgets appointments or action steps related to goals, the impact of trauma may be the barrier. Sometimes we as staff may think that a parent does not want to engage in our program but what may really be impacting them is their traumatic event history. If we think back to a really traumatic time in our lives, i.e. the death of a loved one, job loss, an assault or divorce , we may have had a difficult time focusing, or we may appear withdrawn to others. Perhaps we had a difficult time returning to work after the trauma or we engaged in behaviors that were not supportive to us at the time. It was probably difficult to function well but given that we were responding from a “trauma point of view” we too may have reacted as the parent we see in our program. The authors of the article had recommendations for those of us in the helping field:
  •  Work with families to enhance a sense of safety
  • Take time to build trust
  • Listen without judgement
  • End policies that have unintended negative consequences
  • Adopt a harm-reduction approach
 The article suggested that we remember that traumatic experiences may make it difficult for our families to form trusting relationships in a brief amount of time. How many times have we as staff remarked that it took a parent a few months to fully engage in our program, develop trusting relationships and move forward on goals. The great thing is the parent was able to do so, once they felt safe in the village and felt that staff were here to support them not hurt them. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

So Very Appreciative and Deserving

By Constance Taylor, Employment Services Job Coach

I get such an awesome opportunity as a job coach to work with families like Sharon and her teenage daughter.  They are such a delight to watch as they scurry together trying to put their lives in motion.

Sharon ended up in homelessness after helping to care for her parents.  Her father passed away and her mother is in a nursing home unable to care for herself. Shortly after, unable to maintain the expenses of the home, they had to move out of the house.

Sharon has a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and is working part-time as a cashier/front desk attendant. She is willing to do whatever it takes to put her family back together again.

She is confident, but humble enough to work with our volunteer budgeters and staff learning new skills. She is appreciative of everything anyone does for her family. Her daughter is enrolled in Mind Drive, which is an engineering and science-based program for teens. She is also in job training for teens at the Halo Foundation.   

This is a woman deserving of good things. She works hard and desires to reach her potential. She also exposes her daughter to many learning opportunities.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Intake Matters: Change

By Holly Gardner, Intake Specialist

In our lobby there is a sign that greets staff and families every day.  It reads:  Change is not only inevitable, it is essential to survival. Why fear it or fight it when you can simply embrace it?  

Our families bring a host of experiences with them.  We help them organize and define next steps not just with housing; our services include budgeting, health and wellness, and referrals for legal and other issues.  We coach, we encourage and one of the primary things we see our families struggling with and preparing for is change.

Our application asks people to write down some of the things that have contributed to their current situation.  Some people write lengthy narratives about jobs, relatives, health.  Some people write a sentence or two and do their best to articulate what was and is happening in their lives.  One thing they all have in common is coping with major changes.  Loss of employment and/or a significant other are usually high on the list of contributing factors. We see bruised egos, we see loss of confidence. But in these conversations we also see the bright, burning light of perseverance.  We see them in their next job, a better job.  We see them in a home, a more stable home.  We see their kids coming and going from home base.  We see the family around the table having meals and being an active part of their new community. We let them know in all the ways we can that there may be ups and downs but they are not walking this walk alone.

Change is all around us.  It is a factor of being.  We know not all change is welcome and sometimes it brings heartaches, but it also brings growth. Here at Community LINC we do our best to embrace it, welcome it and understand it comes with living, it is inevitable.  How we choose to cope with change is what helps us adapt and eventually to thrive again. Opening ourselves up to others and asking for help can also bring change, sometimes needed and necessary to reach our goals. Today as I leave the office and go home to my busy little family. I will glance at that reminder on our wall and smile. Yes, for the most part, change is GOOD! Thanks again for the reminder.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Children's Matters: Protective Factors for Families

By Josh Chittum, Children's Program Director

Our Manager of Mental Health Services has written recently about the village effect here at Community LINC. Out of all the various members of the village, it is the family unit, small micro-villages themselves that I’d like to focus upon for this week’s blog. As Community LINC’s Children’s Program Coordinator I frequently witness the intimate ways in which families function. I see how families struggle as well as how families rely on their strengths. I also notice the impact that family health has on children and youth and their development.

To better understand the role family dynamics has on children, I traveled to Jefferson City in April for a fantastic conference organized by the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund. During the conference I attended two training sessions on a curriculum developed by the University of Missouri Extension in collaboration with the Children’s Trust Fund, Project Launch, and Missouri Department of Mental Health.

The curriculum is titled “Strong Parents, Stable Children: Building Protective Factors to Strengthen Families” and focuses on strength-based assumptions about families. From there it explores five factors that help children and youth stay safe and thrive. The five factors are: concrete need in time of support, parent resilience, parenting knowledge, social connections, and social/emotional skills of children.

I loved the strength-based approach of the curriculum and the fact that it is not designed for one specific population. The ideas presented are ideas all parents can use whether they are experiencing homelessness or not. Whether parents live in an economically depressed zip code or not does not matter. The professor who developed the curriculum uses the five concepts in his family and I know that when my wife and I start a family we will pull from these concepts as well.

When I returned from the conference I approached my supervisor and the Manager of Mental Health Services about collaborating and presenting the protective factors curriculum to parents at Community LINC. Last month we held our first session with about eight mothers and it went phenomenally well.

I shiver when I hear one-dimensional descriptions of those experiencing homelessness. The negative adjectives used to paint a picture of those that would arrive at a place like Community LINC were not on display the night of the presentation.  The mothers fortified the community village that Manager of Mental Health Services Griselda Williams speaks about. They gave each other insights, tips, and strategies, and encouraged one another when issues with their children seemed overwhelming. They took down notes when they learned something new. They were not passive recipients of information designed for those that have “failed” in life. They, along with me, were active learners engaging with the curriculum. And all of us sought to improve the lives of children staying at Community LINC.  

The implementation of this curriculum is evidence that we are not paying lip service to being a client-centered and strengths-based organization. We carry out this philosophy in the daily decisions we make.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fear of Moving Forward

By Johnae Sawyer, Aftercare Case Manager

The world is a scary place especially for those who experience being homeless. Many of the families I work with have one thing in common, fear of returning to homelessness. Not everyone that becomes homeless is someone that had no desire to work or care for their families. Many people experience some sort of life changing event that affects their financial stability.  Things spiral out of control leaving families with nowhere to call home. While case managing families, I see first-hand, the fear of what’s to come, that many program participants struggle to focus on the present.

One of my clients has struggle with securing permanent employment after leaving Community LINC and moving into permanent housing. She was offered a job at a large corporation and was so excited to start her new journey making more money than she’s ever made. She resigned from her old job and a week before she was to start her new position she received a letter stating that all positions had been filled and they were no longer in need of additional employees. This was devastating and a major blow to her financially. I continued to encourage her never to give up and that this was just a stumbling block. She continued to search and found another job however it was only part-time but was more than what she had. In her case her fears motivated her to give life all she has so that she will be able to keep a roof over her and her child’s head.  She has now secured a new position and within a month was told to apply for a higher paying position due to her excellent work ethic. Life can throw out many curve balls however hard work and dedication always pays off in the long-run.

Friday, May 29, 2015

It Continues to Take A Village

 By Griselda Williams, Mental Health Services Manager

I was talking to Joshua Chittum, Children’s Program Coordinator, recently about the village-like activity that we saw at Community LINC among the women residents. We discussed how refreshing it was to see the activity and how good it felt that our families were coming together and providing support to one another. Several of the women residents shared personal stories of not having family supports or social supports that they could count on. Those same women, however, were providing that support to one another in the village. I heard Tanya tell Carol that she had just bought a car and when Carol needed to go to the hospital to deliver her baby, Tanya would give her a ride. The women in the village shared stories with Carol about when they were pregnant and what their deliveries were like. They also shared empathy with Carol because her baby was a week overdue. When Samantha came to the village, she would bring coupons for the other women. The women would then discuss the use of coupons and which stores had better bargains on food items for the family. Deborah offered to have her teenage daughter babysit Marianna’s two children when Marianna shared that, with two young active children, she seldom has time to journal. Alice gave Maia some diapers when she had a low supply and would not be able to go to the store to purchase more until the end of the week. Recently, during a program group on the topic of parent-child relationships, mothers with older children were giving village support to a younger mom with young children. They shared their wisdom about bed time routines, how to manage housework and the importance of the family meal. Yesterday, during a meeting with Rita, I shared my observations about the village activity. Rita confided that before Mariah moved to permanent housing in May, she gave Rita her infant car seat. This provided great relief for Rita.  Rita will deliver her baby next month and did not have a car seat to bring her baby home from the hospital. Rita added that while she is excited to move to permanent housing with her family in July, she wished she could take the village with her. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Miracle at the 9th Hour

 By Constance Taylor, Employment Job Coach 

As an employment coach, I really try to encourage my participants to believe in themselves again. Often times, I tell them these words, “I see you in your future and you look so much better.”  What I am really trying to do is to encourage them to dream.

After spending days in a homeless shelter or in a car with no real sense of belonging or accomplishment people sometimes become lifeless and lose hope. I believe that part of my job is to not only link them with employment resources and skills, but to extend to them a ray of hope, letting them know they can make it.

Rita came in with a burst of energy and really thought that within thirty days she would be employed again. She had prequalified for a position months ago. Because of her inexperience she was moved to the bottom of the candidate list several times.

She contacted her last employer to see if she was eligible for rehire and was told that she would have to reapply.   

She applied for a position as an apartment rental consultant and they selected a different candidate.   

I met a friend who told me about a staffing company with good job opportunities. Rita interviewed and tested very well in administration skills. She secured employment as  an administrative assistant for a major company and loves her new job.   

She said she believes she actually received her employment at the 9th hour.  A few more days would have been too late on a scale of 1-10.

She really believes that it was a miracle and she and her son have moved to their new home.    

Friday, May 8, 2015

Intake Matters: Relationships

By Holly Gardner, Intake and Resident Specialist

Earlier this week, friends, families and staff gathered for a special celebration for families who have successfully completed the Community LINC program.  Our host, Second Presbyterian Church, made this evening wonderful and feelings of hope and celebration were palpable. They graciously provided dinner and housewarming gifts to all the graduates. 

3 program participants s described the ways Community LINC transformed and touched their lives, contributing to their success.  As they searched for the right words I could see how touched they were and how their sentiments were in turn touching everyone in the room - including the families who hae recently entered the program.   As our Employment Service Job Coach presented each family with a certificate of success, it was easy to recall the families’ first weeks with us, their struggles, and their growth and each family’s new connection with permanent housing - in spite of barriers, in spite of the odds.

During this same week, Community LINC program staff attended the first of several seminars on the Housing First Concept, an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible – and then providing services as needed.  What resonated the most with me is that our families have the capability of doing so much more then we know or understand.  They have the capability to change their own lives.  Our job is to build relationships, build trust and on most days this will be work enough.

As each one of our graduating families walked up to receive their embossed certificate, their smiles spoke a thousand words. Later in the week during our training I saw those smiles again in my mind.  We are only touching their lives for such a short time and what will we say to them while we are honored to be there? What will they (and we) take with them when they leave here?  Relationships.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Huddle Time

By Housing Specialist Shaunte Abernathy Cox

“I’m not going back to a shelter.  I can’t do that again.  I just can’t.”  Her tearful words pierced deep, but I sat across from her wondering how much work she was willing to put into making sure that didn't happen.  With just 24 days away from her exit date, I wondered if she could finish strong.  If she could kick into gear, hit the ground running and make up for the time she lost during the first three months.  Would her words and actions unify or would she return to a shelter?  A place she knew all too well from her childhood. 

By the time Kenzie entered the Interim Housing Program at Community LINC for homeless families, she had already experienced homelessness three times.  Her mother struggled to maintain stability and was caught up in the cycle of domestic violence.  After moving from shelter to shelter, Kenzie was ultimately placed with her grandmother because in her words, her mother “kept choosing the violent men over her kids.”  When asked what their relationship is like now, Kenzie said “I haven’t spoken to my mother since I was 17 years old.  She kept bringing those violent men around and I kept fighting them off of her.  By the time I was in high school, we butted heads a lot.  I guess I reminded her too much of herself, so we didn't get along. “Like her mother, Kenzie found herself in an abusive relationship, but she found the strength to leave and never return.  She fled and relocated to Kansas City in search of a new beginning. 

At the age of 22, Kenzie proved she was determined to win.  The fight brewing within helped her secure housing and employment within the last month of her time at Community LINC. 

I remember the look on her face as I sat with her as she signed her lease and held the key to HER apartment.  I remember how grateful she was when I, along with three other members of the program team loaded our personal cars with her belongings and trailed behind one another on move-in day. 

I watched as her two-year old son, Tre explored his new place, curiously wandering from room to room.  As we walked towards the door and wished her well, she spoke two very important words: THANK YOU. 

On the drive home, I had time to reflect.  I recalled the weeks she was missing in action, and the times she sat in front of me with little to no progress to report on her goal plan.  Although frustrated, I remained persistent.  I needed her to understand that this was not the time to get comfortable.  I needed her to understand she was in transition and Community LINC was only a stop along the way to permanent housing.   I called her each time she missed a session with me. I unraveled each story she told that didn't quite add up and didn't allow her to make constant excuses.  I understood her history, but focused on her future.  I wanted her to succeed.  I wanted her to beat the odds. 

To some, I may have been a bit too stern, but my job was to help her secure permanent housing, not to make her feel warm and cuddly, not to make her feel comfortable, not to make excuses for her actions and not to sit by and watch her leave our program homeless. 

My goal is always to work from a strengths perspective, but at the same time, to be creative in my approach.  For me, Huddles are a creative way to identify challenges and opportunities, plot a plan A, B & C and intervene before it’s too late.   

When I introduced the concept of Huddles, I didn't know if they would work, but knew I needed to try a different approach and wanted to pull together all internal supports to help our clients succeed.  To date, these one-time, hour long sessions, conducted by the Housing Specialist, Employment Specialist, Mental Health Director and Children’s Program Coordinator, along with a specific client, have proven to be successful more times than not.    In these sessions, we speak the truth and illustrate the reality of each situation.   Yes, there may be some tears shed and yes, emotions may flare. But at the end of the day, Kenzie’s Huddle did what it was designed to do and her success was the result of true TEAM effort. 

 **Community LINC provided the financial assistance for Kenzie to move into her apartment.  She was also given a voucher to help furnish her new place through a partnership with My Father’s House.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Children Matter: Defining Success

By Children's Program Director Josh Chittum

In March, I sat down for a routine check-in with the Children Program volunteers before program began. I asked the volunteers to share things that have either gone well or made an impact on them in the previous month. When it became my turn to share I struggled to think of a worthy anecdote. After a few moments of silence an image of a specific child flashed in my mind. It was a child that left Community LINC under stressful circumstances several weeks ago.

His name was Eliot. His gregarious personality easily filled an entire room and his thirst for program time was infectious. He was the kind of child that wanted to be on the move all the time. The most fun I saw him have was when some friends of mine came to do a musical performance for the kids. He danced and laughed and jumped with excitement the entire evening, rarely taking pause to catch his breath. Unfortunately, not every aspect of his life contained such unadulterated revelry. In fact, during the latter part of his family’s time at Community LINC, things seemed to grow increasingly stressful by the week.

I never once questioned his parents love and commitment to Eliot. I did fear that the battles they were facing, however, put Eliot in an unsafe situation, particularly because he had special needs. After staffing the situation with my supportive colleagues and supervisor, I made a call to Social Services. An investigator arrived the same day and by that evening Eliot was in protective custody with a family member. The parents understood, but were shattered.

The emotional rawness of the situation has subsided some. While it’s still sad, I think of the good and the possible good as a result of Eliot being taken from his parents. It’s good and comforting to know that Eliot secured a safe place to live for the time being and he will have the protection of Children’s Division in the months that follow. The possible good is Mom and Dad may find themselves in a place to better address their difficulties.

I often yearn to write about grand successes of our residents. I realized last month as I spoke with volunteers, however, that this situation with Eliot was not only a story of brokenness. Were it not for Community LINC and the work of our staff there is only speculation as to what may have happened. We were here to advocate for Eliot and lying amidst the debris of a family going through a tumultuous time, I find a type of success as well. Not just for Eliot, but for his parents too.

This advocacy comprises the foundation of our Children’s Program. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our children, not just physically, but emotionally is central to our work. Sometimes it requires us to give a voice to children placed in harm’s way.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mental Health Matters: It Really Does Take A Village

By Director of Mental Health Services Griselda Williams

The old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” seems to ring just as true today as ever before. As originally used in the sense to help take care of other people’s children, today you can attribute this proverb in a combination of ways using vigilance, wisdom and compassion.  For a family experiencing homelessness, Community LINC becomes that village for the families who need our services.    

As one of the largest single-site providers of Interim Housing for homeless families in the greater Kansas City area, Community LINC serves some of the most vulnerable.  When most families walk through Community LINC’s doors they are living below the federal poverty line and have experienced significant debt and housing related barriers (judgments, evictions, and outstanding utilities bills).   It is during these tough times that we become that village.

As Director of Mental Health Services, I have the opportunity to witness everyday how the impact of community works utilizing the village proverb.  The Community LINC village is a place with a dwelling made of a strong and substantial foundation. A place that feels safe and protective.  A home that has doors and windows that opens freely, helping to make the village a pleasant place to dwell. 

The people that tend to the village are warm, inviting and have faith and understanding to know that from time to time every person needs a village to go to for support. Those who enter the village need someone to listen to their journey without judgment, someone to help them maneuver through the often treacherous events that occurred before they arrived, someone to learn basic life skills from, someone to help them manage life and even someone to pray for them. 

I have witnessed all of these village-like activities in the past 8 months at Community LINC. It is in these tough times that we become their “village,” a safe haven for our families.  Our collaborations provide the most effective, efficient, client-centered services to provide a helpful hand that takes care of their individual needs.

I smile as I think of Daria, a single mother of two.  Daria has spent much of her life without the support of family and friends.  She found herself at yet another homeless shelter not knowing what tomorrow may bring for her family.  I share these short words of Daria as for the first time she found a village that provided her with the tools needed to remove the barriers to self-sufficiency.  Through her active engagement in the programs provided through Community LINCs village of services, Daria has a new job and a new home for her family. 

I have witnessed the full impact of the village concept for ‘those in need’ here at the Community LINC village.  “It takes a village to help raise a community,” and, I am truly proud to be one of those who tend to the village.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

And the news about Affordable Housing is...

From the March 2015 Housing Spotlight from the National Low Income Housing Coalition:

•             The number of extremely low income (ELI) renter households rose from 9.6 million in 2009 to 10.3 million in 2013 and they made up 24% of all renter households in 2013.

•             There was a shortage of 7.1 million affordable rental units available to ELI renter households in 2013. Another way to express this gap is that there were just 31 affordable and available units per 100 ELI renter households. The data show no change from the analysis a year ago.

•             For the 4.1 million renter deeply low income (DLI) renter households in 2013, there was a shortage of 3.4 million affordable rental units available to them. There were just 17 affordable and available units per 100 DLI renter households.

•             Seventy-five percent of ELI renter households spent more than half of their income on rent and utilities; 90% of DLI renter households spent more than half of their income for rent and utilities.

•             In every state, at least 60% of ELI renters paid more than half of their income on rent and utilities.

•             No state had more than 56 units of rental housing affordable and available for every 100 ELI households, and no state had more than 37 units of rental housing affordable and available for every 100 DLI households.

•             Among the 50 metropolitan areas with the largest renter household populations, the number of affordable and available rental units for every 100 ELI households ranged from 10 in Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NVto 47 in Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mental Health Matters: Women's Group Matters

By Social Work Intern Dulce Vallejo

Working in the Mental Wellness department, I get to see how much time and effort goes into planning the Women’s Group sessions every week. Seeing the process and development of the group sessions helps me realize how important these sessions are for our female residents.

A large portion of the families we serve find themselves experiencing homelessness because they are challenged with inadequate life skills, social supports, knowledge of resources in their own community, new coping mechanisms, and a sense of community and feeling like they belong.

During my observations in group therapy, I find that it offers an organized and protected space to bond with other women in such an authentic and comfortable way. It is a place for women to feel comfortable revealing parts of themselves; the fair, the immoral and the unpleasant. In such an environment it is easy to discovery the many ways in which they are alike.

The group’s purpose serves as a “mutual-aid system” where individuals learn and support each other while building helping relationships. Not only do they build them with each other, but also with the group leaders. Having common problems helps facilitate the development of the relationship. 

Sometimes residents just need to realize that they are not the only one going through this hardship and that there are others who feel the same. The group utilizes strengths such as independence, coping skills, empathy, relational abilities, self-reflection and recognizing their own strengths, among others.

According to an article I read about women’s group therapy by Joan Berzoff’s, she mentions that being comfortable enough to disclose similar traumatic events within a group increases a sense of belonging but it cannot just be the groups responsibility, the group leader must work at creating a safe environment as well as model positive behavior and that is exactly what I have seen the group leaders at Community LINC do (Berzoff, 2013). Berzoff, also believes psycho-education and advocacy can help empower women experiencing homelessness in group therapy, and that learning about other women’s stories can increase self-cohesion and esteem (Berzoff, 2013).

Not too long ago I met Rachel a resident who said to me “I don’t like counseling or therapy but I do like doing group stuff because it lets me know that I am not alone. It’s not that I am glad that they are going through hard times too, but just the sense that I am not alone in this is good for me.”

Go to our Face Book page and you will see pictures of some of the expressive therapy (art) items that the residents in the Women’s Group have made and are very proud of. The most recent pictures are from a group activity when the women were given art supplies and a small canvass and invited to make a collage depicting the ways “I Have the Power and Control” in making my life better. Several women who participated in the group process shared ways the activity helped them to focus on their strengths and remain hopeful that they will be able to move from homeless to hopeful.

Works Cited
Berzoff, J. (2013). Group Therapy With Homeless Women . Smith College Studies in Social Work , 83 (2-3).

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mental Wellness Matters: Readiness for Change Matters

By Director of Mental Health Services Griselda Williams

As a mental health provider I am trained to remain aware of those we are trying to help and their readiness for change. A professor of psychology named James O. Prochaska, in the 70’s, developed the “Stages of Change Model” to identify the process that humans go through when making changes in their lives. Since the 70’s, the model has been used in counseling, health care, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence intervention and many other settings because it is backed by research, but also it has credibility due to its effectiveness in gauging readiness for change. How many times have we in our personal lives said that we were going to start an exercise program, end an unhealthy relationship, take a class, change careers or maybe even just eat healthier, but it takes some time for us to put into motion the goals we discuss.

The stages that Prochaska identified were:

                      Pre-contemplation---not currently considering change or aware that change would be helpful
                      Contemplation—not considering change within the next month, ambivalent about change
                      Preparation—some experience with change and testing making some change, plans to act within 1 month
                      Action—practicing new behaviors and new thinking, putting plans into action
                      Maintenance—continuing commitment to sustaining new behavior, new change
                      Relapse—resumption of old behaviors

Prochaska states that humans may not pass through each stage easily and may move backward and forward and even relapse as that too is part of the human reaction to the process of change. I think it is interesting that the stage that involves putting change into action is 4th; indicative sometimes just how long it takes us as humans to put new behaviors into motion. John Fisher developed “The Process of Transition” in the 90’s but revised his theory in 2012. He identified that the reason humans have difficulty with change is due to feelings like anxiety, anger, fear, denial, guilt, depression and others.

At Community LINC, we help our program participants work through the challenges associated with change and transition.  Through counseling and coaching meetings, most program participants attribute their greatest barriers to change as fear of the unknown, not knowing what to expect or not knowing what will happen if change is made. Recently, I met with one of our program participants, Ms. Gretta who appeared to be at the stage of relapse.  During her weekly counseling meeting focusing on employment, I learned she was no longer actively seeking employment.  She shared frustrations of securing the interview with employers selecting other candidates over her.    We were able to see that our perception of the situation was having an impact on her sense of self (anxiety and fear).  This small impact had rapidly dropped her self-confidence and negative self-image leaving her not knowing which way to turn – Who am I?  In any behavior change, relapses are common occurrences.  A person’s stage of change is used to decide which strategies are most appropriate to promote or maintain change.  We took the opportunity to reassess a new plan of action and resources to set realistic goals that would match her interest and skills.   This allowed us to go a step further to ensure sustainable success by making contingency plans to cope with difficult situation. 

Applying Prochaska’s stages of change model combined with Fishers process of transition to our residents at Community LINC is vital to understanding their readiness to make change, appreciating barriers to change, and helping them anticipate relapse.  At Community LINC, our programs focus on making sure that each program participant learns valuable skills by working through challenges, celebrating successes, and to gain invaluable skills necessary for maintaining self-sufficiency.  

We hope that when each program participant leaves the program they can each leave by saying, “I still have a long way to go but I’m already so far from where I used to be and proud of the change.”