For the last several months, we’ve all struggled with the challenges of social distancing, remembering to wear masks and keeping our hands clean in an effort to avoid COVID-19. In addition, many have the added burden of job loss, illness, a dwindling bank account, child care expenses and home schooling-the recipe for a perfect storm.
Yet, even in these difficult times, Faith Community Homes (FCH) is helping families in need address those challenges with rent assistance, employment search, budget managing, and much more. Meeting face-to-face in a client’s home is critical, but that has been put on hold until the virus is no longer a threat. Currently, FCH volunteers-working in pairs-manage to stay in touch with the people they mentor by phone, outdoors or zoom.
“Every family’s circumstances are different, so every family’s path to financial stability will look different,” said FCH program manager Sarah Harte. Sarah attributes some of people’s problems to the increased cost of living and the shortage of affordable housing in the Northwest suburbs. Families want to live in an area offering more employment opportunities and good schools.
Senior Corps-RSVP Volunteers, such as Vince Kelley, Larry Sophian and Samir Medhekar have dedicated themselves to the FCH mission and in turn, they’re finding their own rewards.
Vince started with FCH a little over a year ago. He and his partner began working with a single mother who had relationship issues as well as health problems in her family. Prior to the COVID outbreak, Vince and a partner had met with her weekly to help her set up a savings plan.
“Fortunately, we have a solid relationship and she was fairly disciplined,” he said. “We helped her maintain a budget and cut corners, so that when her father in Africa passed she had enough saved to travel there.”
Larry, a semi-retired accountant, has been with FCH for two years. He and another volunteer are mentoring a family from Uganda. The parents have four children under ten years. Although they have a solid hold on their finances, they did need guidance in the area of job search, salary negotiation, and services available at the local schools.
When he counseled the father on preparing for the job interview, he showed him how to solicit for a certain pay level. The client was delighted to be offered a higher salary than he expected. Larry noted that the parents’ attitude was more deferential than it is in most Americans. “Here we stand up for ourselves,” he said. “They didn’t know how to ask for things. For example, they have a child with special needs. We told them that the school should help them.”
Samir (not pictured) has been with FCH about 18 months. He was volunteering as a financial counselor for seniors at the Kenneth Young Center in Elk Grove Village when he decided to extend his volunteering to other segments of society. He and his co-mentor worked with a woman in critical financial straits who was stressed due to serious family conflicts.
She had difficulties finding a job as well as managing her expenses. He helped her focus on setting up a savings program and essentially doing it in small steps each week. He guided her in “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel” by going over her budget for day care, rent and food. “Every time she met a goal, we felt good,” he said.” There was great satisfaction and she could see the next step.” Although Samir isn’t able to meet with her now and her problems have re-surfaced, she is still receiving rent support from FCH and the local food bank.
Vincent, Larry and Samir all have similar suggestions for people who would consider volunteering for FCH: Realize the results take time. Lead a client through short term goals, such as setting aside a few dollars in a savings account each week. Be a good listener for their concerns. Realize you may have to draw information out of them. Many clients are not used to voicing complaints and fears.
But all three say the rewards are many. As Larry said, “It’s gratifying to see them grow and able to advocate for themselves.”
In spite of Coronavirus limitations, Faith Community Homes is still in need of volunteers. Time commitment is four hours per month. Mentors attend a three-hour training session where they learn about the FCH mission and issues commonly facing low-income families. Most of all, mentors form a relationship with their family over two years to provide support and guidance.
And as Sarah says, working with FCH is an opportunity to “shine a little more light in our community.”
Written by Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member
Click here for more information on this volunteer opportunity.
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