October Newsletter

In the Spotlight…CAAP Self-Sufficiency Award Recipients

Roberta Machin, BA

 

The Community Action Association of Pennsylvania acknowledges the determination and exceptional accomplishments of those who have persevered through financial and personal hardship by presenting these individuals with Self-Sufficiency Awards.  Among the 22 award recipients recognized during the 20th annual award ceremony, three of these individuals were nominated by the Chester County Department of Community Development: Angela Bush, Cecelia Jackson, and Susan Jones.

 

Angela Bush

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In April of 2016, Angela called Home of the Sparrow because she was having trouble paying for all of her household expenses.  There, she learned about the Supportive Housing Program, a rental assistance program for single working women.  Extremely hardworking and motivated to improve life for herself and her daughter, Angela was accepted into the program on May 1st.  After expressing a need for clothing, Angela was connected to Wings for Success, a local nonprofit that provides work attire for women.  She was also able to receive clothing for her daughter from Cradles to Crayons.  During her time in the Supportive Housing Program, Angela managed to increase her income by finding another job, eliminate a good portion of her debt, get her daughter into a private school, and she was also accepted into a local community college so that she could pursue a degree in nursing.  Her hard work and determination have allowed her to successfully reach her goal of becoming self-sufficient, and Angela says that she “doesn’t know how she would have made it this far without the care and support from Home of the Sparrow.”

 

Cecelia Jackson

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Cecelia struggled for years to find a safe and comfortable home for her and her four children.  In 2009, she moved with her family into Gateway Shelter.  While there, she tried to obtain Section 8 housing assistance, but was turned down.  After some hard work and persistence, Cecelia moved into 532 Supported Housing and found employment using her Certified Nursing Assistant certification.  During this time, Cecelia was accepted into the Bridge of Hope program.  Through the help of the Bridge of Hope mentors and their childcare assistance, Cecelia was able to begin setting goals and becoming more financially stable.  In 2011, Cecelia and her family moved into a CYWA apartment, where she was able to connect with additional professional development opportunities.  In 2014, Cecelia got married, and in 2016, Cecelia and her husband bought their very first home together.  She has worked at Simpson Meadows Retirement Community for years, and her next big goal is to earn her Registered Nurse License and begin working with infants.

 

Susan Jones

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After getting laid off from a job she’d held for 10 years, Susan came to the Work Ready program.  There, she learned about Platform to Employment, a program that assists those who have been unemployed for 20 weeks or longer to return to the workforce by providing career development tools, workshops, and job search strategies.  Susan applied to the program and was one of the 20 applicants out of 100 who were selected.  During the program, Susan was able to build up her self-esteem, learn about interviewing, enhance her resume, and speak with several mentors.  Currently, she is taking classes to become a Certified Youth Mental Health First Aider, and attending De-escalation and Safety Training.  After much hard work, Susan obtained a full time job as a Case Worker for Devereux, where she is able to help those in need.  Susan said, “The staff at DCD has been completely supportive with my efforts to get back into the workforce.  They have all provided me with various training classes, tools to get where I need to be, workshops, and assisted with my housing which has been extremely helpful.  The support level has been outstanding.”

 

Congratulations to all the recipients of the 2017 CAAP Self-Sufficiency Awards!

Groundbreaking Ceremony at SteelTown Village

Roberta Machin, BA

 

October 4th marked a historical day for Phoenixville, as construction officially commenced on the new 3.2 acre affordable housing development, SteelTown Village.  The $13 million project, developed by Petra Community Housing, will feature 48 units of affordable one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, which will house veterans, persons with disabilities, workforce families, and the elderly. 

Proposed in response to the need for more affordable housing options for low-income families in Chester County, the project faced several years of setbacks, including resistance from neighbors and soil contamination.  After numerous meetings, environmental analyses, and soil remediation, final approval for the project was granted in March. 

  Don Coppedge speaks about SteelTown Village and affordable housing.

Don Coppedge speaks about SteelTown Village and affordable housing.

Steve Kambic, executive director of Petra, led the groundbreaking ceremony on the morning of October 4th.  He compared the initiation of the project and its setbacks to “herding cats across a minefield – and then someone lets out a pack of dogs.”  After identifying the property Kambic wanted to use for the project, which was not initially for sale, Kambic pushed forward because he believed in the mission, despite the obstacles he knew would come.

Also in attendance at the ceremony was Jim Kovaleski, Phoenixville Borough Council President, who played a large role in addressing the complaints from the neighbors.  “I live a few minutes from here,” he said, “and I always saw this field, which has done nothing for years.  Now, it will do something great.”

Funding for the project came from a number of sources, including $1 million from the county, $9 million in equity from Fulton Bank, $10,000 from Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, as well as other grants, private funders, and low income housing tax credits.  Holly Glauser from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency said that it was unusual for a first time applicant to receive a low income housing tax credit.  Lou Beccaria from the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation added, “This project is a symbol of hope for low-income families and a great example of how the community of Phoenixville comes together and leaves no one behind.  It takes a village to raise a village.”

Other notable guest speakers included Commissioners Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone.  According to Commissioner Kichline, the county has put more than $6.7 million into Phoenixville in the last 15 years.  “Phoenixville is known for its vibrant downtown area, and we all know that the diverse population of people who will come to live here will contribute to a thriving Phoenixville community,” she said.  Added Commissioner Cozzone, “As one of the wealthiest counties in the state and nation, Chester County is sought after when it comes to finding a place to live. But the truth is — not everyone can afford to live here.  We can’t stress enough the importance of affordable housing in places like Phoenixville.”

Long-time proponent of affordable housing in Phoenixville and honored guest Don Coppedge concluded the ceremony.  “Oh, what a day!” said Coppedge.  “We are all blessed to be standing here today as a part of history.  It takes not one individual, because we are here to share our gifts.  This is about what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives — to help people make it a better place to live.  This is only the beginning — there’s a lot to be done. Let’s make it the community that we can.  Phoenixville is the best!”

 

2017 Collaborative Conference: Inclusion by Design

Lara Dorfman, BA

 

The Alliance for Nonprofit Resources (ANR), The Community Action Association of Pennsylvania (CAAP), and PANO teamed up last week to put on the 2017 collaborative conference, Inclusion by Design. A few of us at the Department of Community Development and Decade to Doorways kicked off October at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center to attend the conference and learn about how to bring together all of the voices of our community. Inclusion by Design was created to bring together an array of voices in our community and learn how to successfully eliminate bias in the workforce and in our daily life.

The conference opened with a very special guest, Candi Castleberry, the founder of Dignity & Respect Inc. and Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity at Twitter. Candi was an incredibly engaging and inspiring speaker who spoke on achieving an inclusive culture for everyone in your workplace. Candi’s presentation was followed by a slew of workshops that echoed her ideology, honing in on communication, bias, cultural competency, advocacy, mindfulness, and building meaningful workplace relationships, just to name a few.

Candi was a tough act to follow, but the other keynote speakers did not disappoint.  Dr. Al Condeluci’s presentation was as energetic as it was relevant. Al is the CEO of CLASS, a non-profit focused on supporting people with disabilities, and bounced around the room offering the audience incredible enthusiasm about our ability to advocate for each other in our communities. Dr. Frances Kunreuther, co-director of the Building Movement Project also spoke to us on how to strengthen and diversify nonprofit leadership. The entire conference was filled with intelligent and important conversation.

My personal favorite part of the conference was the self-sufficiency awards. Every family and individual who received an award had overcome incredible challenges with the help of one of the sponsoring organizations. The room was filled with pride and positivity as these amazing award recipients sent a message that we can all overcome the odds with a little bit of support.

 The 2017 Collaborative Conference Inclusion by Design’s message is so important because the event focused on how to become better; not just better at your job, but better to each other and to ourselves. Inclusion requires genuine conversation and constant self-reflection. If you missed out this year, you can always join in for the 2018 Collaborative Conference next October at State College!

 

 

Creative Solutions for Displaced Youth

Roberta Machin, BA

 

Youth homelessness is a serious and growing issue in the United States, with 46% of homeless youth reporting physical abuse, 75% dropping out of school, and 40% of the entire homeless youth population identifying as LGBT.  In order to raise awareness of this issue and present relevant information and statistics to those who work with at-risk youth, Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness (ECYEH) held its second annual regional youth homelessness conference on September 27 at the Crowne Plaza Reading, entitled “Creative Solutions for Displaced Youth.”

Jack Williams, Co-Executive Director of the Berks Coalition to End Homelessness, opened the program with a story.  He explained that his wife was a kindergarten teacher, and one night a woman came to the school with all four of her children for a parent teacher conference.  The woman’s car had broken down seven miles away, and she had to walk the rest of the way to the school with her children in the pouring rain.  Jack’s wife decided to dig a little deeper, and discovered that the woman was a victim of domestic violence and attempted murder.  She was going to lose her house in one week.  Jack and his wife helped to connect her with social service resources so that she could begin to recover and get back on her feet, and she now has a safe home for herself and her children.

After Jack told his story, he introduced Joe Willard, Vice President for Policy at People’s Emergency Center in Philadelphia and keynote speaker for the conference.  Joe spoke on the current state of youth homelessness.  He explained that work with homeless children and youth is in the beginning stages, because a lot of systems don’t have the capacity to serve them yet.  Joe explained that with cases of youth homelessness, building relationships with students is the key.  A series of workshops followed the introductory and keynote speakers, and I decided to attend “Chocolate & Poverty,” “Weathering Brainstorms: Understanding Trauma,” and “Addressing Higher Education & Homelessness.”

Stacey Spagenburg, Admissions Counselor at the Milton Hershey School, led the workshop “Chocolate & Poverty.”  She explained that Milton Hershey grew up extremely poor, and since he and his wife were unable to have children, they decided to start a school free of charge for children from low-income families.  During her workshop, Stacey showed us a video of a commencement speech by a student named Kevin, who said, “The art of dreaming is a response to opportunity.”  Stacey explained that kids in poverty do not have the same opportunities as those from the middle class, they struggle more academically, and they face more health problems.  “Every nineteen minutes, there is a child born into poverty,” said Stacey.  She also went over the different ways that loaners and businesses might take advantage of vulnerable families living in poverty.  In conclusion, Stacey said, “It does not matter what hand you’re dealt in life, it’s how you play that hand.”

The second workshop I attended, “Weathering Brainstorms: Understanding Trauma,” was led by Mike Ritter, Public Education Coordinator of Lebanon’s Domestic Violence Intervention.  He spoke about the three levels of stress for young children: positive, tolerable, and toxic.  Mike explained that positive stress is necessary and promotes resilience.  It arises from adverse encounters, and allows you to develop coping skills and utilize social support.  Tolerable stress is serious and temporary, activated due to severe stressors such as a car crash.  With appropriate care and guidance from adults, children can turn tolerable stress into positive stress.  Lastly, toxic stress presents due to an ongoing, intense trauma and a lack of necessary social supports.  Mike defined trauma as “the unique individual experience of an event or enduring condition,” which may lead to threat of life or sanity and may affect capacity to cope and function regularly.  Mike showed us images of a healthy three year old brain and an unhealthy three year old brain; the unhealthy brain was underdeveloped, and you could clearly see a lack of brain matter.  According to Mike, trauma-informed care is an essential method to use for children who have experienced trauma, because it is strengths-based.  Instead of asking, “What did you do?” ask “What happened to you?”  In order for children to overcome trauma and turn their toxic stress into positive stress, they need help from an adult who is caring, consistent, and compassionate.

Lastly, Tori Nuccio, Assistant Director of Financial Aid at West Chester University, spoke about “Addressing Higher Education & Homelessness.”  The goal of her workshop was to educate participants on how to assist students in accessing financial aid.  She explained different scenarios in which a determination could be made that a student is an unaccompanied homeless youth, which would entitle them to additional financial aid.  In order to make this determination, the youth must be under 24 years old, not in the care of his or her parents, and without fixed and adequate nighttime residence.  Many times a student chooses to or is forced to leave home, due to a family conflict, abuse, or parental incarceration; however, the reason does not matter when making the determination.  Tori explains that many times, a FAFSA is rejected because the student is not sure how to accurately fill out information when they are homeless, and they are unaware that they can receive additional financial aid if this determination is made.  Tori attempts to identify homeless youth, so that she can connect them to additional financial aid, as well as resources such as food pantries and housing assistance.

All of the speakers at the “Creative Solutions for Displaced Youth” conference had interesting and important information to share.  The workshops sparked a lot of conversation around the topic of youth homelessness, which is vital for creating additional resources that aid children and young adults experiencing homelessness.