Economic instability affecting our families is a problem that cannot be solved by one effort or one organization.
Although May 2018 marked the lowest monthly unemployment rate in Huron County in more than 30 years at 4.4 percent, the percent of community members receiving food assistance still hovers at 12.5 percent and has not significantly decreased since the Great Recession (12/2007-6/2009). Even though a higher percentage of our citizens are working, a higher percentage are living at or near poverty level. Our local organizations and churches in this community could have told you that even without knowing the statistics. Calls for a wide variety of assistance keep coming in.
In order for this community to be able to work together to help families in crisis, the United Fund started two programs about three years ago: The 2-1-1 Help Line and the Huron County Assistance Network.
While organizations in our community have always worked hard to serve families, we haven’t always worked in a unified way. With these two programs, we have provided the infrastructure needed for organizations to communicate seamlessly, securely and effectively through the assistance network, while the 2-1-1 Huron County database provides organizations with accurate information to provide to clients who need assistance. However, all organizations must agree to utilize these services in order for them to be successful and to keep their program information updated.
Creating opportunities that offer seamless communication and an updated referral database will help us close gaps in service as well as stop duplication of services allowing us to serve other unmet needs as they arise. We all know people who are facing a crisis for the first time in their lives and don’t know who to talk to or where to go. Let’s close that gap.
If we can slow or stop duplication of service - when two or more agencies dedicate time and resources to programs that would be better served by one organization or a united effort - we can use our finite community resources to best advantage. It’s critical that we communicate.
The United Fund is dedicated to ensuring accurate databases at Huron County 2-1-1. After all, it is only useful if it contains updated information. We ask our local organizations to update their program descriptions and eligibility requirements annually or when a change is made. We depend on the specialists who answer the 2-1-1 phone lines 24/7 to not only refer accurately but follow-up as well. We cannot provide effective services otherwise.
We can make sure that lack of communication doesn’t lead to unmet needs or incomplete client services. It’s hard to keep up with changing community programs.
Referrals to programs that cannot help for lack of funding, the hours have changed or the client cannot meet eligibility requirements, is not only discouraging but doesn’t help a family get ahead when already facing difficult times. That merry-go-round effect can be eliminated. Accurate 2-1-1 databases are a centralized accumulation of valuable information at our finger tips. If we are accountable to our clients and one another, keep our service availability updated, it will result in fewer calls requesting assistance that you do not or no longer provide. It will also eliminate wasting your time and your clients’ time.
As for the The Huron County Assistance Network it is only useful if agencies participate. This secure member-based database network system allows agencies to provide clients referrals to organizations that can help meet their needs and to communicate with each other through email bulletins. Clients’ assistance histories are available on the Huron County Assistance Network (with their permission so we can work together), making it easier to identify those who would benefit from additional support. Many agencies address client requests; few address client needs. If a client requests assistance with utility shut-offs or eviction notices their problem is really deeper - delinquent bills are not really the problem. They are the result of a problem. Meaningful assistance probably looks more like financial guidance. But we need to know our clients first in order to discern that.
The first step in helping clients in meaningful ways is by understanding them. What a client asks for is not necessarily what the client needs. Often, agencies simply do not have the time to address underlying needs. So, in addition to supporting the Huron County Assistance Network which identifies clients who would benefit from additional support, the United Fund has awarded a grant to Family Life Counseling’s Life Coaching Program and budgeting classes.
Family Life Counseling’s Life Coaching Program takes the time to understand clients and find out what their problems are, as well as what personal strengths they have. Clients are given the opportunity to receive assistance in setting goals to overcome barriers that lead to seeking assistance for basic needs. They are encouraged to identify positive aspects of their lives that can be used as a foundation for progress. Counselors work with clients to create action steps, built on the foundation of positivity and client strength, that will empower them to overcome barriers to self-sustainability. Of course, there are also Getting Ahead Experience Workshops provided by trained volunteers of the United Fund and held as needed throughout the year.
Like our community members who are dedicated volunteers and donors, the organizations in our area are working harder than ever to meet basic needs. It’s time we work smart. The war on poverty will not be won by providing repeated hand-outs. But, we might stand a fighting chance if we empower our clients — and empower each other.
Kristina Woods is a United Fund college intern. The United Fund has kicked off its 142nd community campaign to raise donations for its annual funding cycle and community grants. They can reached at 419-668-0269 for more information.