Tag Archives: dream team

SoV – Adjusting to COVID-19

Streams of Hope – Adjust to COVID

Kurtis Kaechele took the reins at Streams of Hope on February 17, just weeks before Michigan’s shelter-in-place order took effect.  At that time, the agency had to switch their food pantry to a drive-through model and shutter most of their other programs.  But now, seven months into COVID, how is Streams of Hope adjusting to the pandemic?

The Streams of Hope food pantry is still offering drive-through pick-up, but in July they also added a new appointment option.  Clients can make an appointment online and come into the pantry to shop for themselves.  They allow one appointment every five minutes.  Clients have to wear a mask while they’re in the pantry, and Streams of Hope takes their temperature and asks all of the standard health checklist questions.  After that, each client has fifteen minutes to shop.  They get a personal shopper who goes around the pantry with them, helping them to select items while also talking to them about their family and connecting them to other programs.

Before adopting this model, Streams of Hope surveyed their food pantry clients to see how people felt about coming into the pantry, and if they had internet access to book appointments.  Based on the results of that survey, they decided to keep drive-through pick-up, and about 60% of their clients continue to use that option.

Prior to COVID, Streams of Hope also offered a wide range of programs for children – from tutoring to helping kids find jobs, have fun, and engage in meaningful conversation with their peers.  While a lot of their programs for middle and high school youth have remained on hold, Streams of Hope has been able to bring back their evening tutoring program for elementary school students.  Over the summer they offered an online tutoring program, which worked but didn’t bring in the numbers they would have liked.  They have since switched tacks and opened up their gym.  They installed plexiglass dividers, and are now able to accommodate up to 80 children at a time with masks and sanitizing. Tutoring takes place twice a week on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and while some kids still connect with them online they have about 50 children a night showing up on site.

They also got a grant to improve their internet connection and make additional safety upgrades to their gym so that if schools have to shut down, they can provide a safe place for parents to bring their children for online education.  As a bonus, those same changes will allow them to use the gym to start a GED program for adults.

In addition, their Circles GR program – which provides training and weekly meetings to help clients build a support network and climb out of poverty – has continued virtually without a break.  And Streams of Hope also recently re-opened their weekly medical clinic and started seeing patients on site.

So, despite all the obstacles COVID has thrown in their path, Streams of Hope continues to find new and innovative ways to serve their community.

SoV – Meet an Executive Director

Wes Tillett – Lafayette Urban Ministry

Wes Tillett grew up in Indiana.  He first worked at Lafayette Urban Ministry (LUM) as a teacher in the After School Program before going on to spend seven years as a youth minister and eight years as a lead pastor.  He founded a church called Voyage Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There he also created a small network of churches to serve the needs of the local neighborhood through tutoring, mentoring, food distribution, and providing school supplies to those in need.  

In April 2020 he returned to LUM to serve as the new executive director.  He stepped into the role right in the midst of Indiana’s stay-at-home order, at a time when almost all of the agency’s staff were working from home and every program was being restructured to help keep the staff, volunteers, and clients safe.  This would have been difficult enough in itself, but he was also following in the wake of LUM’s previous executive director, Joe Micon, who held the post for thirty-two years.

Of course, COVID also meant that it took more than two months for Wes to meet many of his staff face-to-face. And during that time, the entire staff- including Wes – were carrying an extra emotional strain, trying to grieve the losses of life and of normalcy.  They were facing a situation with no easy answers or quick solutions, and working from home inhibited the sense of community and healthy office culture that is usually LUM’s norm.

In short, it was a challenging time to step into his new role, and one that required even more energy and discernment than usual.  But oddly enough, one of the blessings of COVID was that it caused everything to be so strange, so off-kilter, that it helped to soften the culture shock that might otherwise have accompanied the transition to a new executive director. 

As a pastor, faith plays a central role in Wes’s life.  He believes deeply that God calls us to both justice and mercy.  Part of what drew him to LUM was his conviction that by working there he could help offer mercy and compassion to those in need while fighting for justice against the systems that oppress and injure people.  Another major draw was the collaborative nature of the organization – many churches working together towards a common goal, in cooperation with nonprofits, businesses, and local government. Wes sees that ability to cooperate as an encouraging sign that people can and will put aside their political and theological differences to serve those in need.

Outside of work, Wes enjoys being a dad.  He and his wife Rita have four kids.  Wes tries to give almost all of his extra time and energy to them.  He especially enjoys engaging with his kids in some of the things he is already most passionate about: hiking, kayaking, swimming, music, and art.

SoV – Neighbors Empowered

Program – Neighbors Empowered

Valley Interfaith Community Resource Center’s Neighbors Empowered program is designed to help single mothers work towards self-sufficiency and build a better life for themselves and their children. 

The program is a 10 week class structured around the workbook Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting–By World.  The first hour of each class is actually a family dinner for the women and their children.  After that, the children go to supervised childcare for two hours, while the women meet as a group with a trained facilitator.  Each week they cover a different topic, from big ideas like understanding the causes of poverty, to the nitty gritty of setting goals and making a budget.

Each time the women come to class, they get a $25 grocery store gift card.  Combined with the family meal and childcare, Valley Interfaith is trying to address all of the potential reasons a single mom might have for not participating.  According to Executive Director John Keuffer, that gift card often serves as a vital incentive for the first three or four classes, until the women begin to see the value in what they’re doing.

Through the class, the women develop strong bonds with one another, forming a vital ongoing support structure that can help them as they delve into the work of restarting their education, getting better jobs, and building a future for their family.

John likes to tell the story of one woman who thought she was too old to go back to school, but had a passion for baking.  Through Neighbors Empowered, Valley Interfaith connected her to a program that helps train cooks.  She completed it and went on to become a pastry chef at a local restaurant, even starting a small catering business on the side. 

The biggest obstacle Valley Interfaith has encountered in running the Neighbors Empowered program has been the cost in staff time and gift cards.  They’re trying to address this problem by reaching out to their partner churches.  Their goal is to train facilitators so that the churches can run their own groups – with Valley Interfaith recruiting and screening participants and the churches providing the meals, childcare, facilitation, and – ideally – gift cards.  These new classes would also be smaller, with only 5 women each – as compared to the 10-20 they currently have – which could in turn provide for a tighter support structure while also allowing for increased social distancing in the time of COVID.

SoV – Hope Southern Indiana

Esteem Makeover Bootcamp

Hope Southern Indiana’s Esteem Makeover Bootcamp grew out of a conversation the Executive Director, Angie Graf, had with counselors from a nearby high school. In speaking to them, she learned that any student who expresses suicidal thoughts has to be sent home until they’ve had a mental health evaluation – which can sometimes take a week to schedule, further isolating an already depressed student.

In response to this, Angie wrote a grant to Impact 100 – a philanthropic agency with the goal of empowering women – and received $100,000 to fund the Esteem Makeover Bootcamp.

The camp serves girls in middle and high school, ages 11 to 18. The girls and their counselors spend a weekend at the Country Lake Retreat Center in Underwood, Indiana. Friday night and Saturday are focused on inner beauty, and cover topics from bullying to social media, mental health, and nutrition. The girls might work with anyone from a yoga teacher to a self-defense instructor. On Sunday, they talk about outward beauty, and bring in hair stylists and make-up artists.

Before they leave the camp, the girls get a care package filled with materials that they can use to continue implementing the various techniques they’ve learned. Hope Southern Indiana also brings the girls back together one Sunday a month for six months to provide follow-up help and track how they’re doing.

To date, 143 girls have gone through the program, which started in 2019. They take an average of 50 girls at each camp, and try to run two camps a year – though they had to cancel the camp scheduled for June of 2020 due to COVID. Girls can be referred to the free camp through the schools, mental health services, or their parents – though a handful have come to the program on their own without any referrals.

Every girl takes a self-esteem quiz at the start of the weekend, and another at the end. So far, the scores from the second quiz have shown an average 75% increase. But, in a sense, all of the program’s many accomplishments can be illustrated by a single powerful story. One of the students who came through the camp had been cutting herself and had carefully hidden scars all over her arms and legs. What she found at camp made her comfortable enough that she was able to open up for the first time and share what she’d been going through. From there, they were able to help the girl find the courage, and the safe space, to finally share all of this with her mother, so that she no longer had to hide what she was doing or go through it alone.

Seeds of Vision eNewsletter – Summer 2020

As an initiative of the LUM Dream Team ProjectSeeds of Vision was founded. Seeds of Vision has started with a quarterly electronic newsletter, which provides a platform for Ecumenical Social Service Agencies from across the East North Central region (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio & Wisconsin) to share their knowledge and experience with each other.

Below is a summary of the articles recently published in the second edition of the Seeds of Vision eNewsletter.

As communities of faith engaged in the hard work of lifting up the “least among us,” there is so much that each agency can learn from one another. By coming together and sharing both challenges and our successes — each agency will find new ways to help those in their our community.

To view the Summer 2020 edition of the Seeds of Vision eNewsletter, click HERE.

SoV – COVID-19 Response

LUM’s Response to COVID-19

In the months since COVID-19 became a reality, Lafayette Urban Ministry (LUM) has been working to restructure its programs to better protect their clients, volunteers, and staff while still meeting the real needs of their community. Here’s a glimpse of what that means in practice.

Many of the LUM assistance programs, from the Good Samaritan Program (emergency financial assistance) to the Immigration Clinic, have switched from an in-person, walk-in model to one where as much work as possible is conducted online or over the phone. The Immigration Clinic is conducting most of its client meetings via video conferencing.

When clients do need to come to the LUM Office it’s by appointment only and they must wait outside until they are called in. Before entering the building all clients must have their temperature checked with an infrared thermometer, disinfect their hands or wash them in a portable sink, and don a face mask. They are then directed to a meeting room where a staff member or volunteer is already seated at their desk behind a clear plastic shower curtain. After each meeting, the entire area is disinfected. And all surfaces, handles, and light switches are disinfected throughout the day.

Individuals experiencing homelessness used to come into the LUM Office every afternoon to sign-up for the shelter. That process has been moved to the parking lot, and guests line up six feet apart on large Xs on the pavement. At night, before entering the shelter, all of the shelter guests must wash their hands, wear a face mask, and have their temperature checked. If a guest shows a temperature or is exhibiting signs of respiratory distress they are not admitted and the health department is alerted.  All of the shelter staff follow the same procedure and also wear face shields.  Social distancing is practiced inside the shelter, during meals, and while sleeping (head to foot).  The entire area is disinfected each day before the guests arrive, throughout the evening, and again after they leave in the morning.

At their weekly food pantry, all staff and volunteers must have their temperature checked, wash their hands, and wear masks before entering the building.  Anyone dealing directly with clients also has to wear a face shield and gloves. Food items are packed in boxes for the clients and delivered to them outside, where they stand in line six feet apart on large Xs on the sidewalk.

For their summer childcare program, enrollment has been reduced and the children are separated into groups of twenty, each of which will meet in a separate classroom. Parents are not allowed inside the building.  A LUM staff member meets the parents outside when they drop off their children.  Every child must get their temperature taken and be assessed for signs of illness, and they have to wash their hands and wear a mask while inside the building.  As with everything else, the entire space is sanitized each day before the children arrive, throughout the day, and after they leave.

SoV – Policy Article

Paid Family Leave

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member, deal with a personal health emergency, or spend time at home following the birth or adoption of a child.  The unfortunate reality, however, is that many people simply cannot afford to take advantage of these protections.  If they’re not working, then they’re not bringing in the money needed to pay rent and utilities, buy food, and care for their family.

Workers without access to paid family leave are more likely to forgo necessary medical care for themselves and their family, and to return to work too soon after the birth of a child.  A 2016 study by researchers at McGill University found that each month of paid maternity leave is associated with a 13% reduction in infant mortality.  Paid maternity leave can reduce the stress on expectant mothers, provide them with easier access to third trimester care, enable them to better seek medical help if their child is ill, and increase how long they breastfeed their babies. All of this is critical in a state like Indiana, which has the 7th highest infant mortality rate in the country.

However, as of 2018 only 16% of civilian workers in the US had access to paid family leave, and only 40% to paid parental leave. 

During the 2019-2020 legislative session, Representative Chris Campbell (D, West Lafayette), introduced HR 1427 to the Indiana General Assembly in order to try and address this problem.  The bill would have allowed any employee using FMLA to receive a portion of their wages for up to six weeks.  The money would have been paid out through a state-managed benefit plan funded by a payroll tax set at 0.4% of employee wages – at least half of which had to be covered by the employer.

The amount of benefits paid out would have been tiered based on income.  Anyone making less than half of the state average weekly wage could have gotten 90% of their income for up to six weeks. Employees making more than that could have gotten benefits up to the state average.

The bill was co-authored by Rep Carrie Hamilton (D, Indianapolis) and Rep Rita Fleming (D, Jeffersonville).  Campbell first tried attaching the legislation as an amendment to the state budget.  When this failed, she introduced it as a bill.  The bill was assigned to the Employment, Labor, and Pensions Committee chaired by Rep. Heath VanNatter (R, Kokomo).  However, Rep VanNatter refused to give it a hearing.

As social service agencies fighting for the rights of low-wage workers in our communities, we can help by contacting our legislators and demanding that they support any future paid medical leave legislation.  And in particular, reach out to Rep VanNatter and demand that he give any such bills a hearing.

While this policy article highlights legislation from Indiana, we would love to hear what legislative issues are affecting clients in your communities.  If you have a legislative or policy issue that you’d like to see highlighted in a future newsletter, please email it to jprokopy@lumserve.org.

SoV – Night In A Car

Home Sweet Home Ministries has been serving the homeless and hungry with Christ’s love in Bloomington, Illinois since 1917.  On the eve of their 100th anniversary, they held a gala fundraiser with a dinner and auction.  But while the event was a successful fundraiser, it did little to raise awareness or advance the agency’s mission. This realization led to their new annual fundraiser – Night In A Car. 

As the name suggests, teams of people raise money from sponsors to spend a night in their car.  The event takes place on the first Friday in February so that participants can get a genuine taste of what it might be like to live rough in the middle of a Midwestern winter.  And the event always kicks off with a creative educational experience.

One year the library brought their bookmobile to the event and ran an all-ages storytime featuring books on poverty and homelessness.  Another year, Home Sweet Home offered a selection of workshops, including one in which participants played a food insecurity game.

Last year, they set up an escape room called the Four Seasons of Homelessness.  It consisted of four rooms, each representing a different season of the year.  The summer room was kept unbearably hot, while the winter room was freezing cold.  Each room had a padlocked door and a series of homelessness-inspired clues that had to be solved in order to get the combination.  In one room, for example, participants had no health insurance and couldn’t buy glasses, so they had to read a rental application while wearing a pair of goofy goggles that distorted their vision.  But best of all, the guides leading participants from room to room were all current or former clients of Home Sweet Home.

The event concludes on Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m., when a hot breakfast is served and participants can reflect on their experiences with one another. 

In 2019, the event raised $89,000.  While the majority of that came from the teams, which brought in an average of $1,000 each, Home Sweet Home also attracted corporate sponsors. Their success in reaching out to the local business community is a testament to their long presence and solid reputation in Bloomington.  But, CEO Mary Ann Pullin, believes they’ve also been aided by the fact that this is Home Sweet Home’s only annual fundraiser.  So business sponsors know that they won’t receive multiple requests for support from the agency.

Night In A Car checks all the boxes for a successful fundraising event.  It brings in a great deal of money, but also gets people excited and provides them with a genuine learning experience and a deeper appreciation for what it means to be homeless.

SoV – Meet an Executive Director

Kurtis Kaechele – Streams of Hope

Kurtis Kaechele took the reins at Streams of Hope on February 17, just weeks before Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order took effect.  So it’s fair to say that his introduction to the agency has been unusual.

Kurtis grew up in Caledonia, Michigan and got his bachelors degree in communications and media from Michigan State.  He spent the first 15 years of his career as a brand and marketing strategist, most recently as the Marketing Director for his local NBC affiliate.  He’d been looking for a new job for some time, never expecting that it would be in the nonprofit world.  But when he saw the position at Streams of Hope, he knew that was where God meant for him to be.

Kurtis is the first full-time employee in the agency’s history, but he oversees a dozen part-time employees and more than a hundred volunteers.  Streams of Hope’s mission is to demonstrate God’s love and foster sustainable change through services that build relationships, meet family needs, and promote a healthier community.  The agency does all this on a six acre campus that houses their food distribution program, a community garden, offices, and a rec center. 

Obviously, one of the biggest challenges Kurtis has encountered so far in his short time at Streams of Hope has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced him to turn away many of his most dedicated and willing volunteers, who were clamoring to keep working despite being in high risk categories.  But the way in which the agency was able to quickly pivot and respond to the rapid fire pace of change brought on by the virus has also been one of his proudest achievements.  While their rec center has been shuttered, and the many educational and empowerment-focused programs they run placed on hold, Streams of Hope still operates its food pantry, which had to be shifted from a choice model to a drive-through pick up.  And Kurtis’ own day-to-day schedule has changed from meeting with potential donors and pastors to packing up boxes of food.

In his free time, Kurtis is a drummer and actually managed a wedding band for twelve years.  They traveled all over the Midwest, playing as many as 25 gigs a year.  He also loves to fish, and to spend time with his wife, Jordan, and their four year old daughter, Brooklyn.  And, naturally, he’s a devoted fan of all things Michigan State.

SoV – Agency Profile

Operation Love

Operation Love started as the work of one woman, Jeannie Shaw, giving things to those in need out of her garage.  As her labor of love grew and her health declined, Jeannie approached the biggest church in the area to see if they might take over the project.  Instead, that church used Jeannie’s work as the inspiration to form an alliance of ten area churches to meet the needs of the community.

That alliance has since grown, and now numbers twenty nine churches from all across Madison County, Indiana.  Each church agrees to provide financial support to Operation Love, to pray for the agency, and to supply volunteers for their many programs.  In return, they have the right to nominate two members to Operation Love’s Board of Directors. 

Churches join the alliance because it frees them from having to run their own social service ministries, allowing them to concentrate on serving the spiritual needs of their congregation.  And when people come through their doors suffering from financial distress, hunger, or other similar problems, the pastors are able to direct them to Operation Love.  Executive Director, Andrea Baker, likes to think of Operation Love not as the Good Samaritan, but as the Innkeeper, providing the resources and support that can enable all the member churches and their congregants to be the Good Samaritan.

Operation Love runs a food pantry and clothing closet, as well as seasonal programs like back-to-school supplies and Christmas wishes.  Many of these have, of course, been modified by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In their food pantry, they now box up two week supplies of food for shut-ins, who can designate a friend or family member to pick it up for them.  

But one of Operation Love’s most interesting programs is their balanced budgeting and financial assistance.  When people come to them for help paying an overdue bill, instead of just writing a check the agency has them sit down with a financial coach.  The coaches can provide money-saving tips and help them access government resources while focusing on long-term financial sustainability.  The check only comes once a family has committed to making real changes in how they handle their money.

Operation Love’s mission is to reach out as the hands and feet of Christ in Madison County to provide tangible goods and services to those in need.  They are not a proselytizing agency, but most of their volunteers come from member churches.  And while they have guidelines in place to make sure no one pushes their faith on clients, they also believe that faith and prayer is part of what they do, and that faith can play a critical role in helping people to overcome the many crises in their lives.