Here are some of our favorite client stories
So often, the things we take for granted are also most important to our success and well-being. A quick run to the market, a drive to a doctor’s appointment, a trip to a job interview; how difficult these simple tasks become if we can’t drive.
Graduates of the Crisis Ministry’s License to Succeed program will attest to this, having seen how the acquisition of a driver’s license can make a tough situation so much more manageable.
Calvin Brown had been working for the New Jersey State Parole Board for ten years, and was eager to move forward in his career. A promotion, an increase in salary – these things were nearly within his grasp.
But something stood in his way.
Calvin could not advance, because the next promotion required that he drive. Having lost his license 27 years earlier, Calvin had lost the motivation to do anything about it.
Then a friend stepped in.
Having been through the License to Succeed program himself, this friend knew just where Calvin could turn for help. And the story of Calvin Brown took a turn for the better.
As soon as he entered the program, Calvin felt inspired and motivated again, and knew he could change his life.
Working with the Crisis Ministry’s Dara Lewis was “wonderful,” Calvin says. “Dara made it so easy and helped me through the process,” offering valuable guidance with the paperwork and logistics. Determined, he studied for the written test on line, and earned a high score. All that was left was to obtain his permit, and then earn his license — which he did.
Now, with the license that qualified him for his promotion and the use of a company car, the world has opened up in many ways.
“I feel very independent now,” Calvin says. Since going through License to Succeed, he can better care for his family in a way that is very important to him.
Though his own children are grown, Calvin is raising a nephew with special needs. “I have custody of my autistic nephew,” he says, “and having a license has made it easier for me to get him to his doctors’ appointments.”
Who can’t relate to the importance of this type of independence?
Calvin is thankful for the program and the people who have helped him along the way: “If not for the Crisis Ministry, I wouldn’t have a license today.”
“Homelessness affected several areas of my life,” says Michael. “I wasn’t providing for my five-year-old daughter. I wasn’t in contact with my family, and they worried about me as I moved from house to house with friends or to a shelter. Homelessness has been intrinsic to my life since the beginning,” he adds, starting with abandonment as a baby by his mother and being raised in her mother’s crowded home.
It comes as no surprise to anyone who talks with Michael that he excelled academically. Still, despite achieving excellent grades, his volatility—a result of instability at home—got the best of him and he was expelled. He eventually obtained his GED and continued with college studies for a time, Latin being among his courses. He enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1987 to 1992, and is a Gulf War veteran. Michael has since held jobs in food prep and other fields, but none for any meaningful duration.
“I have really been tested,” Michael says. His clothes have been stolen more than once. His money, too. But he considers those minor losses compared to the prized possession that disappeared with them: his official Marine Corps portrait. That hurt. But not enough to give up.
While staying in the Rescue Mission of Trenton, he would leave daily at 6 a.m. and carry his clothes and other belongings with him until he returned for the evening. He considered this his cross to bear, giving an example: “Let’s say you have a job interview at 9 a.m., but you’ve been out walking since 6 a.m. Not only will you have no place to put your clothes during your interview, but you won’t look or feel your best. All of these things added up. But I made do. Faith helped me through.”
Over time, Michael stabilized his mental health with help from Greater Trenton Behavioral Health, Princeton House, and the Rescue Mission. His next step was to stabilize his living situation.
He came to the Crisis Ministry for help. Our rapid re-housing program provided the foundation for his next step toward self-sufficiency: an apartment
But there was more in store when he arrived: “When I applied for security deposit help and was told there were things that the Crisis Ministry needed help with, a bell went off for me.”
Michael has found a way to put his skills and abilities to work, “to be of use,” as he puts it. He provides 10 paid hours of service a week to the Crisis Ministry as the facilities assistant we desperately needed and additionally serves as a volunteer, a combination that helps him to focus on polishing habits like punctuality, communication, and confidence as he prepares to pursue training to become a Mental Health Associate for a provider such as Princeton House. “I’ve got big dreams, but they can be accomplished only small steps at a time,” he says. “I’m mapping the course by which I can get there.”
He describes a recent scene: “I sat outside the Dunkin’ Donuts with my coffee and experienced a feeling of community in the sense of all parts coming together. I no longer felt like some statistic, but instead felt a sense of peace.” About a week later, he held another cup of coffee as he sat in front of the same Dunkin’ Donuts. Only this time what entered Michael’s mind was, “My goodness, I have a lot to do!”
A manager for 10 years at a telecommunications company, Christina was laid off from her job and is glad that the Crisis Ministry is here for her during a difficult time.
Thanks to back rent assistance from our Homelessness Prevention team she and her children remain in their apartment.
Through the Crisis Ministry’s Client Choice pantry, she has access to healthy food for her family.
Though Christina is busy seeking employment and caring for her children, she makes time to volunteer for the Crisis Ministry. Equipped with excellent customer service skills honed during her years as a manager, she shares her naturally friendly manner with clients and, as a speaker of four languages, can jump in when needed to translate from Spanish, Creole, or Portuguese.
“The Crisis Ministry has helped me and a lot of people in the community,” Christina says. “When I first came here for help, I was under so much stress with my eviction notice. But I was told, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to work out.’ I am treated well here. There is always a smile to welcome me.”
Vanessa, Crisis Ministry staff member
The Crisis Ministry receives hundreds of calls each month from people facing shut-off of utilities due to non-payment. We assist as many qualifying callers as we can with direct payments of up to $400 to the utilities.
In some cases, however, the cause of the issue calls for a different kind of help.
“I always try to find other ways to help when there’s some type of red flag,” says Crisis Ministry Utilities Coordinator Vanessa Lagares. “In some recent cases, the bills were so high that any help we provided would not make a dent. I directed the callers to contact the Board of Public Utilities.” The BPU representative helped to restructure the bill into extended plans that would make the monthly payments manageable while still ensuring that the caller would make good on his bills. “It took about three days for the case to be resolved — a long time, but worth it,” says Vanessa.
Sometimes the assistance will be, rather than direct financial assistance, a payment plan that Vanessa is able to work out with the utilities provider on behalf of the client. “Many calls come from people who are on a fixed income,” she says. “A lot of our callers don’t know where to turn to or what kinds of questions to ask. We sometimes are able to help them sort things out beyond the direct aid we provide.”
In one such case, a caller had a $17,000 utility balance. Vanessa knew something was not right about this unusually high balance, which appeared to be several years in the making. She referred the caller to Legal Aid, which helped get to the bottom of the situation. It turned out that a faulty meter had been measuring and accumulating the monthly usage of an entire apartment building, something that the landlord should have been aware of. The erroneous billing had created a destructive domino effect as the tenant struggled but failed to pay overly high utility bills and fell behind financially in other areas. In the end, the bill was wiped out and the caller received an additional $2,000 credit to make up for what were not payment arrears but rather overpayments.
“The people we help are very thankful for the advice and advocacy we provide,” says Vanessa. “It’s helping people that makes me happy. That’s how I like to leave at the end of my day.”
The story of C., a mother of two children with disabilities, illustrates how the program’s relatively low individual direct costs can lead to life-changing results. When C. came to the Crisis Ministry for assistance in March 2012 she was not working, and her family’s sole income came from the disability payments (Social Security Disability Income) both children receive. She wanted to get back to work and was eagerly awaiting an interview with a home health aide agency. However, her suspended driver’s license represented a huge barrier. The License to Succeed team worked quickly and restored her license in time to improve her job candidacy. During a November 27 outcome follow-up interview, C. reported that “things were perfect,” as she has regained her self-sufficiency and, as a home health aide, is able to drive to her patients’ homes to provide care.
Cora was a standout when enrolled in our Harvesting Hope training and employment search program.
Cora refreshed her skills and focused her job search, all the while providing excellent service within the Crisis Ministry’s food pantry program as an on-the-job trainee.
Cora completed the Harvesting Hope program with proven skills, new experience, a more effective resume, and polished interview skills. She was hired by Comfort Care as a caregiver and companion for elderly clients. At the same time, Cora became certified as a New Jersey Certified Nursing Assistant and as a phlebotomist.
Currently, the Crisis Ministry staff is thrilled to count Cora as a colleague, as an AmeriCorps worker and Hunger Prevention assistant!