Bob and Betty: An Elderly Couple’s Journey through Unexpected Homelessness

Bob and Betty, a loving elderly couple, spent much of their lives secure and happy—working hard and living the dream in California. Unfortunately, the recession hit them hard: Bob, a contract worker, was laid off, there was no work to be found in his industry, and housing costs were quickly on the rise. They knew staying in California was unsustainable, so they tried moving to the Colorado Rockies and starting over. During the next 5 years, Bob found unreliable on-again off-again contract work and the couple were barely getting by. Social security was not enough to cover the necessities, and their savings slowly dwindled away.

Then Bob found a good job opportunity in Boulder, so they packed up along with their two cats and moved to Lafayette in their truck—a seemingly temporary necessity—when the job fell through.

So in the spring of 2019, the couple found themselves living out of their truck in an unfamiliar area with no money and no friends or family that could help. Their phone was turned off when they couldn’t pay their bill. They moved the truck from place to place every night, because they weren’t allowed to camp anywhere for long and their gas was disappearing.

“We were just floating,” said Betty.

Bob said they never imagined they’d be in such a situation: he was employable, has a lot of skills, they were responsible and have good credit. Things just shouldn’t be going this way.

“But we never felt sorry for ourselves or less than. People need to know that if they’re in a situation like ours, they still count, they matter,” said Betty.

But the couple stayed resilient and were extremely resourceful. Soon after being in the area, they found hot meals available at Josephine Commons and help from a local church they began attending. The Lafayette Senior Center became a place for Betty to spend the day, where she could shower, exercise, have some tea and muffins while Bob used the computers to find work. But Bob said the hardest thing to get was gas. No one really offered gas money, the truck was their only home and transportation, “and it’s a gas guzzler,” said Bob.

Betty said the hardest time for her was losing her beloved cat, Mickey, who usually spent every night curled inside her sleeping bag with her, but ran away while they were moving their truck. Weeks went by and they had driven all over town trying to find him. Then, after dropping Betty off at the Senior Center one day, Bob saw Mickey just walk right by him! Betty and Mickey were finally reunited.

The couple was initially referred to Sister Carmen Community Center for help with food, but they found so much more. They met with an SCCC Advocate several times and were eventually connected to Brittany, SCCC’s Advocate Manager for more support. Bob and Betty said that Brittany is a very special person and that often just having someone to talk to makes the biggest difference.

“We didn’t know where to go or how to get started. But this (SCCC) was a haven. The difference with Sister Carmen is that once you walked in, there’s like an aura of compassion, caring, and an outpouring of love. Everyone made us feel like we were doing okay, but they can help us get better. We kept reminding ourselves this would only be temporary.”

Not only did Bob and Betty get food for themselves, but they got cat food from the Pet Pantry that comes once a week, they were able to get connected with gas cards, money to cover some medication of Betty’s when it ran out, and most importantly, a deposit and first month’s rent to get into an apartment. In September, after five months of living in their truck and just as Sister Carmen was helping the couple to get housed, Bob finally secured a job! They moved into their new place and spent the first night in just their sleeping bags on the floor. The next day they woke up to the first snow of the year and were so grateful they didn’t have to spend the night in the truck.

After they were housed, SCCC gave them thrift store vouchers to help get settled in their apartment while they were still getting things out of storage. They are now happily settled.

“It’s important for people to know that it gets frustrating,” said Betty, “but if you have a good attitude that helps a lot.”

Prescheduled Gifts to Sister Carmen for Colorado Gives Day will be Matched up to $10,000!

Thanks to St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, all prescheduled gifts to Sister Carmen for Colorado Gives Day will be matched up to $10,000! Starting November 1st, visit ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen to preschedule your gift.

Colorado Gives Day is very important to Sister Carmen—last year, we raised over $100,000! This statewide day of giving helps us support thousands of families with critical services such as food and financial assistance.

Every donation made on Tuesday, December 8th for Colorado Gives Day (or prescheduled beginning November 1st) is boosted by the $1 Million Incentive Fund, which increases the value of every dollar. For example, if a nonprofit receives 10% of total donations made on CO Gives Day, they receive 10% of the incentive fund. Sister Carmen Community Center usually receives about $2,500 – 4,000 from this fund. Gifts only count towards Colorado Gives Day if they are made through our online portal at ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen!

Many families in our community are struggling with their utility bills

SCCC Experiences a 40% Decrease in Utilities Funding

Utility bill assistance is one of the many core resources Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC) provides to the community, including assistance with water, heat, and electricity bills. SCCC receives this funding through Energy Outreach Colorado, who unfortunately experienced a funding cut of their own this year and are unable to provide their usual level of support.

Through this unfortunate situation, Sister Carmen received a 40% decrease in funding for participant utilities from over $80,000 to only $50,000 per year. With the fall weather already bringing cooler days, many of your neighbors may not be able to heat their homes this winter.

During the COVID-19 crisis, utility companies like Xcel Energy paused billing, late fees, and disconnect notices, but have resumed normal services again. Some participants who paused payments during the earlier waves of COVID-19 are now faced with large utility bills—some over $2,000—which can take a significant toll on families already struggling to get by.

There is some relief—Xcel can help with flexible payment plans, and SCCC also connects participants to resources like the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP). LEAP is a statewide program that provides assistance for heating costs during the winter months (November – April). For many, however, this simply isn’t enough; utility expenses have increased with so many people spending more time at home during the pandemic. Some families may not qualify, and the full cost of the utility bill isn’t covered by the program.

Sister Carmen is here to help, and in order to serve our community, we need you. Reductions in funding mean we rely on our individual donors now more than ever. You can make a difference today by donating securely online at ColoradoGives.org/sistercarmen.

Matching gifts are an easy way to support Sister Carmen

GIVING SMART: DOES YOUR COMPANY HAVE A WORKPLACE GIVING PROGRAM?

If you volunteer or donate to Sister Carmen Community Center, your time and dollars may be able to go even further by connecting Sister Carmen to your workplace! Many companies are interested in giving back to their communities, especially where their employees live, work, and volunteer. If your employer has a Give Back program of any kind (or you think they should start one!), likely you can find out more by speaking to your Human Resources department. Contact kristen@sistercarmen.org for more information on our end.

Some examples of Workplace Giving programs include:

  • Grant Opportunity: some companies only offer grants to nonprofits if one of their employees donates or volunteers there. Help get us connected!
  • Volunteer Match: the company donates money for every hour employees spend volunteering. So come volunteer yourself or bring the whole team!
  • Corporate Match: the company will match dollar for dollar what employees donate to an organization themselves. You give twice as much!
  • Food Drive: organize a social distance food drive with your coworkers!

Portrait of A Strong and Caring Woman: How One Participant Said “Thank You!”

In early March 2020, the weight and enormity of the COVID-19 crisis began to fall heavily on the shoulders of Sister Carmen staff members. As Boulder Valley School District closed on March 13th and statewide closures began two weeks later, we quickly realized that already vulnerable members of the community were going to need so much more help to make it through this.

Micklina, who works as a Bilingual Advocate at Sister Carmen Community Center, was especially worried about some of her participants who are immunocompromised. One of them, Stewart Ressler, is a retired 74 year old artist who lives alone. He usually supplements his income by selling his art in public, but he cannot do that safely anymore. Micklina gave him a call to ask if he was alright and if there was anything he needed. Stewart said it meant so much to him that she took the time to reach out and personally connect with him. He told her that he was doing alright for now, but was worried about how he was going to make ends meet now that he couldn’t sell his art. That income was vital for him to pay rent and keep afloat. He doesn’t have any other safety net.

After a couple months Stewart’s situation got even tougher as it became obvious he couldn’t go out to sell his art anytime soon. So he called Micklina again and asked for help and advice. She was able to give him partial rent assistance for two months from SCCC to make sure he wouldn’t lose his home while he figured out a long-term plan. She then helped him apply and get approved for the LEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) and AAA (Area Agency on Aging) programs. In addition to connecting him to multiple programs, they talked through ideas for a more sustainable plan, such as getting a roommate.

Stewart was extremely grateful and wanted to do something for Micklina in return. So he painted this beautiful portrait of her, saying that he wanted to portray Micklina as he saw her: a strong and caring woman.

Since mid-March, Sister Carmen Community Center has assisted thousands of people through our food bank with over 400,000 pounds of food. We’ve prevented hundreds from becoming homeless or losing other basic needs such as water and electricity by distributing over $500,000 in direct financial assistance for families, and have only been able to do so, because of generous community donations. Please consider the profound impact your gift can make for each of these neighbors. You can make a difference today by donating securely online at ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen.

Like Tea and Water: One Family’s Journey to the United States

“As a refugee coming to the United States, I didn’t want to be like oil and water. I want to integrate completely, like tea and water.” – Hamid Jounou

Sister Carmen Community Center is a local organization that works to help those in need—anyone who considers East Boulder County their home—without discrimination. We support people with a wide variety of backgrounds—sometimes with a history and story that is very different from our own—but, in other ways, may be all too familiar.

Meet the Jounou family: mother Hanifa (age 62); her sister, Aisha (54); Hanifa’s daughters Rudi (32) and Bana (25); and her sons Hamid (30) and Ussef (24). In 2013, the family fled war-torn Syria to become refugees in Lebanon. Leaving was the last thing that Hanifa wanted to do.

“In the beginning, I refused to leave. It was my home—my country. I was going to wait for the war to end.” – Hanifa

Hanifa’s younger children evacuated with the United Nations for safety, leaving only her son, Hamid, to stay with her. They held out as long as they dared—until there was no electricity, gas, or running water. They burned their belongings for warmth while shooting rampaged in the streets. Finally, having no other recourse, they left secretly in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs, so as to stay hidden from soldiers.

The next 6 years were spent in a refugee camp in Lebanon, where the family was known for their dedication to helping others. Most days were spent caring for their fellow refugees and volunteering with their church, Horizons International. Bana would greet new refugee families and help them get settled by providing clothes, household items, and other necessities.

Their hard work and empathy caught the eye of Kathy, one of our Lafayette neighbors, who went to Lebanon on a mission trip with Horizon in 2016. Despite the language barrier, she discovered a fondness for this amazing self-sacrificing family and offered to become their sponsor as immigrants to the United States.

Kathy often says to them, “You’ve lived your life serving other people. Now it’s your turn to let others help you.”

Immigrating to the U.S. wasn’t easy. The next few years were spent in a web of bureaucracy, forever waiting to hear if they’d been approved and tediously completing medical exams. Finally, the family moved to Lafayette in 2019 with Kathy as their host.

Many local resources were available for the family, including Sister Carmen Community Center. Zoya—a full-time Advocate at Sister Carmen and a fluent Arabic speaker—was able to connect with the family not only through language, but on a community and cultural level. She introduced them to others who spoke Arabic, connected them with free English classes at Intercambio, and continues to assist them in navigating the new country. Zoya also assists in translating for seemingly simple tasks, like getting a bank account or permit to drive, but ones that make a world of difference and allow them to be active members of society.

Within weeks of being in the United States, the 4 adult children all had jobs, permits to drive, and were learning English. Rudi works with Horizon in Boulder, Ussef at Flatirons Community Church, and Hamid and Bana at King Soopers. Weekly, they carpool to their church in Aurora, the only Arabic-speaking church in the area.

The Jounous are looking towards the future: Bana loves to bake and cook, and one day would like to open a restaurant, “or become a translator, like Zoya!” Ussef wants to go into movie production and tell people about his story. Hamid wishes to become a pastor. Rudi wants to focus on her English and do any job that involves helping people.

When asked why they wanted to share their story they gave two reasons: “We want to encourage other refugees, let them know that America is still a land of opportunity, that people are nice and welcoming. And we want to make a good example of what refugees can be: hard working, learning English, and striving for a better life here.” -Hamid

Over the coming months, many of us will enjoy visits from friends and family. We’ll welcome them into our warm home and offer them a meal at our table. As we do, let us not forget those who are still trying to make a home of their own, picking up the pieces of one that was left behind. In donating this holiday season, you will earn the gratitude of thousands of people directly benefiting from the efforts of Sister Carmen Community Center—those from near and far.

Please consider the profound impact your gift can make for each of these people in your community. You can make a difference today by donating securely online at ColoradoGives.org/SisterCarmen.

Holiday Turkeys

Food Drives at Sister Carmen: From Massive to Minuscule, They All Have a Monumental Impact

 

We at Sister Carmen receive thousands of pounds of food donations from hundreds of different places; from local grocery stores and family farms, to small community gardens and restaurants. We collect, process, and distribute upwards of 200,000 pounds of food every month to families in Lafayette. Sister Carmen depends on the kindness of our community to support our efforts. And we don’t just rely on grocery stores and big companies, but many involved and motivated people from all over Boulder County!

Many of our donations are from private individuals and groups coming together to run food drives that help stock our shelves. These drives are not only crucial at bringing in literally tons of food every year, but they’re also a great way for people to get involved on a personal level. Running a food drive brings us together as a community and helps break down barriers.

So far this year, we have received over 150,000 pounds of food through food drives that are run by individuals and organizations.  These people see the important work Sister Carmen does for literally thousands of people a year, they understand the need that we have, and they work to fill the gap between what we receive from other sources and what we need to fill our shelves.

Often, food drives are run by larger organizations, and we will see a huge impact from groups of 100 or more. Techtonic, a local software-development company based in Boulder ran their very first food drive for us in October, a time of year that we tend to have low inventory in our food bank. They raised 514 pounds of food for our families! After such a successful drive, we hope they will do many more.

One of Techtonic’s employees mentioned their reasoning for running a drive this year, “Techtonic made the decision to hold a food drive because community is important to us and we wanted to be sure that we were taking care of ours. Our mission supports changing people’s lives and we felt it was important to give back and support the people in our area.”

Additionally, we also have schools and faith-based organizations that bring in large hauls. Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette holds a major food drive for us in the spring that brings in about half of all our food drive donations every year. Recently, Flatirons also started to run a Turkey Drive for us in November, where, this season, we collected about 200 turkeys and over $15,000 in cash and gift cards!

Likewise, Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette ran their annual drive this month and collected thousands of pounds of food to stock our shelves! Peak to Peak students compete, each school level against the other, all working together to bring in food and other items that our families might need. These drives are crucial to our ability to serve our families and are what help us get through many of the leaner times.

But we can’t forget about the smaller groups and the collective impact they make. Many of our food drives come are run by just a collection of friends or one committed person who puts in a lot of work to bring in an impressive haul. That’s what Keith Summers does every year when he runs his drive.

Keith works tirelessly to collect non-perishable food while also running an online GoFundMe to collect money that he shops with; this year he was able to donate over 700 pounds! This is really impactful because he asks what we need specifically at that moment and then goes and buys just that. He is able to bring in many high need items that we tend to run low on, such as cooking oil, flour, fruit, and even diapers.  Keith has a deep connection to giving, and his annual food drive is no different. He started his canned food drive 8 years ago, and it has evolved over time.

“My father’s birthday is in October and we used to do the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as balloon holders. My pops was a quiet guy around us but it was the one time of year he was himself. He passed in 2005 from a heart attack. I was feeling a bit bummed out, and I decided to do something in his memory. I posted an event on [Facebook] for people to clean out their pantries and I would collect their cans and drop them off at the Boulder Homeless Shelter. It felt great to see everyone’s support and even better to drop the supplies off knowing they would make an impact in people’s lives. I decided to switch the drop off to Sister Carmen to help make an impact in the community where I live. Each year, I try to think of ways to make it easy for people to donate and to create community around the holidays. I believe we are stronger by strength in numbers and that people want to support others. I just provide the forum to help bring us all together for a good cause. I honestly love seeing how people come together to make it all happen. People give me credit, but honestly, it is about all over us creating community and working together.”

At Sister Carmen Community Center, we are so lucky to have such committed and kind people in our county. Without the hard work of all our donors, we would not be successful in meeting the needs of our many families. If you would like to run a drive at your business, school, community center, or family gathering, we would love for you to join in our efforts! We are working hard every day to leverage the amazing community we are part of in Boulder County and get all those we can involved in what we do.

If you would like to start a food drive for Sister Carmen, it is easier than ever! You can now access our online registration on our Food-Drive page, we have a list of most needed-items that will change based on current needs, and we also have many resources in our toolkit to help your drive to be successful. We love to work with any size group and we appreciate everything from the largest, group efforts to the smallest, one-person hustles; they all have a huge impact on the lives of our families and bring us all closer together as humans!

The Cost of Childcare: How Sister Carmen Reduces Barriers for Parents

Access to childcare is a serious barrier for many parents in our community. The cost of infant care in Colorado is more than the annual cost of in-state tuition, and married parents of two children living at the poverty line could end up paying 110% of their household income for center-based childcare. To ease this burden on parents, Sister Carmen Community Center (SCCC) offers supervised, bilingual childcare for most programs.

In many cases, parents wouldn’t be able to visit Sister Carmen if they didn’t know their kids were in a safe place—both physically and emotionally. “Sometimes when kids are there for the first time, it can be scary for them—they don’t know me,” says Christine, Sister Carmen’s Childcare Coordinator. “I try to make that easy for them. A lot of times that means getting down and sitting on the floor and saying ‘check out this toy’ or ‘your mom is going to be right in that room.’ ”

Christine is responsible for ensuring that childcare professionals are available while parents attend programs such as Nurturing Parenting classes, nutrition classes, the Family Leadership Training Institute, and Family Fun Night. (Unlike daycare, however, parents must stay on-site.) Co-located agencies also use the childcare room and either bring their own providers or collaborate with Sister Carmen. On a busy week, Christine coordinates support for 45 – 50 kids. “It’s really cool seeing the kids grow,” she says. “There are some who couldn’t walk when they first came, and now they’re running down the hall. Some were too shy to speak, and now they’re talking up a storm.”

 Sister Carmen’s on-site community garden is a special part of the childcare program, with opportunities for kids to get their hands dirty and learn where food comes from. “You should see the amazement when they pull a carrot—it’s fun to share in that,” says Christine. “Robyn [SCCC’s Garden Coordinator] is great at accommodating the space, finding herbs that smell good, and picking edible flowers for the kids to try. This spring when the irises were growing, I took a couple boys out there to cut some and put them in a vase for their mom.”

The childcare room is small, and aside from the garden, Sister Carmen doesn’t have a playground. “We have to get creative with the space,” says Christine. The warehouse often becomes a craft room, the conference room white board turns into a gallery wall, and the front reception area transforms into a theater for watching movies.

Whether exploring the garden or simply discovering a new toy in the playroom, children at Sister Carmen are supported alongside their parents so that the whole family can thrive.

To learn more about childcare at Sister Carmen, contact christine@sistercarmen.org.

Bridging Digital Divides: Addressing Digital Inequity in our Community

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, 11,899 Boulder County residents don’t have a computer or Internet subscription in their home. The populations most impacted by digital inequity are high school graduates who are unemployed or not in the labor force, those who identify as Hispanic, and residents 65 years or older.

To address this challenge, Sister Carmen Community Center partnered with Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) and several other area organizations and to create a new program—Bridging Digital Divides (BDD). BDD connects underserved families and individuals with digital resources that they would otherwise not be able to access on their own. BDD promotes digital equity by providing affordable technology to low-income households, teaching basic computer skills to individuals that need them, and collaborating with other agencies to create a sustainable and community-driven movement towards digital equity.

During the program’s first year in 2018, 10 digital literacy series were launched with 145 participants, 90% of whom were women. The series consisted of 8 two-hour classes, in Spanish, covering the basics of email, internet search and security, scams and phishing, typing and word-processing, and the navigation of local online resources such as the BVSD parent portal. Childcare and dinner were provided, as well as a Chromebook for participants with perfect attendance. We are proud to announce a graduation rate of 98%!

Broadband Internet access is another crucial part of bridging the gap. BDD is currently assisting participants with Internet access through a partnership with Livewire and Comcast’s discount program. So far, BDD has connected 38% of participants who indicated that they did not have broadband Internet service at home.

All participants last year were Latino, but BDD plans to add a bilingual series in 2019 to reach low-income English-speaking participants and seniors. This spring, BDD will also hold 5 classes in Boulder, Lafayette, and Broomfield, including an experimental Level II class. Participants in the Level II classes will also serve as volunteers in the Level I classes, which empowers alumni to share their new skills.

Want to get involved? We’re always looking for volunteers to assist with classes! Contact Lara for more information.

Conquering Obstacles: How WorkLife Partnership and SCCC Support Underemployed Workers

Sister Carmen Community Center recently partnered with WorkLife Partnership, which is a social enterprise nonprofit that connects employees in need with community resources and opportunities to increase job skills. Navigators connect members with resources, and Upskill Coaches provide training for soft skills, workplace communication, and other traits to help underemployed participants reach their fullest potential.

“Underemployment” refers to employed workers that are not necessarily reaching their workplace potential. Some obstacles keeping participants underemployed are the lack of communication and workplace problem solving skills, lack of resources for training, lack of soft skills, or a variety of other life factors.

As an Upskill Coach, Amy helps participants build their own plans to address these obstacles. These meetings focus on long-term and educational goals, which are often one in the same. Through coaching, participants build soft skills, develop communication, and create their own toolbox of goal-setting resources. Coaching also fosters community connections and emphasizes employee engagement and retention services.

Amy meets with participants once their other necessities – such as food and stable housing– have been secured. Success is much more likely without worrying about access to basic needs, and WorkLife’s partnership with Sister Carmen makes it easier to ensure these necessities have been met. If participants bring up other issues during their time with Amy, she can easily refer them to the proper department on-site at Sister Carmen.

Amy has experienced the power of mentorship firsthand. “I started college at age 26 with a GED and a 5 year-old,” she says. After working in higher education and workforce development, Amy believes “mentors are transformational and hold valuable keys to poverty reduction.”

Amy’s favorite part of the job is helping participants get excited again and finding the keys to their own success. When participants feel stuck and hopeless, she helps them plan a roadmap. Options and choices emerge where none existed before.

To learn more, visit www.worklifepartnership.org