David and Tuck: Finding Hope after Facing Homelessness

This holiday season, we want to share with you a very important story of an individual who needed help, healing, and hope — and got just that at Sister Carmen Community Center, thanks to supporters like you.

Eight years ago, David moved to Lafayette with his teenage daughter and his dog Tuck.

“I was a teacher, and I absolutely loved it — connecting with kids, watching their minds grow. It’s amazing. I was always independent. Ever since I was a teenager, I always had a job, an income. I was good about saving money for emergencies and retirement.” 

But in 2018, David was in a car accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. Even long after he was mostly physically recovered, David struggled to stay focused and get back into the classroom. These new and unique mental challenges led to the loss of his teaching job. “I lost my confidence,” David told us.

David’s daughter was now 18 and going to college, but he needed employment that would at least provide health insurance for the both of them. He took a job at a warehouse making a mere $15 per hour — not nearly enough to make rent, let alone to cover other basic necessities.

His savings dwindled down to almost nothing. He was exhausted, working up to 17 hours a day on his feet, and could feel it taking a toll on his body. David worked until he physically could work no longer, eventually losing his warehouse job as well. With the loss of his job came the loss of his apartment and his much-needed health insurance.

With Tuck by his side, David now faced homelessness. “I was couch surfing when and where I could. I was looking at YouTube videos on how to convert a car into a home. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from living up to everyone else’s expectations … with a great education, I could do anything I wanted up until the car accident — then it was one big slugfest. And it was pretty lonesome.”

David had heard of Sister Carmen when he first moved to Lafayette, but he had never asked for help before. Now, at his loneliest hour, David came to Sister Carmen and met with an Advocate who introduced him to resources and helped him make a plan.

The first step was getting him safely housed. We arranged a short-term rental for him to stay in until he was accepted into the long-term Housing Stabilization Program. “After that, I was drawing my first real breaths in a long time. There was so much depression and anxiety that came with living in my car. You have to be kind to yourself and really pull yourself through.”

In 2020, David got a job at a pharmacy and successfully exited the HSP program. He moved his way up to working as a pharmacy technician — a position that, luckily, was considered essential during the pandemic.

“I remember this was the first time I got to sleep in a really long time. When people show that they have faith in you, then you heal. If you show that you have faith in someone then they learn to have hope for themselves.”

In December 2020, before vaccines were widely available, another round of bad luck hit David: he caught COVID-19 and became extremely ill.

“I took ten days off work, but even then, I still had trouble getting out of bed. I could hardly breathe. I was also experiencing long-COVID symptoms like brain fog. My doctor suggested I cut back the hours I worked.”

In March it became clear that his employers weren’t willing to accommodate his new adjusted schedule, and David was once again let go. His landlord wouldn’t let him renew his lease, so he wasn’t protected by eviction moratoriums. Desperate, he turned to Sister Carmen again.

SCCC helped cover the first month’s rent and deposit to get him re-housed. We connected him to a rental assistance program for those who were financially affected by COVID-19 that will keep him safely housed for 12 months while he gets back on his feet. David’s goal is to find a job that pays a living wage again so he won’t be in danger of falling behind from one bad illness or some bad luck. His wish is to return to his true calling as a teacher.

“I have the confidence again and can remember that teacher in me, that’s prepared and connected with every student,” he recalls. “One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that being independent is good, but having a team is important. The people of Lafayette and the people at Sister Carmen became my family. It’s tough to ask for help. [Sister Carmen is] one of the only entities I know that will give people the benefit of the doubt… that will come from a place of empathy first and incentivizing instead of being disciplinary. And it’s always been consistent.”

David’s story is unique, but he’s one of hundreds of individuals that Sister Carmen Community Center helps every year. We ask that you consider not only them, but all the individuals and families who are in need of our help this holiday season. We can only do the life-changing work we do with the support of our community. Help us to offer hope and second chances by contributing today.

“I’m just so grateful. There really aren’t words. My advice to anyone in a similar situation would be simply to reach out. Don’t be afraid. Reach out. And beyond your wildest imagination, there is love for you in places you would never expect.” – David and Tuck

 

Too Sick to Work: How Robert’s Family Faced Homelessness while he Battled Cancer

In 2019, Robert was working a steady job in Florida while caring for his aging mother, his 16 year old daughter, and his younger brother with special needs. Robert’s mother had relatives in Colorado that were going through a tough time and his mother wanted the family to move to be closer to them. Robert thought these family members would help them until they got situated, but the very same night they arrived in Colorado, Robert was told they couldn’t stay and they were forced to go elsewhere. While staying with a friend temporarily, his mother had a bad fall tripping over their dog and seriously injured her shoulder. Robert was forced to find a better situation for his family and all he could find on such short notice was a small hotel room.

While trying to find a more permanent job, Robert was making ends meet by working for drive-sharing companies. This quickly fell into a cycle of making only just enough money during the day to pay for his car payment, their food, and cover the cost of the hotel room for the next night. Robert was barely keeping his head above water and could only manage to look ahead a few days at a time. Then, in spring of 2020, Robert began to fall ill.

As the days and weeks went by Robert was feeling sicker. He didn’t have insurance so he put off going to the doctor. When he was so ill he couldn’t work anymore and the family faced homelessness Robert finally went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with cancer. His family was again able to stay with a friend temporarily and the hospital staff helped get him signed up for Medicaid to cover the cost of treatment. But Robert still worried about the well-being of his loved ones since working while he sought treatment would be impossible and they still had no place to live. That’s when they were connected to Sister Carmen Community Center.

The family had utilized some of Sister Carmen’s services occasionally such as the food bank. His experience with SCCC had always been that they were friendly and understanding, but he had no idea how much they could help him now. After reaching out, Robert was connected with an Advocate who listened to his family’s situation, offered him options and advice, and shortly enrolled him into a program to get them housed. By August of 2020 the family had a safe place to live where they could afford rent until Robert recovered. This gave him the peace of mind to know his family was cared for and he could focus on treatment and getting his life under control.

Over the next 6 months Robert had undergone 2 surgeries, 2 rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In February of 2021 he was finally declared to be in remission! Robert has also been taking real estate classes and plans to work as a realtor once he passes his exam.

“You guys are life savers. The doctor told me that if I had waited 6 more months to get treatment it would’ve been too late. If I didn’t have a place to stay and continued to push through working as much as I had to make ends meet, then I definitely wouldn’t have been able to continue with the treatment I needed.”

To anyone else who is struggling Robert says, “Just keep your head up. It’s always going to get better. No matter what happens just push forward and you’ll make it through. My grandma taught me, ‘it doesn’t matter what else goes on, you just got to keep pushing forward.”

How our Staff Keeps Showing Up for the Community

by Suzanne Crawford, CEO

“I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.” – Stephanie Sparkle

The past year and a half has not been easy for our staff and volunteers. When COVID first hit, other businesses were shutting down but we knew that was not an option for SCCC. Food, financial assistance, and other resources (like digital literacy training and parent support groups) were more needed than ever. We had to keep providing support to our most vulnerable community members, so we adapted our operations in order to continue offering services in a safe manner. During that early time, when we were going through so many transitions as an organization, our staff and volunteers were having their own fears and reactions to the pandemic. Every person in our organization seemed to be in a different position on the continuum of concern and how a person felt could change from day to day. We learned very quickly to apply our philosophy regarding how we work with our participants to each other: we needed to meet each other where we were in that moment. We had to let each other feel what we needed to feel and give each other grace. Supporting each other became our number one concern because we knew we were only as strong as our weakest link.

Our staff—and a core group of dedicated volunteers—continued to show up day after day after day after day. They adapted, they filled in for each other, they took on new roles and responsibilities when necessary, and they met an unprecedented demand for financial assistance and food. What is truly remarkable about this is that so many were dealing with major life issues outside of work: weddings, deaths, breakups, illnesses, home purchases, and family emergencies. All of the major traumas that happen during normal life still happen during a pandemic. Yet our folks continually showed up for each other and showed up for our community.

Despite the heartache of this past year, there is also a deep well of joy that comes from being a part of such a wonderful team. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to this amazing team for all you have done to support your community and each other. You continued carrying those buckets of water, despite the stresses you were personally going through. For this, you have my deepest gratitude, respect, and love.

Sister Carmen Supports Lafayette’s 2021 Mental Health and Human Services Ballot Measure

Did you know 1 in 3 Coloradans struggle to afford food?

This fall, Lafayette voters will be asked to approve or reject a ballot measure to increase funding for mental health and human services. Lafayette’s 2021 Mental Health and Human Services Ballot will provide much needed funding to support local non-profits to help those families in our community who are encountering challenges such as food insecurity, mental health, domestic violence, medical care, and inability to afford rent, utilities, or childcare.

Sister Carmen stands behind this ballot measure. Local human service agencies—including Sister Carmen—have experienced unprecedented growth and service demands, and obtaining enough money to meet the increasing needs in our community has been a challenge. These variables continue to place significant strains on the ability of community-based human services safety net providers to effectively meet Lafayette residents’ needs within available resources.

Watch Harain, one of Sister Carmen’s Bilingual Advocates and Cultural Ambassadors, discuss the importance of these resources. Learn more by visiting www.lafayetteco.gov/2021Ballot

Get Involved by Volunteering at Sister Carmen!

Food Bank: Food Bank volunteers are critical to the mission of SCCC. Volunteers welcome donors, receive and weigh donations, sort food donations, check expiration dates, stock shelves, repackage bulk items, assist with coolers and check-out, and assist participants shopping for food. Shifts are Mon – Fri, 9:00-11:30, 11:30-2:00, or 2:00-4:30 PM. One 2.5 hour shift per week is required. 3 month minimum. Training provided.

Food Bank Box Runner: Tasks include packing and lifting 40+ lb. food boxes onto carts and into cars, working outside, and interfacing with the public. Shifts are Mon – Fri to be determined as we re-open (generally 2-3 hours).

Thrift Store: Tasks include thanking donors, unloading and sorting donations, putting items on shelves and racks, merchandising, and cleaning. Shifts are every day, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM for 2+ hours; drop-in shifts available after training.

Front Office: Tasks include supporting our Office Manager, answering calls, greeting walk-ins, schedule appointments with advocates, assist with class sign-ins, share resource information. Bilingual helpful. Shifts are Mon – Fri, for 2+ hours, morning or afternoon.

Garden: Tasks include planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, composting, and more. No experience necessary. Shifts are 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM on Mondays and Thursdays.

Virtual Volunteering: Opportunities include organizing food drives, kit making (providing baggies of toiletries, feminine products, kids healthy snack bags, etc.), winter coat drives, and more.

Contact Ann@sistercarmen.org for more information on volunteering now or in the future.

Rhianna’s Story

“You need someone to continually motivate you and SCCC helped me to have a voice.”

Rhianna is a single mother of three children, one of whom is disabled. After being married for ten years, and shortly after learning of their son’s diagnoses, Rhianna’s husband abandoned the family. She did her best to provide for her children and build a life for them on her own. They moved into a low-income apartment and between working as a Door Dash driver and child support payments she was able to just make ends meet while also working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice—until the payments suddenly stopped with no warning and COVID made it nearly impossible to work or attend school while also watching her children full-time. In June of 2020, the family was unfairly evicted from their home and spent the next 5 months living in a tent on the street.

She tried to save up money doing Door Dash so she could get back into a home before winter, but even after she had enough money for a deposit, Rhianna quickly learned that no place would approve her for an apartment when she had a recent eviction on her record. Desperate to get the care she needed for her youngest child—who suffers from muscular dystrophy—Rhianna reached out to Imagine Colorado. They were able to set her up in a hotel temporarily and referred her to Sister Carmen Community Center.

SCCC’s full-time Advocate, Hugo, worked closely with Rhianna on her case to get her approved for the Housing Stabilization Program (HSP), which got her into an apartment and covered her deposit and 3 month’s rent to start. She was even given a voucher to the Sister Carmen Thrift Store with so she could get household items for the children.

SCCC then referred Rhianna to a program to become a Certified Nursing Assistance (CNA) and get paid to be her son’s own caregiver. Rhianna told us that before coming to SCCC she wouldn’t have been ready to take on something like the CNA program, but felt that because the opportunity was made available and someone gave her the encouraging push she needed that she felt more sure of herself.

Now, Rhianna feels like her family can finally be truly self-sufficient. Her son has the care he needs, and the ability to work from home and have steady income has allowed her to continue school again and she looks forward to earning her degree. She speaks to SCCC staff weekly. “They check-in and ask how things are going. They work with me to get any information I need. My Advocate pushes me to the right places. Brittany—the Advocate Manager—is the magic wand voice of all voices. She reaches out for classes that I might be interested in or says ‘here’s a job opportunity’ and encourages me to stay connected…I feel like I can reach out to them no matter what’s going on.”

National Volunteer Month: Celebrating Food Bank Volunteers Nancy and Harry Blum

April is National Volunteer month, and Sister Carmen had over 400 active volunteers who worked a total of over 18,500 last year–certainly something to celebrate! Two of those volunteers are Nancy and Harry Blum.

Nancy and Harry have been wonderful, dedicated volunteers for many years, volunteering over 1,200 hours! They have volunteered multiple shifts during the pandemic, when we needed help the most. They are quick to take on any job that’s needed, and help show new volunteers the ropes. Nancy and Harry are compassionate, fun, and hardworking volunteers. They live at Anthem Ranch, and have done outreach for volunteer recruitment, food drives, and more. We are extremely lucky to have such kind and devoted volunteers.

“Nancy and Harry Blum are truly our Food Bank volunteer rock stars! They began volunteering in July of 2017 and have devoted countless hours over these past 3 years to improving the overall organization and running of our Food Bank. Like clockwork, 3 times a week for 3 hours each time, they always arrive with enthusiasm, compassion, efficiency and a wonderful sense of humor! Their commitment to volunteering is exceptional.”–Ruth Perry, Food Bank Manager

In their words:

“Harry and I have been volunteering 3 days a week (about 72 hours a month) at Sister Carmen Food Bank since May of 2017. We moved to Anthem Ranch in Broomfield from Southern California in 2016 to be close to family. Even though there are a lot of ways to spend your day when you retire, volunteering has always been a part of our lives. Volunteering at a food bank was a natural for Harry since he retired from working part time at Trader Joes for 9 years. I did many years of volunteer work with dog rescues, community outreach, and nonprofit organizations,  after our retirement from working together selling real estate.  We simply needed a purpose in our lives and a way to give back.  Sister Carmen Food Bank was the answer. What we love about our “jobs” is that it is not really a job, it is fun, and we always do something different each day and with wonderful coworkers.  We call it our “food bank family” as this is like our second home.  Harry loves bringing in all the breads, pastries, produce and Whole Foods and Costco prepared foods when the truck comes in and stocking all the shelves. He is a big hand to Ruth, our hard working fearless leader lifting and organizing food items in the warehouse. I enjoy projects like assembling toiletry and goodie bags for the families in need, stocking all the pastries and bread on the shelves, helping with the produce, putting little goodies in food boxes and just making sure everything is organized.  I love to hear Harry laughing and having fun with his coworkers. We are constantly busy, moving and getting plenty of exercise.  Yes, we are tired at the end of our shift, however, it is a great feeling to be needed and give back to the community.”  –Nancy and Harry Blum

Want to join our team of volunteers? Click here to learn more.

The Food Bank Pays it Forward

In 2020, many local farmers and ranchers were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as their biggest buyers (restaurants) closed down. Sister Carmen Community Center was fortunate enough to receive funding from Boulder County, the CARES Act, Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, and Colorado State’s Food Pantry Assistance program. By partnering with local producers—Wisdom Natural Poultry, Ollin Farms, El Mercado, Vitamin Cottage, and Morning Fresh Dairy—we were able to supplement our donated typically non-perishable items with fresh nutritious foods including vegetables, eggs, dairy, and poultry. We were even able to purchase culturally appropriate foods for the holidays—something that we wouldn’t have been able to do without the additional funding. This support greatly helped us to keep up with the demand we were seeing in the community, but this funding also had the added benefit of helping those local producers—doubly giving back to those in need:

Jay and Cindy Wisdom of Wisdom Natural Poultry: “We first came to hear of Sister Carmen when one of your wonderful supporters contacted us to buy our product to be delivered to the community center to help with the increased demand for the food challenged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the state closed down in March, we lost nearly 100% of our business when the restaurants and Farmers Market would be closed until further notice. It was the single most devastating thing that has ever happened to us. We started to change our business plan for more direct sales to individuals, but, without the help of that supporter and Sister Carmen buying from us we would not have survived this very hard time. COVID-19 is far from over and we would very much like to continue to do business with Sister Carmen.”

Kena and Mark Guttridge of Ollin Farms: “Working with Sister Carmen had a positive impact on our business in 2020.  Our farm had increased our vegetable production and saw our outlets shift or get cancelled due to COVID so supplying different food access programs became key in our farms economic survival as we transitioned our business model. Our experience with SCCC was extremely positive. At Ollin Farms we are passionate about growing nutrient dense food that can provide health to our local community, we have worked with a number of organizations over the years on food access programs, so partnering with Sister Carmen and seeing our produce go through their distribution channels to reach a greater audience was great. The values and goals of Ollin Farms for growing healthier communities align so well with the same values and work that Sister Carmen has been championing for years, these are the kind of community partnerships that we appreciate most, and we would love to continue to work with Sister Carmen. Let’s keep growing it!”

Finding Strength in Hard Times: One Participant’s Journey

Throughout this ongoing crisis, we’ve heard endless stories of hardship, desperation, but also resiliency from the participants we serve.
One such story is that of Christa. In 2017, after years of emotional abuse and manipulation, Christa became a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband. She lost her job and was constantly sick from stress. She didn’t have a good support system of friends and family at the time. Christa always enjoyed prayer and considered herself as having a close relationship with God—but over the years, her husband had stripped away her dignity, her hope, and even her faith.
When she finally gained the courage to leave, she struggled with homelessness and was forced to live out of her van. She experienced constant harassment from her ex-husband and his friends, and at one point they even destroyed her van.
“I was so scared all the time. But the destruction he caused only made me stronger.” 
Christa was connected to Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (S.P.A.N.)—whom she says were wonderfully helpful—and they were able to help get her housed and employed. But just as things were looking up, she was laid off in June 2019, and by November she was homeless again.
After happily reconciling with family, she was able to move in with her elderly mother—but then COVID-19 hit. Christa didn’t qualify for unemployment, and she feared getting a job that would expose her immunocompromised mother. When it became apparent that the virus was the new normal, Christa knew that finding a job wasn’t an option anymore. She made the painful decision to move out and spent the next few months rotating between couches, sleeping in tents, her car…
“I felt like the world was against me. I was vulnerable and unsafe out in the open, but I was terrified of going to a shelter and risk catching the virus.” 
Sister Carmen was here to help. Christa was recommended to Sister Carmen Community Center and learned about the Housing Stabilization Program (HSP). HSP is a short-term rental assistance program for anyone in Boulder County. Most participants are recovering from some type of trauma such as medical, divorce, or domestic violence, where one month of support just isn’t enough to get them back on their feet permanently. SCCC’s full-time HSP Coordinator acts as an advocate for participants, helps them to apply, and stays with them throughout the program. HSP can be competitive and the process of being accepted can be a long one—especially while waiting during difficult circumstances. But Christa handled the situation with patience, saying she only had a positive experience with SCCC through the entire process. She was finally accepted and able to move into a condo in July!
“I can’t express my gratitude enough toward the people who work here. They’ve been so patient with me—even when I had an emotional breakdown. They restored my faith in myself and I’m so happy.”
SCCC also connected Christa to other programs that would help her on her path to success: a career workshop, support group, and a financial wellness class. She utilizes the Food Bank, and Sister Carmen Thrift Store vouchers helped cover basic items for her new home. Now, Christa is building credit, making career plans, and hopes to attend future classes and programs as opportunities open up.
“Sister Carmen has made me feel whole again. I feel complete. I have my faith back.” 
We stand in awe of the resourcefulness, resiliency, and dedication shown by the families we serve—we know that ultimately it is the participants themselves who do the heavy lifting. We strive to be there to offer a hand up when people need it—meeting them where they are at, no matter where that happens to be in their journey.
This holiday season, we hope you can find it in your heart to give a hand up as well. Please consider a gift to Sister Carmen Community Center as a way to support your neighbors experiencing crisis and surviving during these difficult times.
To donate securely online, click here.

Thrift Store Holiday Shopping Ideas

It’s unfortunate that many of us associate the holidays with spending exorbitant amounts on new gifts, décor and just a ton of STUFF leading to a more stressful season than we enjoyed as kids. But with a little creativity—and by shopping at the thrift store—you can have all the things for your dream holiday season without going broke before the new year! Here are some ideas to get you started…

Name Brand Clothes:
Sister Carmen Thrift Store only puts clothing out on the floor if it is in good, clean condition. We often receive high-end quality items including name brand clothing and handbags, winter coats and jackets, cashmere and wool sweaters, NFL and other sportswear, quality office attire including suit jackets, and special occasion dresses—sometimes even bridal dresses! Beautiful scarves are available for only $1. All of these items can set you back hundreds of dollars at a retail store, but they’re a steal at the thrift store! Found a super good deal, but not your size? Buy it for a friend!

Children’s Gifts and Clothes:
We’ve probably all heard the phrase “you’ll just grow out of it in a month!” Now you can get your child that super cute NFL jersey and it won’t matter that they’ll grow out of it for $5! And we know kids won’t play with all of the toys they put on their Christmas list, so sometimes it doesn’t feel worth it, but if you buy inexpensive items at the thrift store then you can go ahead and fill the space under the tree without feeling guilty. Or maybe that will save you enough for an extra special gift down the road—like college. Speaking of which…

Books:
We have plenty of children’s and adult books! This is definitely the number 1 quarantine gift this year to keep everyone busy indoors. We also carry a ton of cookbooks, a great holiday gift that gives us all something new to try this season. Buy a book for each family member based on their unique interests!

Vintage Jewelry:
Beautiful. Unique. Affordable. What else could you ask for in a gift? Sister Carmen often receives some VERY nice high end jewelry including gold, sterling silver, and gemstones. You never know what you might find! Plus, vintage costume jewelry is very IN right now. A gorgeous set of turquoise earrings—that you only spent a few dollars on—would make a great stocking stuffer!

Arts and Crafts:
We all have some extra time on our hands this year. Why not create something by hand to make your gift even more heartfelt? Sometimes just cleaning, painting, or reupholstering a piece will breath fresh life into it. Check out our home décor and furniture and see if you can find the potential to turn something into a treasure!

Baking:
Speaking of homemade… what’s better than the gift of tasty treats like peanut brittle, toffee, fudge, or cookies?! You don’t need to be Martha Stewart or spend what she does on baking supplies to make some delicious homemade treats. If you don’t have the equipment you need, but want to try your hand at something new, you can buy inexpensive baking and cookware at the thrift store. We even have decorative serving platter and holiday themed tins for gift giving. Looking a little spotty? Try some Bartender’s Friend and make a set of pots and pans shine like new! Pair with one of the cooking or baking books for a perfect combo-gift.

Holiday Decorations:
Household décor can be expensive—especially if you’re changing it out every season. Buy a clear vase and fill it with small colored ornaments for a centerpiece. We have candles galore. There are even trees, wreaths, and outdoor holiday items like lawn ornaments and lights, which can be so expensive if you buy them new! Pre-owned Christmas décor almost never looks “used” since people only put it on display once a year anyway.