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

Nina’s Story

Nina lived her life knowing she always had enough money to cover expenses and  the
means to get what she needed.

When she and her husband divorced her life changed dramatically. The emotional burden
of the divorce weighed on her heavily and she became very depressed.

Initially, Nina received alimony to cover living expenses for her and her daughter.  As she moved
forward and worked towards re-defining her life as single woman her economic lifeline was cut off.
Her ex-husband moved out of the United States and was no longer required to  pay alimony. Nina
did not know how to live without the income she was used to—she had always had financial security.

“There was nowhere to go. I didn’t have many friends here.

They moved from their large family home into an apartment. Nina took a position as a reserve
flight attendant—reserve employees are not guaranteed a full week of work.  Her daughter was working
and contributed to expenses for a while, then she moved out to live with some friends. With not enough
income she fell behind on her bills and was facing a two week eviction notice.

“I was thinking of suicide. There was no way out of this.”

She went to Boulder County Housing and Human Services and they referred her to Sister Carmen Community
Center. She met with our advocate Jen, and left that day knowing her rent would be paid and she had some
time to find an affordable living situation.

“I had to admit I needed help. My life was different now.”

She also left with food from our food bank and a list of things that she could do to help herself.

The first time Jen took me to the food bank, I cried. I could see other people in the same situation
and how lucky we are to have that.”

Within a few months Nina moved in with a friend as his roommate. She was so relieved to find an affordable
living situation and pleasantly found herself feeling at home.

“There is life after despair. I am proof that you can do it.”

Through this transition Nina realized her life holds a new richness and life is not about “What you live in
or what you have.”

“When you look in your purse and only have $5 to last the whole week your perspective changes.

I appreciate the small things much more. Food. Eating.”

As Nina continues her journey her eyes and heart are open to new opportunities and to learning something
new every day.

“I’m thankful I have a job and I love what I do.”

She is working hard to advance within the aviation industry to secure better pay and a solid schedule.
When asked whyshe chose to work in the flight industry, she said:

“I used to hate flying, and I can’t explain what happened. I was looking for a big change— maybe
confront some fears and over comet hem. If I’d stayed married, I never would have done that. Being
forced into a new situation made me see life differently.”

Her greatest hope in sharing her story is to encourage women in a similar situation not to be ashamed of
their circumstances and it is okay to ask for help.

“I feel eternally grateful of the support I received at SCCC.”

With confidence and a new found resiliency Nina is looking up towards the sky and helping others confront
their fears along the way.

I love watching people fly for the first time. They always look kind of terrified.  I tell them, ‘look
out the window—it’s beautiful.”

As a community, we can give the wonderful gift of dignity, hope and gratitude and the opportunity to soar.

Why Jenny Gives Back on Colorado Gives Day

 

 “I’m paying forward and giving back to my community and enabling someone else to be able to make changes in their life.”  – Jenny

 

Community Garden Party Oct. 10, 2017

Please join us as we celebrate another successful
growing season in our garden!

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm

                        Zucchini Recipe Contest & Apple Pressing

Connect with community members while exploring our garden and enjoying fresh
pressed apple cider.  Don’t forget to bring your favorite (and best!) zucchini
recipe to share — prizes for winning recipes! All participants, volunteers, supporters
and community members are welcome!

Location: Sister Carmen Garden (South Side of Building), 655 Aspen Ridge Drive, Lafayette

Refreshments will be provided so please RSVP to katie@sitercarmen.org

 

Living on the Edge in Lafayette, CO

My name is Cynthia.

I had lived a good life. I was married with four beautiful children. I worked full time, had a house, a van, and was living what many people perceived as the American dream. In 2008 all of that changed—my marriage was breaking up and I had two very ill children that needed constant attention. In August that year, I lost our house and we were homeless.

This set off a whirlwind of staying on friend’s couches, shelters and even sleeping in our van just to keep my children safe. Unfortunately this lasted for years and because of the instability I lost several jobs during this time. Watching my children go through so much had negative side effects as well.

 We as a family lost hope. Hope we so desperately needed but could not find.

In June of 2011 we moved into a pay by the week hotel in Lafayette. Once again fate had a cruel twist—I was becoming increasingly ill and required several surgeries. As a family we really needed this home—even if it was not permanent. I didn’t think my children could endure any more than what they already had.

I was lost. I felt there was no hope. My mind was going to dark places where I wasn’t so sure my children wouldn’t be better with a stable family and me leaving them.

A miracle finally happened.

The manager of the hotel mentioned Sister Carmen Community Center to me and offered to take me there to get some food.

I was expecting to reach out for help and made to feel insignificant yet again. To ask for food and be given food that was already rotting or that I wouldn’t be able to turn into a meal because I wasn’t a professional chef. I was expecting some non-cooked beans and spaghetti noodles.

I was expecting to break down, beg, and cry in front of so many people—instead I met Andrea and she met with me in a private room. The crying was very private and her compassion was immeasurable.
During that time Andrea made extra time for me. She didn’t push me out the door. Suddenly I was getting help.

It’s amazing how something so simple turned into something that saved our lives.

I was given food. Real food. Food the children would eat and food I could actually make. Then she told me Sister Carmen Community Center would cover the expenses at the pay by week hotel for one month while I recovered from the surgeries.

I left there that day and wept.

These tears were no longer of sorrow but suddenly of hope. I saw a future for the first time since I don’t know when. I went to the hotel and saw a bright light in my families’ future that I didn’t think existed anymore.

Everyone at the Center helped me so much in just a matter of months. I received counseling for help with PTSD; workshops to help me further my parenting and job skills; food to keep us fed, and clothing for school and work so everyone felt normal again. In January 2012 they helped me move into permanent housing and by June they had started me on a path to a career that would be stable. Through this entire process everyone at the Center was there for me, and supporting me and my children.

It has been 5 years since then.

My children and I have some side effects from that dark time. But we all know that we are not alone. If we need help we have only to ask these kind people. Our lives were touched by the kind people of Sister Carmen and our future became so much brighter. I would like to say everything worked out fine but this isn’t a fairy tale and life throws curve balls. But, we do now have a hope that we lost and a strength from the supportive services we received.

As a family we are able to better face now whatever comes our way.

Thank you Sister Carmen’s for the continued support and for never turning us away when we needed you. We have truly been blessed by the services and support you gave us.

 

Want to help families like Cynthia’s? Check out our volunteer opportunities or other ways to give.

Living on the Edge in Louisville, CO

“Your neighbor may struggling and you don’t even know it.
I want people to know it is okay to ask for help.” –Tanya

Tanya and her three children have been living on the edge since her divorce.  She has been very resourceful in adjusting her lifestyle to survive off of one income—she found a house to rent for a reasonable amount, maintained a full time management position and carefully orchestrated the delicate, however albeit precarious balance of childcare, getting kids to school, going to work and managing bills.

When unforeseen expenses came up, such as a prescription for a sick child or a car repair—and with no savings—Tanya would use her credit card.  According to Boulder County Trends a family of four living in Boulder County requires an annual income of $75,906—just to cover the basics. Tanya was not making this much.                       

Unexpectedly Tanya lost her job.  Immediately she started applying for any position she thought she would qualify for.  Tanya was already behind on a few bills but now she was behind on her rent and utilities and was uncertain about getting enough food.

She initially came to SCCC to get assistance with her past due utility bill.  Tanya met with one of our advocates and talked about why she was seeking assistance.  Tanya left that day knowing SCCC would pay her utility bill in full, she had food from our food bank to take home, emergency financial assistance with her rent and she enrolled in the Housing Stabilization Program.

“I have a renewed faith that there people out there wanting to help you.”

With an understanding landlord who was willing to be flexible with Tanya’s situation we were able to keep Tanya and her three kids in their home.  Within a month Tanya secured a job, and a few weeks later she interviewed for a higher paying position and was offered the job.

Even though she secured employment early on in the program she continued to receive financial assistance for a few more months.  With this support Tanya was able to apply her new income towards bills that were past due and late fees, complete much needed repairs on her only car and was able to build a small savings account. Tanya felt secure and poised for success.

 “I just need to get to the next level. I got the basics covered. I just need peace of mind.”

Tanya is deeply committed to attaining financial independence and moving beyond living paycheck to paycheck.  Her goals are to get a higher paying position and she intends to take finance and budgeting classes.

“I want to build a strong foundation for my future, to have enough savings
for hard times and to own a home.”

Want to get involved to help families like Tanya’s?  Check out our volunteer opportunities or other ways to give.

Family Leadership Training Institute

Through our membership with the Family Resource Center Association SCCC was selected  to receive additional funding to host the Family Leadership Training Institute (FLTI). FLTI is a 20 week family civics program in which 25 participants receive 120 hours of evidence-based curriculum including personal and child development, leadership training, civic literacy and civic skills needed to become effective leaders in their communities.

SCCC is working to secure additional funding to continue this program into 2018 and to add a youth component.The goal is to empower the role of individuals and families as change agents within their community and local government by building confidence and their civic skills to advocate for change that will improve quality of life in their community.

The Affordable Housing Crisis & How One Family Helps

 

The skyrocketing costs of housing in Boulder County is pricing out low-income families and, now, some middle class families are feeling the pinch too. Higher rent rates are forcing families to spend more on housing and less on other life essentials such as food, medical needs and transportation.

An example of a working, middle class family unable to make ends meet in Boulder County, is Sandy, a newly divorced mother with a teenage daughter. Two years ago Sandy made the brave decision to leave an abusive marriage that left her and her daughter in a tumultuous transition and homeless for a few months. Sandy was working with Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and they referred her to SCCC for additional services to support her during this challenging transition.

SCCC held an event illustrating the dire need of affordable housing in our community. Many landlords are taking advantage of the strong rental market and increasing rents to amounts that working, low and middle-income families can just not afford. Long-time donors of SCCC, the Flannigans attended the event and decided to take action on a very personal level. They were in the process of purchasing an investment property and decided they would reserve it specifically for Section 8 Housing referrals from the Sister Carmen Community Center (In brief, a Section 8 Housing voucher guarantees the landlord a portion of the rent every month, and the tenant is required to pay the remainder that is affordable for their particular situation.) When asked why, the Flannigans replied:

We feel a responsibility to help others in our community. We don’t want to look back on our lives and say, ‘Wow, we did a really good job of setting ourselves up while not helping others.’”

When their property was ready for a tenant the Flannigans contacted SCCC for a referral. The initial aim was to provide a rental property for a family with a Section 8 Housing voucher.  However, unexpected to the Flannigan’s, SCCC was not working with a participant with a Section 8 voucher at the time. The Flannigans learned that there is a finite number of Section 8 vouchers available. Additionally, there is a multiple-year waitlist to apply for Section 8 county housing and cities only accept applications once per year by lottery.

 “Learning about Section 8 made us re-think who are the deserving poor.“  – Flannigans

Instead, SCCC referred Sandy to the Flannigans.  Sandy was selected for her demonstrated commitment to getting her finances organized, as well as vitally needing a safe place to live within close proximity to her daughter’s school. The Flannigans’ property offered all of this, and, after reconsideration about the new information they learned about Section 8, the Flannigans decided to rent their property to Sandy at an affordable rate.

“We are so grateful we could provide this for her. We would not be able to enjoy the income we receive from these properties if we were not sharing it with others. “–Flannigans

And, thanks to a low rent rate, Sandy is not faced with the monthly dilemma of choosing between buying food or paying rent.

“We hope that by sharing our experience it will inspire others to take action.” –Flannigans

 

Colorado Gives Day

Colorado Gives Day 2016 will be here before you know it! This year you can preschedule your online donation to Sister Carmen Community Center starting today!  Thank you to FirstBank and ColoradoGives.org for supporting this wonderful annual event which helps so many fantastic organizations in Colorado!