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The proceeds from this event will help homeless or at-risk individuals and families secure stable homes. Together, we will race against homelessness!
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Lesly Joseph first came to Crossroads more than 13 years ago as a social work intern. His University of Rhode Island advisor had presented him with a variety of agencies where he could complete his internship, but Lesly admits he was most attracted to Crossroads (then Traveler’s Aid located on Union Street) because of the convenient downtown location. “At that time, I was just plain clueless about homelessness,” he says, “and I didn’t really know what to expect.” Today, we are proud to say that Lesly is still with Crossroads and has never regretted his career choice.
After the internship, Lesly applied for a 3rd shift caseworker position working with homeless and runaway youth. Gradually, he moved up to 2nd and then 1st shift work, and finally became a case manager and a supervisor in the Adult Services Program, where he worked under several directors. Two years ago, he decided that he found the greatest job satisfaction from providing direct services in a front-line position, and he chose to become a Case Advocate.
His years of experience working with both adults and youth have proven to be invaluable. “Today, homeless adults, especially the younger 18-25 year olds, have extreme challenges caused by serious mental health problems and substance abuse problems that were not so prevalent when I first started working at Crossroads. I used to be able to connect people rather quickly to programs that would help them manage mental illness and addiction, but today it takes a lot longer.” Lesly also says that he is seeing a lot more older adults today, especially in the 60 and older group, who have never been homeless before, and often it is very difficult to get them into appropriate housing quickly. “It is hard to keep up with the needs of my clients, and sometimes when I am leaving, I see someone who is waiting for help, and I stop and see what I can do before I go out the door. After all, I am going to my home, and that person may be sleeping on the floor in our Community Room. All the years at Crossroads have made me more empathetic and understanding of the plights of our clients, and I take the extra steps to provide help.”
When Lesly leaves Crossroads for the day, he does not leave behind his commitment to helping others. He is very involved in the Men’s Ministry of Ebenezer Baptist Church and helps with the Couples Ministry as well. He and his wife are busy parents and very proud of their active 16 month-old son. “He is my number one priority in life.” Lesly says that he does not need much else. “ I am a shy person and enjoy just being with my family.”
Lesly was born in Haiti but has lived in Providence, Rhode Island since he was a child. “I love Rhode Island,” Lesly says, “I like living in a small place where you know everyone.” At Crossroads, we are proud to have Lesly as part of our team and very excited that he has been named as the recipient of the “Spirit of Home Award,” for his work helping so many homeless Rhode Islanders find a better life. “I am really proud to get this award,” Lesly says. At Crossroads, we cannot imagine anyone who deserves it more.
By Mark Patinkin
Journal Staff Writer Posted May. 10, 2015 at 12:01 am Updated May 10, 2015 at 1:58 AM
She was in her early 50s and had one unusual priority she explained to friends this way: “I wanted a job that would make me cry.”
Someone made a suggestion, and in March 2000, Nolan drove to Providence from her Cumberland home and walked into Traveler's Aid, which served the homeless.
“Their pain,” she recalls, “was palpable.”
Since then, Anne Nolan has been a force that has changed the way Rhode Island fights homelessness.
At the end of this month, at age 67, Nolan will be retiring, so I decided to stop by.
“Once in a while I get sleepy during the day and like to take nap,” she told me.
Hardly; spending a few hours with Anne Nolan helped me see homelessness in a new way.
The majority, Nolan said, are homeless once in their lives; folks just getting by who are suddenly hit by job loss, illness — even divorce can do it.
Karen Santilli, 48, is Crossroads' chief marketing officer and will be replacing Nolan as president. I asked her to sum up Nolan’s legacy.
As a different kind of legacy, Santilli pointed to how Nolan brought a sense of business discipline from her corporate past — including the banking world — to a nonprofit.
“A chicken in every pot,” said Nolan, “peace on earth, end of world hunger, a garage-door opener for every garage.”
For example, Crossroads ran a health clinic because the homeless need that to get back on track. But it wasn’t the agency’s expertise, so she partnered with the Providence Community Health Center to run it for them.
Then, as a mission statement of sorts, she came up with a primary focus that may sound obvious, but it added laser clarity to what Crossroads does. Nolan explained it to me this way:
In the past, that was one of many priorities mixed in with things like counseling and skills training. But she explained that people can’t do the things needed to get back in a home — like finding a job — if they’re worried about where they’ll sleep that night.
The former YMCA building where we were talking is a good example of Crossroads' priority: 200 people now live there — 176 in rooms and 14 in efficiency apartments. All were once homeless, and for cohesiveness, all are single without children.
And yes, they do offer social services, including job training in areas like nursing and janitorial work.
Does she have many success stories in that category?
“We housed him,” said Nolan, “and in the next six months, he had only four visits.”
“I often say to myself I wouldn’t survive the lives most of them have lived,” Nolan said. “The courage they have to endure it is remarkable.”
I asked Santilli, who was sitting in on the interview, for other examples of Nolan bringing focus to Crossroads.
Then she mentioned the fourth, which struck me as odd, so I repeated it.
Santilli nodded and Nolan said there’s a serious reason for it.
That, she said, can drain the staff.
So she instituted a “rejuvenation day” where each staffer has to give a plan to their supervisor for a day off strictly for personal refueling.
Nolan brings the same idea to something Crossroads is famous for in Rhode Island’s nonprofit world — a 600-guest annual fundraiser at unusual locales, one year at an airport hanger, another at McCoy Stadium, and once an outdoor “Beach Ball” on tons of sand trucked into the parking lot of The Providence Journal, one of Crossroads’ major donors. The annual event usually raises around $600,000.
“It used to be the stereotype 45-year-old white male drinking out of a paper bag,” she said. “Now we have every possible face; it’s almost 50-50 men and women.”
Her theory: “I think the sense of community out there used to be stronger. People took care of each other. Families took care of each other.” Today — that's more frayed.
She remembered a moment at a recent Christmas party at the Crossroads family shelter on Broad. Santa came with modest presents for the kids, including a toy truck for one little boy — a cheap thing, said Nolan, that you might find at a gas-station store.
I asked if she's ready to leave or sad about it.
“I love this organization,” said Anne Nolan.
Like the other day when she walked into the Crossroads community room and saw a set of parents there with two babies — and nowhere to go.
Which is what she had always hoped to find in her work.
Since late 2011, the Crossroads Family Center has sheltered a record number of families with small children. The Family Center has space for 15 families, but the demand for shelter has been so great in recent months that the staff has had to put cots and mattresses in the Center’s common area and computer study room to accommodate additional families.
At our downtown location, families have had to share our Family Room or sleep in conference rooms because no shelter could be found for them. Crossroads is working frantically to find additional shelter options for families, and the staff at the Family Center is doing everything possible to help parents and children cope with their situations. Homelessness is traumatic, especially for children, and the severe overcrowding at the Family Center presents additional challenges for everyone.
Chontell Washington, Crossroads’ Family Literacy Coordinator, tries to come up with creative approaches to brighten the lives of the families and help the children enjoy learning activities while they are with us.
“Last year, we had a grant from the Ronald MacDonald House Charities, and I was impressed by their mission to enhance children’s lives. That idea stuck, and I decided we could enhance the lives of the children in our shelter despite the difficulties we are having now,” says Chontell.
She looked through a catalog of arts and crafts supplies, and when she saw some materials that she could use to convert the common area into an impromptu theater, she ordered some paper “guitars” and a backdrop that depicted a curtain and stage lights. The guitars were a little too flimsy, though.
“I knew that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island employees were coming to Crossroads for a volunteer day in April, so I brought my paper guitars and some materials I got from the recycling center to our downtown location and took advantage of some of the Blue Cross volunteers,” Chontell explained. “They cut out colored cardboard backing and glued them to the paper guitars to make them stronger.”
On one of the regularly scheduled Family Literacy days, Chontell took over the Family Center dining room and brought out all the materials so that parents could work with the children to decorate each guitar.
“It was a great learning experience for the kids,” Chontell says. “They learned about guitars, counted the number of strings and learned how each one makes a different sound. It was a good activity for hand and eye coordination, dexterity, and learning new words.”
When the guitars were all decorated, Chontell put up the stage backdrop, lowered the lights and started the music, which turned out to be a universal language for the multi-lingual group of children. One by one, kids volunteered to be rock stars.
One little boy called his song ‘4’ and happily sang the words, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro,” rocking to the music, with all the other children joining in.
“The parents were so proud of their little rock stars,” Chontell says. “So many of the children in the shelter are suffering from the trauma of having lost their homes, and they don’t talk to anyone. But when we started rocking, they all began to join in the dancing and singing. It was a wonderful time for them, and parents were so happy to see their children doing something fun.”
After the concert, the children enjoyed healthy snacks and continued to sing and show off their very own guitar creations.
This effort, which brought so much joy to children enduring very hard times, shows how a small effort by community volunteers can make a huge difference in the lives of our clients.
“I am so happy that the Blue Cross volunteers will be able to see how their work making paper guitars turned into so many smiles and so much happiness,” Chontell says.
Crossroads is very proud of Chontell and her woquatrrk to bring a successful Family Literacy program to our Family Center. These kinds of programs are a rarity in a shelter setting, but they are a powerful way to help children create positive memories while they are with us.
If you would like to help dedicated staff members like Chontell continue to enrich the lives of homeless children and give their parents the essential support and services they need to move their families out of homelessness, please consider donating now.
Like her colleagues at Crossroads, Michele is passionate about social justice issues and working with disadvantaged and challenged people. ‘’Most of my students have had hard lives,” Michele says, “and I want to open their eyes to new opportunities and possibilities.” Michele works to inspire students to do their very best and make them proud that they are learning one of the most important jobs in a health care facility. “I show students that I have done all the same tasks that they are learning, and still do them when necessary.”
Michele says that the students at Crossroads deserve a lot of credit for their efforts to overcome obstacles and succeed in the C.N.A. program. “They want jobs, not welfare, and I help them move on with their lives.” She reminds the students that she knows from her own experience how hard it is to juggle jobs, school, homework, child care and still get to class on time. “This past winter has been horrible, and students had to find a way to get to class on time. A lot of them don’t have their own transportation, and those that do have to contend with older vehicles, bald tires and no place to park when the streets are covered with snow.”
Michele acknowledges that many of her students have struggled in school and teachers did not expect them to succeed. She loves cheering on her students, urging them to stay focused. “The nurse assistant training represents a way out of poverty and provides students with the foundation to pursue higher-level health care training, such as nursing or medical technician. At Elmhurst Extended Care, where students receive clinical training, they have opportunities to meet and work with former C.N.A. professionals who have advanced to higher positions with better pay.”
At this time, Michele is working hard to help students achieve a higher pass rate for state C.N.A. licensing exam. She would also like to see the nursing assistant training expand to include home care clinical training as well as the current nursing home experience. And, she would like to make it easier for Crossroads residents in North Kingstown to participate in the C.N.A. training by expanding the programming to that site.
When we asked Michele what would help right now, she said that some of the equipment is getting old, like the mannequin, which is stiff and hard to manipulate, the hospital bed that is hard to move up and down, and the program really needs a professional doctor’s scale with weights. Also, students always need watches for their clinical training. Michele has managed to get a lot of donated uniforms from her friends in the nursing profession so the Crossroads’ students don’t have to worry about finding money to buy them. She would really love to get some donated watches, the scale, and a better mannequin and hospital bed.
Crossroads is lucky to have dedicated professionals like Michele that work very hard to help our clients succeed in their journey out of homelessness and poverty. It is obvious that Michele loves her work here at Crossroads Rhode Island.
You can help a child living in shelter
by donating to Crossroads today.
During the past 30 days, the number of homeless families seeking assistance at Crossroads has risen dramatically. Cicely Dove, the Family Center Director, says “We have 17 families now, but rooms for only 15. One family of 5 is staying in the living room and another family is using the literacy program computer and study room. Yesterday 3 new families arrived and we had to find other shelters for them. Two more families had to go to a motel outside Providence.”
Crossroads’ intake information shows that most of the families were staying with other family members or friends before coming to Crossroads. They are part of a growing “doubled up” population that is especially vulnerable to becoming homeless. The landlord may force the extra tenants to leave or threaten to evict the lease holder. An event like Tropical Storm Irene and loss of power can cause tensions to rise and make the overcrowded situations intolerable.
Children who are homeless struggle to keep up in school. At the Family Center, case advocates work closely with school personnel to find resources to ensure that children have transportation so they can continue to attend the same schools they were enrolled in before becoming homeless. “It is very hard for children to do their homework when the Center is crowded and noisy,” Cicely says. “We have a homework area and computers, but right now a family is in that room. We are trying to keep our Family Literacy Program going in spite of the overcrowding so that the kids can get help with homework and enjoy our reading and story times.” Most children are dealing with the trauma of being homeless as well, which makes it even more difficult for them to focus on their schoolwork. It is no wonder that children experiencing homelessness are often a couple of grades behind their peers.
Nationally, the number of doubled-up families is growing. Many parents are desperately looking for jobs, and others are trying to apply for public benefits because their unemployment insurance has ended. Unfortunately, public funding for safety net services is shrinking everywhere, and Rhode Island is no exception. Unless the job market improves, these families may be struggling for a long time.
The Family Center provides three meals a day and after-school snacks, which means that the food bill is going up every day. “Meal times can be hectic, but the families all pitch in with cooking, serving and cleaning up. We make sure families get healthy meals and that nobody goes hungry,” says Cicely.
Families at the Center work closely with case advocates in order to transition quickly to housing stability. Crossroads’ Rapid Re-Housing program has been very successful in helping families find and sustain decent, safe and affordable housing. Parents also have access to Crossroads’ Education and Employment Services, which offer adult education, GED, employment readiness and job training programs to help adults succeed in the workforce.
We do everything possible to help families stay positive during their stays at the shelter, but we know that homelessness is really difficult for all of them, especially the children. Thanks to generous donors and foundations that focus on the well-being of children, we can provide our young guests with essentials, such as back packs and school supplies and enrich their lives with family literacy activities, field trips and holiday celebrations. Still, life in a shelter is no substitute for a real home, and our goal is to help families move to housing stability as quickly as possible.
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