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Providing a Way Forward for People Severely Affected by Poverty

Raising the Bar | Strong and Vibrant Communities | November 2017

In 2015, Peter Kiewit Foundation awarded Heart Ministry Center (HMC) a grant of $50,000 per year for three years, totaling $150,000 to expand case management services provided to clientele. Over that time period HMC went from assisting 200 clients to over 6,000 clients through case management services in a variety of ways.

HMC’s mission is to provide food, clothing, healthcare, and a way forward to people severely affected by poverty in the Omaha area. “The way forward piece in our mission is the biggest thing for us,” says Eric Crawford, HMC executive director. “We dream of getting people to take that step forward and helping them to become self-sufficient.” HMC staff implements that dream by carefully treating every client with a great deal of respect, dignity, and hospitality.

Providing free access to food, clothing and healthcare is how HMC attracts people into the center. At that point case management services are offered.

“Sometimes I think the value is in just sitting down with somebody and listening to them; talking with them about their situation and being solution-oriented to come up with creative and thoughtful ways to help them move forward.” Some clients just need a little extra food or personal items at the end of the month, and that’s fine too, he adds.

The most intensive form of case management at HMC is the Fresh Start Program for clients seeking paid employment. It’s a 15-week job training and placement program with a holistic approach providing guidance for participants to move forward in every aspect of their life, Crawford says. Participants learn job skills, effective workplace communication and customer service skills, working alongside HMC staff at the center’s pantry five hours each day, five days a week.  Participants also work closely with a case manager and a mental health specialist to set and meet personal health and overall wellness goals. They learn to manage and balance household income and expenses by attending classes for credit repair, and financial literacy.

Upon successful completion, participants graduate from the program and are placed in a job with one of the many organizations that HMC has developed a partnership with like UNMC, Ronco Construction, Streck Labs, Lozier, and Airlite Plastics to name a few. Follow-up with a case manager continues for at least six months after graduation.

Fresh Start was implemented about one and a half years ago with 26 graduates to date.  Of those 26 graduates, 20 are still employed.  “We’ve had some really great outcomes,” Crawford says.  Fresh Start is currently serving 11 individuals.

“Expanding case management has helped the center to affect people at a deeper level rather than just hitting the surface with food and clothing.  It lets us dive into people’s deeper issues or barriers that are preventing them from taking that step forward,” Crawford says.  “Having more case management staff and resources is ultimately helping to improve more people’s lives and I think help make a deeper impact on the community.”

Seeking Rent;

Receiving New Life

Dana Caulder knocked on Heart Ministry Center’s (HMC) door in December, 2016, seeking help with his rent but was given so much more. He was offered a second chance at life.

Caulder met with HMC relationship manager and operations director, Mark Dahir, who invited him to join HMC’s most intensive case management service—the Fresh Start Program. “Mark changed my life with just saying, ‘Hi my name is Mark and I’m going to be honest with you’,” Caulder says. “I heard those words every day. And ever since, I’ve been honest with Mark and with Heart Ministry and with my job.”

“It had been some years since I’d really had a job. This place showed me that you can always do what you want to do and be successful as long as you get up and show up,” Caulder says. Upon graduation from the Fresh Start job training and placement program, Caulder took a job as an order selector at SpartanNash, a grocery distributor and retailer. “I haven’t missed any days. I’m really enjoying my job and knowing that I’m still a part of the Fresh Start Program even though I’ve graduated,” he says.

Each promotion, each opportunity for leadership and added responsibility running HMC’s food pantry, as part of the Fresh Start program, fostered self-esteem and self-confidence. “I became a real people person here. This place has really brought my shine back out. It’s exciting and I just carry that with me every day,” he says. “There is no other place I call home but here, even though I grew up two blocks away; this is still home.”

The “…way forward…” piece in HMC’s mission statement encapsulates Caulder’s trajectory. He’s been meeting with an HMC case manager, making plans to fulfill his dream to follow in his father’s footsteps as a self-employed landscaper. And HMC administrators offered him the manager position of the center’s new expanded pantry and laundromat expected to open in 2019. “I told them I would love to be a part of that, and I know that I can do it,” Caulder says. “That’s my goal. I can be a manager and my own boss.”

At HMC, Caulder says he learned about leadership, how to become a better person and to be true to himself. “I’m not afraid of being helped or being taught anymore,” he says. “I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of help. HMC has shown me more than I could’ve imagined.”

Eric Crawford, HMC executive director; Dana Caulder, Fresh Start program graduate; and Mark Dahir, HMC relationship manager and operations director.

Visit HMC website.