Photo of a young boy playing with Lego

When Claudia Gonzalez*, a mother of three living in Brighton Park, unexpectedly lost her job, she aggressively searched for alternative employment. But, for the time being, she couldn’t keep up with rent payments for her apartment.

The sole provider for her family, Claudia was in need of outside support to keep a roof over the heads of her two sons and daughter who were all enrolled at a local elementary school.

Stable housing is a necessity for all individuals, but especially for students who require a strong foundation to learn and succeed. That’s why the staff of her children’s school referred the family to Brighton Park Neighborhood Council’s Success and Stability Program.

Funded by the Siemer Institute and facilitated by United Way, the Success and Stability Program provides wrap-around services to families experiencing housing insecurity in Brighton Park, Auburn Gresham and West Chicago. Stationed in local schools, the Success and Stability case managers help parents address the root causes of their challenges, craft goals to address those challenges and execute those goals. “By strengthening the household, you empower the parents so that the children are cared for and can thrive,” said Kimberly Richards, a Success and Stability case manager from Auburn Gresham. Some parents aim to avoid eviction, find affordable housing or save for a home.

In addition, case managers provide referrals to other social service programs to resolve families’ outstanding needs, like unemployment, gas and electric assistance, counseling services and student-learning programs.

Caseworkers approach this work with the intention of creating a healthier environment for the students to learn and achieve. “You can’t do homework when the lights turn out in the shelter. When you know your parents are worried about paying rent, you can’t focus on school,” said Jenny Hansen, United Way of Metro Chicago’s senior manager of Safety Net and Basic Needs. “If you’re hungry, tired or stressed because of eviction, you can’t learn. If we want kids to be successful in school, we need to stabilize the family.”

Upon enrolling in Brighton Park’s program, Claudia set three goals – to find employment, not to be evicted and to become more involved in her children’s interests.

With the assistance of her case manager, Claudia spoke with her landlord about her situation, agreeing to avoid eviction while looking for a job. Her case manager also referred her to agencies where she received rental assistance to pay her overdue rent and utility bills.

A few weeks later, Claudia was connected to an employment opportunity that fit her children’s school schedule and allowed her to cover her rent. 

At the time, her children were struggling with the separation of their parents and their unstable living conditions, so their case manager connected them to counseling services. They were also enrolled in after-school activities in the Brighton Park neighborhood, giving them access to new opportunities and support systems.

After six months of hard work, Claudia successfully completed the program. While she achieved her goals and her situation was stabilized, she also managed to go above and beyond her initial objectives. Claudia opened her first savings account and, later, was able to purchase a car, a feat that will make other resources and activities more accessible to the family.

Most importantly, at the end of the school year, the children’s grades and behavior in class drastically improved. With dedicated support from her case manager and a strong commitment to bettering the lives of her children, Claudia and her family left the Success and Stability Program better prepared for the days ahead.

*While all stories are true, names and/or images may have been changed to protect an individual’s privacy.

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