Faith Community Homes: Mentors make all the difference
When June Smith (name changed to protect privacy), a single mother, entered the Faith Community Homes program in 2016, she was earning $10 per hour and carrying $3,000 in debt. By the time she completed the two-year program, Smith had secured a new job, at $15 per hour, and reduced her debt to less than $700. This turnaround was possible, in large part, with the help of volunteer mentors.
"I am grateful for the financial assistance for sure, but most importantly the advice from my case manager and mentors," Smith said. "Sometimes the problems in your life can knock out all your confidence and make you feel low. It feels good to get that confidence back."
Based in Arlington Heights and serving the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Faith Community Homes provides rent assistance to low-income, working families for up to two years as well as professional case management and regular coaching from trained volunteer mentors.
Each family in the program is assigned two mentors. The mentors build relationships with the family and provide encouragement and support as they work toward agreed-upon goals for education, skills training and job-related objectives.
Providing help where it's needed
Mentors are critical to helping Faith Community Homes families realize the most important goal of the program -- to become financially independent. "We establish trust. Once a family realizes we are not judging, and that we feel their pain, we are able to problem-solve together," said Mary Weber, who has mentored three families. Mentors tailor their help to the needs of the family. "We set weekly goals by writing them together, and then we review our progress at each meeting."
FCH mentors also assist families in dealing with challenges beyond finances, including low self-confidence, concern about providing for their children, job insecurity worries, and the discomfort of mixed-income social situations, according to Chuck Cooper, who has mentored several families. Mentors help guide these families as they acquire the money-management and career skills they need to improve their circumstances and create stability for their families.
A major role for FCH mentors is to help build confidence. "One family member, in an underpaid position, was easily qualified to fill a better job opening. My mentor partner and I provided encouragement and confidence-building support, to not only pursue the position, but also to negotiate a fair compensation package that resulted in a substantial increase in the family's income," said Cooper.
FCH mentors work as a team to help their family, each contributing a needed skill set. Weber and her recent mentor partner were a good match. Weber used her background in teaching and school administration to help the family secure state support for child care. Her partner drew on his finance experience to help the family set up a budget and purchase a reasonably priced car. "I think the biggest impact of being a mentor is the support, care and love that we give to the family," said Weber. "We become good listeners, we celebrate their successes and we share and provide comfort in times of sadness."
Challenges yield rewards
Serving as an FCH mentor is a humbling experience, and not without challenges. "I learned what poverty looks like. I think that was the biggest challenge; to fully understand the hurdles that these families have to overcome," said Weber. Another challenge, for Weber, was to recognize that someone experiencing poverty may have different priorities than someone who is more financially secure. For example, Weber learned that although organization is one of her top goals, it was low on the list for the first family she mentored. Once she stepped back and realized that the family had bigger, more immediate issues to deal with, she "let go and just accepted what is."
Cooper and Weber have found it rewarding to serve as FCH volunteer mentors. "It allows you to make a difference through confidence-building, assessment and recommendations, actions that address specific family circumstances, and overall support," said Cooper. "I love the friendships I have with the whole family and with my fellow mentors and case managers. There is nothing better than the hugs we receive from the children, being invited to a birthday party, or celebrating a tax refund and paying off a debt," added Weber. "I have learned humility, tolerance and gratitude."
Mentors serve a critically important role in the Faith Community Homes program. They are the not-so-secret ingredient to helping families achieve their goals to reach financial independence, a stable household and a better future. The investment of time and energy can be challenging, but the rewards, for all involved, are worth it. To learn more about Faith Community Homes or serving as an FCH mentor, contact Sarah Harte, program manager, at (847) 342-0846.
Faith Community Homes (fchomes.org; 302 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights, Ill.) empowers and equips low-income individuals and parents by teaching the financial principles and practices, job and life skills to achieve financial independence, create a stable household and build a brighter future. The nonprofit, 501(C)3 organization has been helping families in the northwest suburbs since 2003.