Moving to Dane County promised a brighter future for David*, a single father with two young children.
He had been accepted to UW-Madison to study special education, a field with strong employment prospects after graduation. David also secured a full-time job to provide for his kids, Michael and Sara. But despite working day and night juggling school and work, David was in danger of falling behind on rent and losing the stable home he was building for his children.
Rent has risen faster here than anywhere else in the country, which threatened the dream David was working so hard to reach. A friend referred him to WayForward Resources, where a case manager connected David with rental assistance from our Housing Stability Program so he could maintain a home for his young children.
WayForward provided David with much-needed relief and peace of mind that allowed him to focus on getting his degree and taking care of his kids.
Thanks to our programs, David believes our community is where his dreams for his young family can become a reality. “I moved to Madison for a better and happier life; we felt as if we fit in.”
*name and identifying details changed
When Rafa*, 21, and his younger sister Gabriela, 19, came to WayForward, they were staying in an overcrowded apartment with a relative.
The siblings have lived in the United States for a couple of years while their parents remained in Mexico due to immigration issues. In the meantime, the environment they were living in became increasingly hostile and complicated. It did not feel like home.
A community member referred Rafa and Gabriela to WayForward’s Connections Program, which assists people in doubled-up living situations with finding and moving into homes of their own. With support from WayForwards’s Connections bilingual case manager, the two young adults learned everything about the process of finding housing, including what to look for and potential costs.
Within the first month, WayForward found an apartment that was perfect for them, both in price and location. They moved in over the summer and, after a long and complicated journey, they are motivated about the future and working hard on their next steps to be stable.
For Rafa and Gabriela, having a case manager who speaks their language and understands their culture meant the world as they navigated this major step to adulthood. They trust that their future is off to a great start and they don’t feel alone anymore.
In the words of the community member who has kept in touch with the brother and sister over the last year: “You guys are changing lives.”
*names and identifying details changed
Kathleen and Roger* were overwhelmed when they came to WayForward for assistance.
Both in their 80s, the couple faced thousands of dollars in medical bills from Roger’s cancer treatment denied by their insurance plan.
Their WayForward case manager referred them to a patient advocate to assist with navigating their health insurance appeals, offering Kathleen some much-needed hope. She also connected them to the Aging and Disability Resource Center to learn more about potential eligibility for public benefits.
Kathleen was relieved to get some help and to learn from her WayForward case manager that they could use the food pantry to make ends meet and access nutritious food when Roger needs it most.
“I went last week and it was wonderful,” she told her case manager. “We got four apples and my husband ate one every day.”
WayForward’s food pantry is open to all Dane County residents who need it and the number of visits has risen 237% since January 2022.
*names and identifying details changed
Our Connections housing program helps families move out of doubled-up living situations. Your support helps the program provide security deposits, household items and other support to ensure stability. One participant, who was able to move with her family into an apartment of their own before the birth of her second child, shared her experience in the program with her Connections case manager, Nicole Verhagen.
What did it mean to bring your new baby home to your very own apartment after having to double up with another family for a period of time?
Having our own space has meant that our baby can grow up in a better environment where there is tranquility, peace and joy.
What are the most important ways WayForward has helped your family?
Everything they have done has been very important, because they have been with us unconditionally. They helped me a lot during all the stages of my pregnancy and until the birth
of my baby and I will forever be thankful for this opportunity. It has been a relief to have this unconditional help.
How do you feel about your family’s future now?
By connecting with WayForward one finds a horizon, an unconditional help. I feel very happy, with many expectations, eager to move forward and with the hope that in the future we will be in a position where we can help other families with that same compassion that we have received.
What are your dreams for yourselves and your kids going forward?
My dream is that my children will grow in a stable environment, so that they can focus on their studies and that they can grow as people with good values. It is my hope that they fill themselves with good knowledge and
compassion so that they can have a good future.
Michelle* was working long hours at two jobs to save up enough money to move out of a cramped apartment in poor condition, where she slept on the couch and her four children didn’t have a place to focus and do their homework. She found an apartment in better condition that was in her budget and would give her family the room they needed to breathe. While she could pay her first month’s rent up front, she could not cover the security deposit. A MOM case manager worked with Michelle to provide financial assistance from one of our housing programs so she and her family could move out of their old apartment last fall. The move provided a fresh start, while still allowing Michelle’s children to remain in their schools and stay connected to friends and teammates, critical building blocks for their stability. And she and her family continue to be an anchor for the people in their community. They are quick to lend a hand, offering babysitting or other acts of support to those who need it, and recently they were able to host a gathering of friends and family for the first time in years. MOM is an anchor for Michelle’s family and others, thanks to your generosity.
Now, more than ever, our food security and housing programs are what allow people in our community to stay in their homes and take key steps on their own paths to stability.
Thousands of people in Dane County saw their federal food assistance benefits – called FoodShare in Wisconsin – drop in March after extra payments put into place during the pandemic expired. Demand for our food pantry had already doubled, driven in part by inflation and rising rents. We are currently distributing 85,000 meals a month — the highest volume of food in our history — and demand for all of our housing programs has increased as rents and eviction filings continue to rise in Dane County. We are also concerned about emergency rental assistance from the federal government ending this year and the impact that will have on people in our community who must devote large portions of their monthly income to rent. About 45% of Dane County residents spend at least 30% of their income on rent, according to the 2021 American Community Survey.
When you support MOM, you not only make stories like Michelle’s possible, you provide the building blocks for stability in our community. Your donation today can help make an immediate difference. Thank you for your support!
Parents of children or other family members with disabilities or chronic medical conditions often have difficulty working due to medical appointments, therapy sessions and other aspects of caregiving that take up all of their time. Marie started receiving assistance from MOM to help pay her rent after frequent trips to the hospital for her teenage daughter’s treatment meant she couldn’t work for an extended period of time. Over the past few years, she has used our food pantry, Thanksgiving Baskets and Winter Wishes programs to help her family remain stable and access nutritious food. Her case manager has also referred her to other community resources. Today, her daughter is in remission from her illness and Marie is looking for work again. Marie recently wrote to her case manager, “Thanks for helping and just being an ear for me. I really need this right now!
This year was about opening doors, with acts both large and small.
For Luis and Alejandra, getting out of an unstable, doubled up living situation was the most important door they walked through. Because of the case management and financial support they receive from our Connections housing program, they are financially stable and could afford to buy a car seat and other essentials they needed to safely bring their new baby boy home last month.
None of this could happen without you. As we cautiously and carefully opened up along with the rest of the world in 2022, the generosity of our community is what continues to allow us to provide the resources and tools neighbors need to build stability in their lives.
Late summer we returned to a full schedule of food pantry hours, which allowed more clients to shop in person and we continue to provide around 54,000 meals a month. We grew our Connections program, which moves neighbors like Luis and Alejandra into stable housing (read a recent story from The Capital Times that features Connections). And we welcomed both new and returning volunteers, who provide essential support by stocking shelves, making food deliveries and offering rides to seniors who don’t have access to other transportation.
Nicole Verhagen, the case manager for Connections. Photo by Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times
With the help of our community, we have stretched our resources to meet the rising demand at the food pantry, which is more than double what it was this time last year, part of a larger trend across Dane County as inflation drives up food prices. We’ve seen a similar increase in the need for housing assistance to families whose incomes don’t keep up with rising rents and the amount of housing stability payments we provide have doubled as our case managers continue to work to prevent eviction. “We wouldn’t have been able to make it without you,” one of our food pantry clients wrote in a recent email.
As we move into 2023, these ongoing trends bring me concern. Although our community food security partners continue to support our work and help us meet the need creatively, the pandemic brought great disruption to how we bring in food. This, combined with the rising demand, means I see emptier shelves when I walk through the food pantry, not the robust selection that provides dignity to our shoppers. I worry that these patterns will not leave us enough food to meet the needs of everyone who relies on the food pantry as one of the ways they fill their refrigerators and cupboards.
But I see hope all around us, in acts large and small… Since we re-opened our doors in June to in-person shopping in the food pantry, MOM volunteers have put in more than 13,000 hours to support our programs. Their own lives disrupted, returning volunteers and people new to MOM made this work a piece of their lives. And thanks to you, we also made the holiday season brighter this year for hundreds of households — distributing Thanksgiving baskets to more than 1,200 people and providing more than 1,700 gift cards through our Winter Wishes program, a record number for us.
On a much smaller scale, when one of our team members recently learned that a gallon of milk was left out of a food delivery made to one of our clients, she hopped in her car and delivered the milk within the hour. For some of the neighbors we serve, getting to the food pantry isn’t possible due to lack of transportation, health concerns or work schedules. “What a sweetie. I was so glad to meet her face to face,” the client wrote in an email. “I nearly cried.”
Through all of these transitions, I’ve witnessed our team keep their focus on what matters most — doing what we can to ensure that neighbors in our community have what they need to thrive. I’ve seen the same from all of you — through your generous financial donations, volunteer hours and ongoing support of our mission. As we approach a new year, I know there is so much more we can achieve together. You can read more about some of the ways you can still make a tax deductible financial donation this year here. And, in addition, if your own circles can host a food drive or buy items directly from our wish list to help us keep our shelves full, it would bring comfort to so many.
Thank you for what you have done and what you will do in the coming year to help us meet the growing needs in our community. Your support means we can continue opening the door to stability for neighbors so that together we will build a better future for everyone in our community.
Ellen Carlson, Executive Director
Executive Director Ellen Carlson. Photo by Ruthie Hauge/The Capital Times
Today is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, established by the United Nations more than 30 years ago to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of people with disabilities. Currently, 1 in 4 American adults has a disability. The barriers people with disabilities face in our world play a role in undermining stability in employment, housing and access to medical care and other services. People with disabilities are among the neighbors we serve at WayForward Resources. Mary is one of those clients, and she recently shared her thoughts with her case manager about what it means to her to be disabled and how WayForward’s services are critical to her stability.
What does the word “disabled” mean? It most likely means something different to almost everyone. …Since I am disabled I have some physical aspects that make daily life challenging. I am currently dealing with three kinds of arthritis and severe scoliosis. My struggles don’t mean much to the general community. My challenge is to find where in the community I can find a network of helpful people who work with disabled or other handicapped people who are seeking similar help. [WayForward] offers help with its food pantry, clothing center and rides. I’ve discovered that many of the social service agencies are interwoven – so you can find lots of friends and suggestions and help with one call.
Recently my [WayForward] case manager has been helping find grants to help pay for veterinary treatment for my little dog, who is my joy. Unfortunately, because I’m currently in a wheelchair, she wasn’t able to find a way for me to take my fur baby to the vet school. After spending hours trying to line up a ride, I ended up having to spend $100 on cab fare. Not on my fixed-income budget!
As far as I can tell, having a disability has definitely filled my heart with love, and somehow all the struggles and phone calls to get the help we need, grows hope.
Luis and Alejandra left behind an unstable economic and political situation in Venezuela with dreams of a better life for their 8-year-old daughter and the baby they were soon expecting. They did not have the references or credit history required to rent an apartment, so they doubled up with another family from their home country. But Alejandra didn’t feel comfortable living with strangers and her daughter couldn’t play freely without Alejandra worrying she was making too much noise for their hosts.
Luis found work after the family’s first week in the community, and Alejandra started working at the same restaurant when they quickly realized one income would not be enough to pay rent. But landlords still wanted evidence of at least a month of income before they would offer them a lease. Once a social worker in their daughter’s school connected the couple with a MOM case manager, things started to look up. Their case manager has developed a strong working relationship with a management company, which agreed to accept a letter from the couple’s employer as proof of their employment and income. MOM’s Connections housing program covered the family’s security deposit and other move-in costs. And thanks to the generosity of MOM donors who purchased items from our Connections wish list, Luis and Alejandra had the basic items they needed to start making themselves at home when they moved into their new apartment this fall, including sheets, towels and dishes.
The family visits MOM’s Food Pantry and Clothing Center to make sure their daughter has warm clothes to wear this winter and nutritious food to eat. Alejandra feels genuinely welcomed and supported by the volunteers when she does her shopping. The family is grateful for the generosity of their new community where they are beginning to put down roots and begin to thrive. Their new baby boy arrived this fall.
Terri’s life was in a downward spiral in the months following the death of her husband from a seizure. Not long after, her car was totaled when she was involved in an accident with a drunk driver. Things got even worse when she was robbed after withdrawing money from an ATM near her home. Following this unimaginable run of bad luck, Terri moved to Middleton from Illinois. That’s when Terri says her life changed, thanks to MOM.
Once Terri connected with a MOM case manager, she started to see a brighter future for herself. She became a client of our housing assistance program, which focuses on helping neighbors find stability in their lives and avoid eviction. With financial assistance from MOM, she was able to recover from the domino effect of events following a tragic loss. After a few months, she was on more secure financial footing and able to pay her rent on her own. In the meantime, she was grateful for the opportunity to get groceries from MOM’s food pantry and items from our clothing center. She also felt welcomed and supported by the volunteers who assisted her while shopping. “I’ve never met genuinely nice people until I moved here,” Terri says.
Thanks to the support MOM gets from our community, Terri has reached a place of stability in her life after a difficult journey.