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
The Seniors Program offers rides, friendly phone visits, food delivery and chores to seniors ages 60 and older who live WayForward’s service area.
The program recently enrolled a new client for senior rides who was part of the original group of volunteers who founded Middleton Outreach Ministry (now WayForward Resources). Now it’s her turn to receive support from
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.
Our Connections program is featured in a new cover story by The Capital Times about the growth of doubled-up homelessness for youth and families in our community and how organizations including MOM are raising awareness and resources to address the issue. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
In the 2018-2019 school year, there were 7,450 students enrolled in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District and 109 (1.5%) of those students identified as homeless, according to CPI data.
In the 2019-2020 school year, 56 out of the 7,534 students (.7%) enrolled identified as homeless.
Similar to patterns in MMSD, 50% of the homeless students were Black, while those students made up just 4.6% of the overall population; 10.7% of homeless students were Hispanic, a group that made up 8.9% of the overall population; and 10.7% of homeless students identified as two or more races, nearly double the 5.5% of the overall student population.
Nicole Verhagen, the case manager for the Connections Program, said one of the barriers people face in their journeys to secure, stable housing is language. Spanish-speaking households can have difficulties securing housing.
Verhagen supports program participants in obtaining stable housing, and helps them navigate issues like a lack of credit and rental history.
“The nice thing about this program is that they’re going to be working with me for 12 months,” she said. “If there’s an emergency, we have the capacity to be there to support to prevent the eviction.”
Verhagen works to prioritize building relationships with private landlords, who can sometimes be hesitant to work with programs like Connections because they are fearful of having tenants who won’t be able to pay rent.
“I’m hoping they get a little bit more comfortable and have more tools to show them why it’s OK,” she said. “Because it’s (about) understanding that housing is a human right. And everyone deserves an opportunity to not be under that stress of worrying about what’s going to happen.”
Ellen Carlson, the executive director of MOM, said although the Connections Program is fairly new, she has seen its effect. She said the organization is helping people understand how to navigate systems they might not otherwise.
“We all have been in situations in life where we need a person beside us to help us figure out how to move forward,” Carlson said. “I think that’s one of the things I love about this, is that Nicole is that person. When people are like, ‘I don’t know who to go to, what am I supposed to do next?’
“To have that person is such a value.”
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
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.
Janet wasn’t behind on rent when she reached out to MOM for financial assistance, but her fixed income was barely keeping up with the rest of her bills after her husband died. The 57-year-old is unable to work due to her disability and ongoing health issues and her monthly SSDI income is $1,352 per month, just barely enough to cover her rent. She has been wanting to find a different apartment to cut costs, but she has been too ill to move for the past several years and has no family to offer assistance. A MOM case manager worked with Janet to provide financial assistance to pay off her past due utility and internet bills and connected her to federal energy assistance to cover the cost of her winter heating bill.
Many of the older adults MOM serves have seen their rent continue to go up while their incomes remain stagnant. For seniors in our community like Janet, MOM’s programs are a key factor in creating stability.
We’re grateful to those of you who acted to support families in our Connections program who are moving from doubled-up living situations with friends or family to homes of their own. Thanks to generous donors who purchased items from our Amazon wish list, we delivered bedding, kitchen tools and other household items to program participants. For more information about Connections, visit momhelps.org/ways-to-give/connections-sponsorship/
When a family faces the threat of eviction, it can mean children have to switch schools or school districts, sometimes within the same year. Thanks to the Reducing School Mobility grant through the United Way of Dane County from the Siemer Institute, MOM is working with families in our community to ensure kids can stay in their same schools. Our case managers can use the funds flexibly to help families pay rent and cover unexpected costs that can mean the difference between a child staying in their classroom or being uprooted.