The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) coordinators planned a Halloween drop-in on October 30 for residents in HRHA’s Franklin Heights. Stephanie, a resident of Franklin Heights (FH), did all the decorating, creating webs, stringing lights, and more to create a fun and safe Halloween atmosphere. One at a time, each family had the opportunity for a household picture (on polaroid to take home), pick a pumpkin and treat bag, and (for adults) to connect with an FSS coordinator to learn more about Moving to Work (MtW) and provide comment if interested. We had over two dozen families come through with over 40 kids!
The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program is a 5-year program funded by HUD and coordinated by HRHA staff. Program participants work with one of our coordinators to establish goals around finance, education, work, and family at the start of the program. Participants sign a 5-year contract committing to work with us to reach their goals, increase their income, and become more self-sufficient.
The FSS program is one of our most successful programs. With their housing costs subsidized, individuals and families are better able to focus on other critical pieces of self-sufficiency like reliable transportation, higher education or training, financial literacy, and more. As participants increase their income in the program, a portion of their increased rent payment is put in a savings (escrow) account. This money becomes available to them upon program graduation. Every year graduates leave our program better equipped to support themselves and their families.
This August, Alina Santos graduated from FSS. Alina started the program in 2015 without a job and with a substantial amount of debt. Through the five years, Alina worked with her FSS Coordinator to secure a job at Purdue and eventually Aarons, where she sees job growth opportunity. She worked on her financial literacy and management, paying of debts and raising her credit score from 400 to over 650. She began building an escrow (savings) as her income increased. She used some of her savings to buy a reliable car, saving the rest to have options for a down payment on a house down the road. She is currently working with our Homebuyer Assistance program and has completed the online homebuyer preparation course.
Despite the cold rain, a dozen or more kids from Franklin Heights scampered over to the basement of the Reservoir St Office for a Kids Cultural Fair. Put on by volunteers with the James Madison University Center for Multicultural Student Services, the fair provided activities for children geared at self acceptance and celebrating diversity and community. The Cultural Fair was part of a range of activities, speakers, and events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Week put on by the Center. We are incredibly grateful that JMU CMSS reached out to partner for their volunteer initiative this year and hope it can happen again!
The last of the gifts are going out this week to parents in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Since 2007, HRHA and the FSS program have teamed up with community partners on a Giving Tree initiative. For working families in the FSS program, December and the Holiday season can be incredibly stressful. HRHA creates ornaments with children’s names and gift requests and places them on tress at both the JCPenney Salon and Santa’s Workshop in the Valley Mall. Community members, families, and organizations pick out a child or two or more, purchase gifts, and return them to our office. This year with your help we provided gifts for over 90 children from around 40 families. All received gift in time for the Holidays.
We are incredibly grateful for WHSV for covering the initiative, as well as organizations like the Blue Ridge AACN and Broadway High school FFA Chapter who together provided gifts for nearly 30 children. We are also grateful to Diane and the JCPenney Salon team and the team at Santa’s Workshop at the Valley Mall for hosting the trees every year. Thank you for making this years Giving Tree a success.
Thank you and Happy Holidays!
“I can’t even find the words to express how thankful I am! Honestly was terrified this month for Christmas. And now I am blessed I can rest easy for my children will have presents! Thank you thank you thank you!”
“Thank you so much for making sure my kids have a Christmas this year!”
“Thank you for saving Christmas!”
“This helps out in so many ways, I’m the only one working. Thank you”
“Being a single mom is tough. This helps ease the stress on me and more importantly brings Christmas magic to my daughters. Thank you much for being a real life Santa”
“Thank you for your generosity, thank you for helping my daughters have a good Christmas”
The Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program is one of the primary avenues HRHA utilizes to help families develop skills, improve financial stability, and move toward self-sufficiency. The Coordinator for this program provides the necessary case management, vision, and oversight to ensure participant success. The Coordinator helps connect FSS families with dozens of community resources and partners, provide resume and job readiness assistance, and aid families in setting & meeting goals. Shirley Sheets has led this program for the last 12 years, but has recently moved to a position with the County schools. We will miss Shirley dearly but are excited to welcome Zoe Parakuo as the new FSS Coordinator.
Zoe brings a wealth of experience to the FSS Program. Originally from Kenya, Zoe moved to the U.S. in 2009, attending Harrisonburg High School and then Eastern Mennonite University. She holds a B.A. in Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution from EMU, where she was active in the International Student Union, Black Student Union, and Peace Fellowship. Following graduation Zoe served with Mennonite Central Committee in Tanzania as a Women’s Empowerment Mentor. After returning to the U.S. Zoe worked as an Assistant Case Manager with our local Church World Service office. Zoe is excited to connect with our FSS participants and continue to grow the program, empowering individuals and families to move toward self-sufficiency.
Questions about the FSS Program? Feel free to reach out to our office at 540-437-9545.
The Holiday season can be stressful on families, particularly as parents wrestle with the cost of providing gifts for theirchildren. Since 2007, HRHA has provided Holiday Gift Assistance for parents in our Family Self-Sufficiency Program. Dozens of community members take a child’s name each year, donating toys, clothes, and gift cards to children living in affordable housing.
You can receive a child’s name (November 8 – December 13) at Santa’s Workshop at the Valley Mall, The Salon at JCPenny, or by calling 540-437-9545. Please bring gifts unwrapped back to the Valley Mall, along with the ornament (name) of the child. You can also drop off gifts at our Reservoir St office (143 Reservoir St). To donate directly to this program, you can visit our website at www.harrisonburgrha.com/donate. Thank you for your support!
This week is Shirley Sheets’ last week with HRHA. Shirley Sheets has served as the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Coordinator for HRHA since 2007. The FSS Coordinator develops individualized plans with participants that facilitate achievement of financial, educational, and employment goals. She has been instrumental in helping low-income individuals and families move towards self-sufficiency.
An advertisement in the paper originally drew Ms. Shirley (as many program participants call her) to the FSS Coordinator position. “I’ve always liked helping other people. That was the most important thing I was looking for,” she noted. Over the years she has assisted hundreds of individuals with job applications, educational achievements, and access to community resources. Walk into the office on a typical weekday and Ms. Shirley is likely meeting with an FSS participant, working with them on pre-employment preparation, finding quality childcare, or making a budget. When not in the office, Shirley is often out in the community, coordinating programs that help encourage and empower program participants.
She shared, “Seeing people fulfill their goals, like when they buy a house or a car, that has been very rewarding for me.” One program participant shared, “After I quit my last job, I had pretty low self-confidence. Ms. Shirley worked with me to find a new opportunity. She helped with the application for my current job, and I eventually went in for an interview. If I didn’t have Shirley’s support, I would not have gotten my new job. I’m really going to miss her. Her positivity rubs off on people, her confidence helped me get to where I am today.”
Shirley is moving into the role of Literacy Coordinator with the Rockingham County School system. We wish her all the best in this next phase.
Each year, HRHA provides kids in the Family Self Sufficiency Program (FSS) back to school kits in August. Last year, with the help of donations and sponsors, HRHA provided 64 kits for children. JC Penny generously donated book bags and HRHA staff purchased supplies to fill them. For HRHA families, back to school shopping can sometimes be a challenge. These kits make sure children have everything they need to succeed on day one. This year, we were able to give out over 50 kits.
If you are interested in expanding the reach and impact of this program, or any other HRHA program, we’d welcome your support. You can donate to our 501c3, Shenandoah Housing Corporation, via credit card on our PayPal site, or by check (to Shenandoah Housing Corporation) mailed to 286 Kelley St, Harrisonburg VA 22802 attn Michael Wong. Thank you!
P.O. Box 1071
Harrisonburg, VA 22803