Stakeholder Engagement Process Begins for MtW Agency-wide Changes

To apply for Moving to Work (MtW) designation, HRHA conducted initial outreach and engagement processes with residents, participants, and community agencies in Fall 2020. We presented a number of changes we were hoping to make to improve efficiencies, reduce burden on residents, participants, and staff, increase family self-sufficiency, and expand housing choice and stock. HRHA submitted our request and initial plan to HUD December 2020 and we received notice of acceptance January 2021. HRHA is one of the few housing authorities in the country to receive this designation and be granted the flexibilities that MtW allows.

As we work to refine our proposals, we continue gathering feedback from residents, participants, and community partners. There are many opportunities in the coming weeks and months to learn more about our changes and offer your insight and perspective. An entire calendar can be found on our MtW page and includes opportunities to join online focus groups, submit comments via a feedback form, or schedule a call with a member of our team. We hope you contribute your insight as we implement these major agency changes.

MtW designation is a huge opportunity for our agency to better serve our residents and participants through expanding housing opportunities, collaborating on self-sufficiency initiatives, reducing administrative burden, bringing in new landlords, supporting first time home buyers, and much more. We hope you join us in crafting programs and policy that best serve our community. Thank you!

 Moving to Work (MtW) Webpage

Resident Reflections on a Pandemic Year

As the pandemic moves into a second year we hold the hope for normalcy alongside the recognition that we are not past the loss, challenges, and need for caution. It has been quite a year, demanding changes that needed to be informed, fast, and flexible. As spring continues and our country ‘opens back up’, our work continues at a rapid pace. 

It has been quite a year for our residents and participants as well. While we have shared resident and participant perspectives throughout the pandemic, we invited a few to share their reflections on the last year and offer their words here.

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“To learn in March 2020 that people would soon be sick and many would pass on was awful to hear. I learned I needed to be stronger, wiser, and more caring towards others. I learned a lot of new rules and really a new way of life. I learned that every day when I get out of bed I will have to make it count because tomorrow it never promised. My hardest challenge this year was learning my grandma had COVID. Even harder was learning I only had a little time left with the lady that had raised me and taught me everything. Sadly I did lose her in March of 2021 to COVID and pneumonia…I am hopeful my son and I will be better than ever because I know she is watching and guiding us all the way.” – Ashley G.

HRHA resident Sheila and her two sons at the Franklin Heights Community Clean Up Day. April 3, 2021

“In 2020, my biggest challenge was not working. COVID-19 is really scary. People dying, people I know dying, it’s really scary. Biggest challenge was also getting to know myself the past year, especially when we had the lockdown. Made you think about life a lot, goals, where you really want to be in life, and how to get things accomplished. It’s crazy how you were planning your future and then one big thing happens, and this time it happened to the whole world…I am looking forward to a healthy life, to accomplish the goals I have. I am also excited for my daughter to start college and also one day I want to be a home owner. I also had an opportunity to get another job this year so I’m grateful for it. Praying that the world will come in peace and there will be a solution for COVID-19. I thank God for everything I have. I’m glad for the help from FSS, knowing someone is there to help you reach your goals.” – Allonia A.

“I have learned many things this past year 2020…Since having to sit at home I have used this time to go back to college and trying to be able to open up a food truck business, praying by the end of this year. The hardest part of 2020 was not seeing my children in person. Thank God for video visits! I miss the big hugs and cooking together in the kitchen and sitting around talking and playing games. I do look forward to things changing soon and I can do all of that with my children and go to parks and Skyline Drive. They can even come and watch me graduate in the beginning of 2022. I am ready for life to happen again.– Ramona A.

14th Annual Giving Tree Underway

Every year, HRHA invites community support to ensure children of families in our Family Self-Sufficiency program receive gifts around the Holiday season. Every year, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County families, organizations, and groups step up to make that happen. The 14th annual Giving Tree initiative is now underway, with trees at the Valley Mall in Harrisonburg (beginning November 30) and Agora Downtown Market (beginning November 10). We are thrilled to work for the first time this year with our new partner Agora Downtown Market.

Giving Tree with donation box at Agora Downtown Market

Giving Tree at Agora Downtown Market

Want to share some joy this Holiday season? Simply pick an ornament from either Giving Tree. Each ornament has a child’s name, age, clothing size, and a few items they asked for this year. Purchase anything on their card (or a gift card) and return the gift(s) with the ornament back to the box at Agora, Valley Mall, or the HRHA office at 143 Reservoir St.

We are incredibly grateful for the community’s support of our families throughout the year. Special thanks to WHSV for covering the initiative and Valley Mall and Agora Downtown Market for hosting trees.

Gifts are given to parents and guardians in our Family Self-Sufficiency program to give to their children around the Christmas Holiday. Donations of gift cards are used to purchase gifts for names that may have not been taken, or as gifts for teenagers who may be harder to buy for.

We would appreciate all gifts returned to the boxes at Agora or Valley Mall, or our office on 143 Reservoir St, by December 13. Please include the ornament(s) with donated gifts so we can connect them with the right families!

Thank you!

Franklin Heights Halloween Drop-In

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!

Patience with her own winter squash

FSS Participant Cora and kids

Franklin Heights resident Stephanie did ALL the decorations for th eevent!

The basement of the Reservoir Office was converted into a fun and spooky walk through.

Family Self-Sufficiency graduate Alina pursues home ownership

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.

FSS Graduate Alina holding graduation certificate at the Reservoir St Office

Alina with her FSS graduation certificate – August 2020

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.

JMU CMSS partners with HRHA for Kids Cultural Fair – MLK Week 2020

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!

 

two student volunteers standing in front of the Reservoir St basement below a sign that reads JMU CMSS Martin Luther King Jr CelebrationTwo student volunteers with JMU CMSS help children cut out and make paper people

A Generous Community – 12th Annual Giving Tree Initiative a Success

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”

HRHA Welcomes New FSS Coordinator

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 Parakuo portrait

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.

A Gift for Every Child

Small Christmas Tree with names of children as ornaments

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!

 

12 Years of Service

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. two women in an office looking at a paper, including Ms. Shirley

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.