C.R.O.S program helps families move from public assistance to self-sufficiency (May 18, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

C.R.O.S program helps families move from public assistance to self-sufficiency

May 18, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0077}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

WEST PALM BEACH — Jason DeSouza is an out-of-work shoe shiner who has a new perspective on life, thanks to the Family Connections program run by Christians Reaching Out to Society (C.R.O.S.).

C.R.O.S. is an outreach ministry of the Florida Conference that began in 1978. It partners community groups with people of different faiths to seek solutions for people in need.

DeSouza, who lives in Boca Raton, hasn’t worked for two years, but through Family Connections he is in a job training program that is expected to lead to full-time employment. He receives rent assistance and food stamps to help with daily expenses.

The single father of two young girls was referred to the program by his social worker.

“If I didn’t have them, I don’t know what I’d do,” said DeSouza, a native of Brazil. “I have no family in the United States. They have helped me so much. They are nice.”

DeSouza’s family is among the 45 who have participated in C.R.O.S.’s Family Connections program, which matches low-income families with volunteer mentors who help the families emerge from relying on public assistance to becoming self-sufficient. The program began in 2001.

WEST PALM BEACH — (Left to right) Kelly Brill, Sal Galati, Peggy Willits, Sara Wiggins and Sara Parente discuss their roles as C.R.O.S. mentors during a training session. Photo by Nashika Jackson O’Gilvie, Photo #04-0023.

Families are matched with volunteers who have taken a two-hour C.R.O.S training course and have completed a background check. Mentors meet and talk with their clients on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Nashika Jackson O’Gilvie, coordinator of Family Connections, said C.R.O.S began the plan after the implementation of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which limits the number of years families can receive public assistance. She said families are referred from Palm Beach County Division of Human Services and each is assigned three to six mentors who work with the family for one year to help family members achieve their economic goals.

“The program makes a great difference because clients know someone is there to encourage and support them,” O’Gilvie said. “They can bounce ideas off mentors and get on the road to becoming better parents and productive citizens.”

The idea of helping people improve themselves is what compelled Karen Darnell to become a mentor. She has volunteered with the program for three years, working with three different families. She learned about the program through a friend.

“Mentoring is more personal than writing a check or donating clothes, and it’s more rewarding,” said Darnell, who attends Community of Hope United Methodist Church. “I have volunteered with church groups, but this is my first time working with a community organization, and I love it.”

Darnell, who lives in Wellington, has helped single mothers bounce back from divorce by helping them locate scholarship information on the Internet and plan a monthly budget. She has also provided words of encouragement when clients wanted to give up on making their lives better.

Darnell credits the mentoring program with deepening her faith. “It’s amazing to see how God provides,” she said. “I feel like I’m sharing and receiving God’s love by mentoring.”

Doug Moreschi became a mentor more than a year ago. The Boca Raton resident learned about the program through a local newspaper article.

Moreschi, who attends St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, said it has been emotionally and spiritually fulfilling to share experiences with the family he is mentoring—a grandmother and her daughter and four grandchildren, who live with her.

“A valuable part of the program is being able to share experiences,” he said. “It helps to be able to have someone to talk to. Some of the people are dealing with situations that are very devastating. Just talking to someone, giving them support and encouragement, can help them stay sane. Some of these people get to a point where they think they have nothing to live for and talking to them helps in a big way.”

Kelly Berry also enjoys catching people before they fall through the economic cracks of living without public assistance, but not yet able to support themselves. She has been a mentor for one year.

Berry, who lives in Loxahatchee, learned about the program though her church, Community of Hope United Methodist Church. She is mentoring a single mother who works and is going to school to become a nurse.

“I love being in the program because it has put me in touch with people I wouldn’t come into contact with otherwise,” she said. “I feel it’s more beneficial than other programs because the mentors concentrate on one family at a time. It’s about moving that family to the next level and knowing that you helped them to succeed by encouraging them, networking to help them solve their problems and just listening.”

O’Gilvie said there are 11 families waiting to have a listening ear from someone like Berry. She said there are 65 active volunteers working with families.

“We are putting people on the path to self-sufficiency,” she said. “Eighty percent of our clients are successful in getting off public assistance and taking care of themselves and their families. The program is about putting families with mentors who can help them in navigating what avenues to take in their lives.”

For more information about the program call O’Gilvie at 561-833-9499.


This article relates to Outreach and Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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