Measures of Success
July 5th, 2017
By BettyBeth Johns
For neighbors who walk in the front door at UCOM, ‘one thing after another’ is a familiar tune. Spousal abandonment that leads to homelessness. Illness that leads to unemployment. Depression that saps energy and fuels hopelessness. It is thankless work, this lifting the marginalized and hurting. It’s time-consuming, expensive, draining.
Building sustainable community means that we approach our work as OPPORTUNITY. The one-door-closed-means-another-one-opens view of adversity is critical to leveraging personal capabilities that are sometimes mired in temporal circumstances. Our job, as we see it, is to be the catalyst that sparks individuals to take that first (and second and third) step toward stability and well-being. Each service offering is as unique and specific as the individual that walks through the door. We use what we have, and partner with other agencies that can provide additional supports. We walk alongside, encouraging and tough-loving until such a time as we are no longer needed.
Sometimes, because things are working out, we don’t hear the ‘happy ending’. When our former clients are kind enough to check in with us and share their stories, we are blessed.
Lee* was referred to UCOM via Criminal Justice Chaplaincy. After a lengthy prison term, Lee was unclear how to facilitate his rehabilitated self as a productive member of society. He had missed the onset of the internet, cell phones and the collapse of blue-collar union scale wages. With an open mind and a professional resume, he quickly secured entry-level employment and stable housing. After several weeks on the job, he returned to UCOM seeking educational opportunity and offering his time and talent to mentor other newly-released workforce clients. He owned his past, embraced the work of learning new skills in a new society, and eagerly made plans for a future of ‘giving back’ and empowering others. He called UCOM a few weeks ago, to let us know that he had secured his ‘dream job’ of managing a reentry program near Detroit. He was reuniting with his family for the first time in nearly two decades and he was feeling grateful and positive about the future.
Alexandra* enrolled in UCOM’s Preparing for Your Future financial literacy program. Throughout the course, she was a veritable sponge – writing pages of notes, absorbing tips and tidbits about save/spend/share, asking questions and meticulously completing her homework assignments. She spoke about how better managing her finances was giving her hope that her housing situation could improve. Improving her housing situation, she surmised, might give her confidence to return to school. Returning to school, she was sure, would inspire her to pick up the career goals she’d had a decade previously – before her life was sidetracked by family illness, marriage, and motherhood.
UCOM connected Alex to a community partner offering vocational training. She completed the course at the top of her class and secured full-time employment in her field of choice. A few weeks into her new job, she contacted UCOM to let us know that she loved her job, that her family had secured a beautiful apartment, and that she was exploring a Bachelor’s program to further her career. She thanked UCOM for “everything” but especially for helping her believe in herself. She tearfully recounted that over the course of her life she’d never felt empowered to self-determine her future but that it was the first thing we made a point of letting her know when she arrived at UCOM. In return, the validation she gave our staff was equally empowering, renewing our energy to help others.
“Resources for Living. Hope for Life.” Our motto is not a frivolous attempt to be remembered. It is the core of who we are and what we do. Hard work. And worth it.
*Real names, used with permission, as they are delighted to share their stories.