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An Everyday Miracle at Holy Angels Shelter

Where were you when the country shutdown due to the pandemic? How did it change your life? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly be etched in our minds forever.

While this year has been difficult, most could not imagine handling a burden like the one faced by former Holy Angels Shelter client, Kam. In addition to experiencing homelessness during a pandemic, Kam was pregnant and a frontline healthcare worker. A proud graduate of Southwestern Illinois College’s certified nursing assistant program, Kam fell in love with the residents of a nursing home 30 minutes away from East St. Louis during her clinicals. Determined to stay with them, even through the pandemic, Kam committed herself to a long commute using public transportation. During routine COVID testing, Kam learned she was positive for the virus just before she was due to deliver her baby.

Kam delivered a beautiful baby girl just a few days into her COVID isolation. Soon after being released from the hospital, baby Ava had trouble breathing and required emergency medical attention. Holy Angels Shelter staff members Gywanna and Shirley, along with MedStar Ambulance dispatcher, Trecia helped Kam through a very frightening ordeal. We are happy to report both mom and baby are now doing well. Watch Kam tell the story in her own words here.

District 189 Teacher Sees Herself in Students Experiencing Homelessness

Ms. Smith, Academic Interventionist (left), with Gywanna Montague, Holy Angels Shelter Staff

“Virtual learning is tough for our kids,” said Ms. Martisha Smith, District 189 Academic Interventionist. In her field, students are usually characterized in three tiers – tier one represents the whole class environment. Tier two consists of children that benefit from a bit of small group help to be successful in the classroom. Tier three is for students needing more frequent, intensive intervention to be successful in school. “In District 189 the tiers are flipped, we have a lot of students who need tier three support due to traumas and other deficiencies,” said Ms. Smith. Virtual learning and other issues magnified by the pandemic have increased the struggles faced by Smith’s students.

Trained both as a social worker and an educator, Ms. Smith knows that mindsets and behaviors are changed based on environments for children and adults alike. “It was hard for me when I began working virtually,” said Martisha. “I had to set up a home office and keep myself in a similar mindset to what I would have at school.” With parents working during school hours, older siblings are often responsible for their schoolwork and for making sure their younger siblings are logging on and paying attention. Smith believes parents give their best selves but struggle to help their children with everything else going on in their lives right now. “Kids are having to become mini adults,” said Smith. “A lot of our kids don’t have internet connectivity at home and if they do it can be inconsistent.”

Sixth grader, “Devon” (name changed to protect privacy) was logging in for virtual school every day. Ms. Smith got to know him through the small groups sessions she manages. She would also see Devon through the virtual social-emotional support offered through the district. Children needing someone to talk to have the ability to click a link to make a quick connection during their school day.

One day Devon stopped logging in. Ms. Smith was concerned. With the challenges faced by her students she knew there could be many reasons that he disappeared from the virtual environment. Ms. Smith would later find out Devon and his family were experiencing homelessness at Catholic Urban Programs’ Holy Angels Shelter. “He didn’t want to tell me what was going on at first,” said Smith. “Kids will work hard to keep that from people. There is no relaxation in homelessness, no getting comfortable. It is like you are always in public because you are living with others.”

Homelessness is a struggle Smith knows first-hand. As a child she remembers moving from house-to-house doubling-up with family and friends. “I see myself in kids who struggle,” said Smith. “That’s why I chose to be an educator here. I was a District 189 student who needed extra support.”

Smith knew she needed to lay eyes on Devon. She has been to the shelter several times including on the weekends. “If I can connect with my students and help address some of the root causes of their problems, I will do that,” said Smith. Using her own funds to help her students is something she does frequently. She has purchased clothing, shoes, and a suitcase for Devon. “I was able to go to the shelter and teach Devon how to wash his own clothes,” said Smith. “While I was there, I met his little sister. After I left, I kept thinking about what I could do to make her feel special and loved.”

On Smith’s next trip to the shelter, she gave the little girl a new hairstyle. “My daughter is in her 20’s,” said Smith. “It had been a while but the staff and clients at the shelter gave me advice, we had fun and Devon’s little sister definitely felt pampered.”

Smith’s outreach goes beyond this one family. “If I find out my students are hungry, or cold I will do what I can to help.” Ms. Smith has spent this school year working to be the consistency she believes her students need, especially in times like these. “I want my students to know that I don’t have to be their mom to love them, said Smith. “My ultimate goal is to do what I can to help develop good citizens.”

Here at Catholic Urban Programs, we are grateful for Ms. Smith and all who are committed to rekindling hope and remediating the effects of poverty.

Note: client’s name changed to protect privacy.

LaShonda’s Gift of Peace

LaShonda Crawford, a mother of three and grandmother of one considers herself a people person. “I love helping people and bringing light and joy to them,” she said. LaShonda is a certified nursing assistant who has worked in skilled nursing facilities for a total of 22 years with the last five being at Autumn Meadows in Cahokia where she currently serves as transportation coordinator.

Crawford is proud to be the first person to benefit from ANCHORS, Catholic Urban Programs’ new trauma-informed housing security program. ANCHORS was created to address the safety and well-being of people residing in East St. Louis Public Housing developments. Individuals who meet income, employment, and other requirements are eligible to participate. The program focuses on people who are paying market-rate rent in public housing but lack the resources to cover moving expenses such as first month’s rent and security deposit.

LaShonda, her mother, and grandmother all raised their families in East St. Louis Public Housing. Crawford knew living in public housing was supposed to be short-term but describes getting out as difficult. “It was a cushion,” said LaShonda. “If I were to lose my job, I knew I had a safety net because my rent would go down. The reality is I was comfortable, but I was tired. It was time to get out. Time to move forward.”

There was no peace in public housing for LaShonda and her children. She describes hearing gun shots at night and during the day. It was difficult to sleep with the constant sounds of police and ambulance sirens. Crawford also found herself staying awake at night to watch her surroundings and to keep her children safe after her unit was broken into for the third time. “It is not the people that live there, it is the visitors,” said LaShonda.

“I was my own worst enemy. I kept myself from moving forward. I knew I had the potential; I just needed a boost,” said LaShonda. ANCHORS was that boost. Crawford heard about the program from her sister who is also enrolled. Upon acceptance into the program, ANCHORS clients are required to complete workshops in landlord-tenant rights, financial fitness, energy bill management, and good neighbor. Clients are assisted by a professional navigator who helps them create stability plans in areas such as housing, education, life skills, mental health and more.

LaShonda completed the initial steps of the program and found suitable housing in five months. CUP provided a grant to cover moving expenses. Once the client moves into housing their navigator remains with them as a resource for up to 12-months to help ensure success. “I love Ms. (Carmelia) Williams, I talk her ear off,” said LaShonda. “She calls to check on me and sends me emails. She is great.”

LaShonda is grateful for her blessings especially the peacefulness she feels in her new home.

Crawford’s three children grew up participating in Catholic Urban Programs’ Griffin Center after school and summer programming. The staff at Griffin are very happy for LaShonda and her children.

Catholic Urban Programs Honors Founder, Joe Hubbard with Newly Renamed Facility

The forecast of rain had the team at Catholic Urban Programs a bit concerned on Monday morning. “Joe said ‘God won’t let it rain on us’ and he was right,” said Toni Muhammad, Executive Director. “We were blessed with beautiful weather, wonderful attendees, and heart-felt remarks from our speakers. The event was a great celebration of all that Joe has done and continues to do for those in need.”

Mayor Robert Eastern started things off with a message of welcome and congratulations on behalf of the City of East St. Louis. Joe Hubbard later recalled the Mayor being a “kid” at St. Patrick’s School in the early days when CUP operated out of the rectory there.

In late May, Toni Muhammad announced that the facility formerly known as the “Charity Office” would be renamed to honor Hubbard and to better reflect the services offered inside. “The HUB” is short for “Hubbard” and housing, utilities, and basic needs. Toni presented Joe with a plaque that reads: “Catholic Urban Programs proudly dedicates this facility, “The HUB”, to our founder, Mr. Joe Hubbard, for his years of dedication, love, and service to the people of East St. Louis and the Diocese of Belleville. August 3, 2020.”

In his remarks, Bishop Michael McGovern said that if we think of Joe’s role we can also think of “The HUB” using the words holy, ubiquitous, and blessed. “Jesus in the gospel said, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called the sons of God,’” said Bishop McGovern. “When we think about it, as Pope Paul VI once said, ‘if you want peace, work for justice.’ Joe, you have led so many people, working with them to foster a just society. We will have a peaceful society because of the works of justice, the Corporal Works of Mercy, that you and so many people have performed.”

Mayor Mark Eckert, a good friend to Joe Hubbard, was also on-hand for the celebration. Mayor Eckert shared his congratulations to Catholic Urban Programs on a very appropriate renaming of the facility. “To Joseph, our friend, you’re the best buddy. We talk daily and no matter how bad he is feeling, he is always worried about somebody else,” said Mayor Eckert.

Joe closed out the program with remarks of gratitude recognizing those who have worked alongside him in the community including Gerry Hasenstab, who Joe described as being hired by Bishop Cosgrove to “keep him alive.” Hubbard also recognized Bill Kreeb – former director of the Leslie Bates Neighborhood House, Venessa Marion – longtime Catholic Urban Programs employee, Sister Julia Huiskamp – founder of CUP’s Griffin Center program, and Father Ken York – Pastor of St. Henry, for continuing to feed his soul. “CUP has been a dream to help those in need. It was based on the Gospel of St. Matthew. It has been there to be able to help the broken, the hurting, and those that are suffering,” said Hubbard.

Catholic Urban Programs thanks the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce for co-hosting this special ribbon cutting event.

Catholic Urban Programs Partners with the United Way of Greater St. Louis to Deliver Homeless Prevention Services to People Impacted by Covid-19

The most cost-effective and efficient way to deal with the issue of homelessness is to prevent it from happening. For people who lack a personal safety net, the potential of becoming homeless is often one paycheck, health challenge, employment issue, or family emergency away. This issue is greatly magnified by the pandemic. Thanks to the generosity of the United Way of Greater St. Louis and donors to the Illinois Covid-19 Response Fund, CUP was able to deliver $10,000 in homeless prevention services to nine households in July. These households represent 11 adults and 10 children. We appreciate the clients mentioned in this story for allowing us to share their experiences. Catholic Urban Programs has changed the names of the clients to protect their privacy.

Joyce, a recently divorced mother of two, had full-time employment prior to being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Having a severe case of the disease, Joyce was out of work three months. Now healthy and back to work full-time, Joyce and her young children were at risk for homelessness due to being behind on rent and utilities. With a little help getting caught up on her bills, Joyce no longer fears becoming homeless.

Belinda is a single mother who had full-time employment prior to the pandemic. With an income too far above the poverty level to qualify for government assistance, Belinda struggled to make ends meet and had to file for bankruptcy. Being furloughed only increased Belinda’s burden, and caused her to get further behind with her finances. With late utility and rent bills, Belinda and her daughter were at risk for becoming homeless even though she is once again working full-time. Belinda received the help she needed to get caught up on utility and rental payments.

Jordan and his roommate, George were both impacted by the pandemic. Jordan’s hours were reduced, and George was furloughed. The roommates found themselves three months behind in utility payments and delinquent in their rent. Catholic Urban Programs was able to assist in both areas, giving Jordan and George peace of mind in these uncertain times.

Sierra is a single mother of a toddler who was dealt a difficult blow being laid off and diagnosed with the coronavirus at the same time. Upon recovering from the virus, Sierra informed her manager that she was well and ready to return to work only to find out her employer was not ready for her return. For a period of two months, Sierra was unable to pay her rent and utilities. Having recently secured a new full-time job, Sierra needed help getting caught up on rent and utilities and feels great about being back on track.

“The founder of Catholic Urban Programs often spoke about our role being one of ‘listening to broken hearts’,” said Toni Muhammad, Executive Director. “Our Housing Navigator, Carmelia Williams, did just that while quickly deploying these much-needed funds. Carmelia was inspired by the resilience of the clients she was able to assist, especially the single mothers who overcame the coronavirus and wage loss. We are so happy to have had the opportunity to partner with the United Way of Greater St. Louis in assisting these wonderful families.”

The mission of Catholic Urban Programs is to advance the dignity of the human person, remediate the effects of poverty, and empower people to become self-sufficient through crisis intervention housing security, and out of school time programs.

Catholic Urban Programs Selected by the United Way of Greater St. Louis as a Safety Net Organization

The team at Catholic Urban Programs is delighted to announce that the United Way of Greater St. Louis has chosen us as a 2021-2023 Safety Net organization. We are grateful to the team at the United Way for their investment in our work. The United Way of Greater St. Louis invested three years and a team of experts in doing in-depth research to identify the greatest needs in our community on a county-by-county basis. In St. Clair County, CUP’s focus areas of crisis intervention, housing security, and out of school time programming were identified among the top priority needs.

“This is such an exciting time for Catholic Urban Programs,” said Toni Muhammad, Executive Director. “I am so grateful to the United Way for entrusting our organization with this level of support and for recognizing us as a vital safety net organization in the St. Louis region.”

We will know more about the level of funding we receive after the United Way campaign winds down in November. We encourage our supporters to support the United Way’s fall campaign!

State Farm Agents Donate $20,000 to CUP

On June 3rd State Farm Agents from the St. Clair County area joined forces to contribute $20,000 to Catholic Urban Programs’ utility and food support programs to assist families experiencing hardships in these unprecedented times. We enjoyed having several agents visit for a check presentation and tour of our food pantry. The company’s tagline could not be more true: “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is there.” Our thanks to the following agents: Dave Raetz, Tony White, Steve Knapp, Katherine Frazier, Dave Threlkeld, Dave Slimack, Doreen Jordan, Rob Isringhausen, Carol Compton-Mcdonald, Mike Morrill, Elisa Hager, Kate Elder, and Aaron Fields.

Catholic Urban Programs Celebrates Allsup Charitable Services

Catholic Urban Programs celebrated the one-year anniversary of our relationship with Allsup Charitable Services (ACS) earlier this month. We are grateful to Jim Allsup for gifting Catholic Urban Programs with the business consultative services of this talented team. Even in the midst of the pandemic, our work in key areas of strategic planning, data analysis, human resource management, process mapping and more has continued. With a motto of “Your Mission, Our Time” the team at ACS has made a huge difference at CUP! Their in-kind business consultative services and friendship mean everything to us! We were able to surprise the ACS team with the video below via a Microsoft Teams call.

Facility at Vieux Carre and 157 Renamed for Joe Hubbard

Located at Highway 157 and Vieux Carre, the newly renamed “HUB” is short for “Hubbard” and also represents the services delivered in this facility: (H)ousing, (U)tilities, (B)asic Needs. “As we move forward into our new fiscal year, we do so with renewed purpose, aligned programs, and always with the legacy of our founders in mind,” said Toni Muhammad, Executive Director. “In our planning process something just clicked and we knew ‘The HUB’ was the perfect name for our facility and a great way to honor Joe Hubbard!”

Known mostly for our food pantry and utility assistance programs, The HUB will soon become home to our new ANCHORS Housing Navigation Resource Center. Long planned for a July 1st launch, CUP staff is working to revise its plans to accommodate as much virtual engagement as possible. Workshops on utility management, landlord/tenant rights, and budgeting are currently being planned virtually. Stay tuned for more information about the new ANCHORS program!

Catholic Urban Programs

P.O. Box 3310
East St. Louis, IL 62203

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