The Family First Center empowers the entire family with the necessary tools to change their lives

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Toys for Tots & A Story to Make You Smile :)

A reminder for all parents...
Registered trademark of the US Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program
Registration for Toys for Tots is still going on at the Family First Center, Monday to Friday from 3-6pm, until Wednesday, November 20th. All children in Lake County who are in need of toys this Christmas are eligible to register for Toys for Tots. Registered children between the ages of 0-14 will receive three age appropriate gifts. 

Parents need to have the following to register: 

1) birth certificates (or adoption records) for each child
2) any photo ID
3) proof of residency (e.g. piece of mail showing address, cancelled check, vehicle registration card, rental/lease agreement, etc)
***Photocopies acceptable

So remember to make it over to the FFC to register before November 20th - we want to put smiles on the faces of as many children and families as possible this holiday season!

Last time I spoke about donating and the incredible positive impact that some time and money can have for another person who has been down on their luck. I also mentioned the passion that the staff here have for their positions and how they put their whole heart into their work. Today I'd like to share with you a recent success story at the FFC that warmed our hearts, proving that persistence and positive attitude will get you far!

*written from the point of view of the FFC staff member

I had a lady who came to me and she needed to pay her rent.  She was referred from the church and was a mother who worked full-time. She received over $1,000 with each paycheck, paid twice per month. She was a single mother of two and pregnant with a third child. She did not find out she was pregnant until she was 7 months along, leaving her little-to-no time to prepare. She did not qualify for any public assistance - no food stamps, WIC, or housing - because her monthly income put her $58.00 over the maximum income for public assistance. 

Ultimately, she was having trouble coming up with the money for rent, which was $1000 per month. Since she was not able to pay rent the month before and could not pay the outstanding fees for the months when she paid days late (though in full), she was looking at a near $3000 payment for the next month's rent. However, she had lived in this apartment as a good tenant otherwise for over 5 years. So, after advocating for her with the landlord, he agreed to take half of the payment that was due and wipe the rest away. 

But when this agreement is made, this client was due to have her baby in 2 weeks. So we began our race against the clock to pay the rent before the baby arrived. She had $1000, so we needed to find $500. Soon we found $300, but when I called the landlord, he refused to take $1300 for rent. But I knew it was worth another try, and when I called again with a different tone, he changed his mind and agreed to the $1300. There was a catch, though; when I told her to get the agreement writing, the landlord clarified that it would $1300 up front, but then $300 per week. That would leave our client with $17 per month! Given that she would have three children and all her other bills, including food, I told her that living with this agreement was not feasible. I called the landlord again to argue that this is impossible; it is not legal for even wage garnishment for debtors to leave someone with that little left! But as we argued with the landlord, he changed his mind again and said, "Forget you, we will just evict her!" 

At first, I wanted to fight it - and it would have been legally right to do so! When I consulted with a lawyer on the matter, they agreed that the landlord had gone about this the wrong way. He never sent her a five day notice until she was 2 months behind, and until she had a 5 day notice she could not get help. But at that time the situation was starting to look bleak. All along I had told her it might just be best to use the money she did have to move into a house. Finally, when it was 3 days before she was due and the matter still had not been settled, she agreed reluctantly that moving into a house was the best idea given the situation. 

She quickly found a house. She needed to move in fast because, by that time, the baby was due; but she had not gotten paid yet that month and she had no one to pack and move her belongings. So we called her landlord to explain that, although she did not have enough to cover all of the first month's rent and the security deposit at the moment, she would after her paycheck. The landlord understood and accepted a money order so that she could get the key early. Then we recruited some goodhearted church members to help her move. She had the baby two days after everything was settled, and they got to go home to their new house without any issues. 

"That is  my idea of every step of adversity it seemed like there was no possible way, but through determination - we made it."

Now doesn't that make you want to punch your fist in the air in triumph? Cuddle a bunny? Shout from the rooftops? Or just hug your kids a little tighter and thank God for good people? For all the difficulty we see here at FFC and in Lake County, those successes make all the difference :)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Ultimate Workout Fundraiser 2013 and... Why Donate?

You may be used to hearing requests for donations from community-service organizations. In our brochure, we assure you that any donation is greatly appreciated and helps tremendously. Your contribution, whether monetary or intellectual (we always have an open ear for ideas!!!), ALWAYS makes a difference, no matter how big or small. But you've heard this all before. There are so many organizations that say the same thing, and if you're tight on money, it's sometimes hard to convince yourself that donating is a good idea. Also, if you're like me, you've probably wondered at least once how these amazing organizations like the Family First Center gets along financially. So in this post, I thought it'd be a good idea to do two things: 1) give you a good reason to think about making a donation, and 2) explain the grant process, which is the money behind the madness. Let's start with the second point... I'll get back to the first :)

The Family First Center of Lake County and the staff that works so hard to keep it going are supported by grants. More often than not, grants come from the government; otherwise, they come from other big institutions with money to spare and an interest in helping the community (such as a college or university). To get a grant, one or more people come together to plan every detail of the association that they'd like to start up or continue, like FFC. They plan everything from how much the staff will be paid, to the budget they will need to fund community events, as well as the approximate dates of when they will happen. Then the group has to write out all of this detail in a very specific, structured way so that the associations giving the grants can more easily compare their application to others. If the government/association likes the application enough, they will give that group a certain amount of money in a grant to support their cause. This is a very difficult process, and sometimes the bright minds in places like FFC have great ideas to help the community that there is little to no room in the budget for. This is why we hold fundraisers!

This all leads up to our most recent development in Fundraiser-Land...

The FFC presents...
      The ULTIMATE WORKOUT Fundraiser!!!
For those of you that like your information in bulletin points...:

What: Ultimate Workout Fundraiser 2013, $5 donation
When: Saturday, Nov. 16th - ALL DAY (beginning at 8 a.m.)
Where: Family First Center, 202 S. Genessee St., Waukegan, IL 60085
Who: Call 847-244-4374 to talk to one of our friendly staff for more info :)
Why: Because who doesn't love to break a sweat and/or support their community?!

For this all-day event, you can pay $5 to work out at our friendly gym and fitness rooms, or if that couch just feels too good under your bum / if you live too far to be physically present, but you still want to help, you can donate $5 to help the cause!!!

Now... why donate? Like I said, so many organizations seem to need donations - why give to FFC? Well, first of all, FFC gives its all for the Lake County area!!! The main staff, which consists of three people, manage more than 66,000 visits/clients throughout an average year. If you divide that evenly, that 22,000 visits/clients per year for each person, which averages to a little more than 60 people per day!!! Some of that 66,000 does include mass community service events, such as Toys for Tots. Even so, many of those helped during mass community service events also come into the FFC offices for a visit or two. Also, the staff is personally invested in making every single one of those cases a success. Each of those 66,000 that our staff see in our offices are handled with care. Our staff get to know their clients and work with them to create solutions. I have seen this staff go to amazing lengths to help clients find food, housing, jobs, clothing, education, child care - you name it! They fight for and with this community to better the lives of others. And best of all, they do it with a huge smile!!! (seriously... photo evidence below!)

If you live in Lake County, I firmly believe you have every reason to put any donation, small or large, into the very capable and determined hands of our staff - they will see to it that your money goes towards making our County a better place for all of us! If you do not live in Lake County, we certainly still welcome your donations. We hope that the successes we create through FFC is contagious, that the ideas for innovation and persistence spread so that others can let their hearts catch fire with the optimistic determination seen at the FFC!!! If we spark a flame within you, please let us know... Consider us your brothers and sisters of the world!!!

Coming soon: seasonal giving and a story of amazing success.... :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Block Party and Car Show 2013

This past Sunday, the Family First Center of Lake County and Ceasefire co-sponsored the annual Block Party and Car Show 2013. Although an exact count of those that attended was not taken, we estimate that at least 1500 people showed up for the event!!! We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout and everyone seemed to have an awesome time. Children had their faces painted and bounced away happily on the inflatable playgrounds. People of all ages sang and danced along with the pounding bass, killing it on the floor to "Jump On It", "Cha Cha Slide", and other classics. The food was snatched up like it was going out of style and the crowd was speckled with blue, green, and red smiles from delicious snow cones. Bikers squealed their wheels and revved their engines, the noise occasionally puncturing the roar of talking, music, and laughter. Boys whooped and cheered as their team made baskets during the basketball tournament. People "ooo"ed and "ahh"ed at the flashy cars, admiring engines, suicide doors, rims, and body work, all polished so well that you needed sunglasses just stand near them. The whole event was a day of organized chaos - people milled about, meeting new people, catching up with old friends, and just plain enjoying the feeling of togetherness. Around 8pm the crowd began to thin and the celebrations began to wrap up. A few dance veterans strutted their stuff for the last few songs before the music finally died down. Gradually, everyone returned to their cars with their families and made their ways back home. But we here at the FFC hope that the feeling of togetherness that this Block Party gave us doesn't fade. We hope that the underlying message - that we are a community, a body of people who can come together in a show of peace and good will towards one another - sticks around and makes an impact on the way we all think about Waukegan and the surrounding communities. We all have common ground - we love to have fun!!! The FFC and Ceasefire were honored to host this event and watch as our community members rejoiced in their fellowship with one another. We'd love to host more events such as this, so please continue to support our organizations! Thanks to all that attended - you made it a wonderful celebration!

Go to Photos (on the right side of the screen -->) to see pictures of the fun :)

Click here to see some sweet dance moves-->

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Giving Campaign: Supportive Aide for Families in Economic Distress (SAFE-D)

The social worker watched as the door closed slowly behind the woman and her two children. The last two hours had been very stressful for everyone. This woman and her children had less than a month before the lease on their apartment expired. They would be put out on the street for two months before they could move into their new home. The nights were no longer cold, but the mother had expressed worry about being able to keep her children safe on the street. Watching through the window as the mother led her children away by the hand, the social worker had a heavy heart. She knew that the local homeless shelter had closed, and that, no matter how many times she paged through all of the resources she had at hand, there was literally no place for them to go. Furthermore, this little family was not the only one in trouble; throughout the past few weeks, she had been bombarded with similar cases. She was frustrated that she cared so much about the well-being of these people, but she could not herself provide for them everything they needed in their time of great need.

This is a reality that the staff at the Family First Center of Lake County experiences daily, especially during the past few. The employees, interns, and volunteers all work their hardest to be that stepping stone for those who need it. At times, though, some necessary services are not available to be provided. The FFC is proud to be a part of this community and we want to provide for as many people as possible! However, this is the time of year when the local homeless center, PADS, closes for the season. The Family Center at PADS is the only emergency shelter site open year-round, but there are a very limited number of beds in total. As a referral service, the seasonal closure of PADS also affects the ability of staff at the FFC to provide service or helpful information to those who are or will soon be homeless.

Because of this, FFC is launching "Supportive Aid for Families in Economic Distress" (SAFE-D), a giving campaign to help support these families at times when there is a deficit in available social services. Donations will be used for various services such as providing transportation (e.g. bus passes, train tickets, taxis), emergency one-night hotel stays, vouchers to get a state ID, copies of birth certificate, PO boxes, toiletries, and clothes. Below is an example list of prices for most of these items:
  • Bus fare: [1-ride $3.00, 10-ride $17.50, 1-Day Pass $10, 3-Day Pass $20, 7-Day Pass $28.00]
  • MetraRail (Chicago-Kenosha): [One zone $2.75, Two zones $3.00, Three zones $4.25... Ten zones, $8.25]
  • Taxi (example, 303 Taxi): [First mile: $4.00, Each additional 1/10 mile: $0.20, Waiting time/hour: $24.00]
  • Emergency one-night hotel stays: [$65.00 - $75.00]
  • Voucher for State ID: [Under-65, $20.00]
  • Copy of Birth Certificate: [First copy, $15.00; Each additional copy, $2.00]
  • PO Box (example, Waukegan, 3in x 5.5in): [3mo: $18.00, 6mo: $30.00, 12mo: $60.00]
The Family First Center of Lake County hopes that you will consider donating to SAFE-D to help us make a difference in our community! To donate, you may visit us on the second floor of our building at 202 S. Genesee Street, Waukegan 60085 or mail a donation to this address. Please feel free to enclose a note to express how you feel about your donation! We would love to hear what you have to say! Rest assured that we will maintain a detailed record of donations received, as well as the use of those funds. As we provide services that are supported by your donations, I will share stories of our victories! 

(Unless expressly told otherwise, I will never use names or other personal information on our blog)

Also, if you ever have any suggestions, questions, or comments, please feel free to comment on this blog, write on our Facebook page, or email me personally! I would be delighted to hear from our readers :)

Remember, stay positive, and support our giving campaign SAFE-D!!! 

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace & gratitude.” - Denis Waitley

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Family First Center participates in Comacast Cares Day 2013

This past Saturday, the Family First Center partnered with multiple community organizations to conduct the yearly Comcast Cares Day. Over 7000 volunteers across the state of Illinois in 17 communities decided to take part in this day of community service. In Waukegan, the FFC was packed with over 150 local volunteers eager to put their back into it, continuing the legacy of the 5000+ volunteers that have participated in the Waukegan Comcast Cares day since it began in 2001.

But before breaking a sweat, the volunteers congregated on the third floor of the Center to hear commencement speeches from community leaders.

Keynote speakers included:

  • Evelyn Chenier, Ph.D., Executive Director at the Family First Support Center
  • Robert G. Sabonjian, Mayor of Waukegan
  • John I. Caples Jr., Pastor of Jesus Name Apostolic Church
  • Sam Cunningham, First Ward Alderman of Waukegan
  • Jennifer Witherspoon, Chief of the Lake County Jail
  • Anita Hanna, Vice President of the Waukegan school board
  • Nada Finn, member of Green Town Waukegan/Supervisor of Madeleine Fuqua Waukegan Community Garden

Looking around the room, Pastor John I. Caples Jr. proudly proclaimed that the crowd before him did not represent Waukegan as a community divided by race, ethnicity, or culture. He asked the audience to celebrate this day of togetherness as they worked hand in hand with one another to better the community. "Waukegan is on the rise, and it's on the rise because of people like you" First Ward Alderman Sam Cunningham commended the volunteers. Chief Witherspoon emphasized that she was grateful for the service work not only as the chief, but as a mother as well. She stated firmly that we must "make youth understand that this is their house... because Waukegan is a wonderful place to live."

The heads of each volunteer site also expressed their thanks for the service provided. Beyond her gratitude, school board VP Anita Hanna, reminded volunteers that this work was ultimately an investment in the Washington Campus of Waukegan High School. Nada Finn, Green Town member and community garden supervisor, also thanked the volunteers, concluding "it's a blessing to have us all here".

Afterwards, all 150+ volunteers posed out to the front of the FFC building to take the famous group photo before trekking over to one of the two volunteer sites. Volunteers at both the garden and high school painted, mulched, and planted their hearts out; even the kids joined in! Pictures of their service is posted on our "Photos" page listed in the right-hand column under "Home".

Everyone put in a hard day's work with a smile on their face, and we can't begin to thank you all enough!!! We are very proud to be a part of this caring community!!!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

FFC recruits volunteers for Comcast Cares Day!

Every year during Comcast Cares Day, volunteers gather at a public location to give back to the community by planting gardens, beautifying schools, and providing technology setup to community centers. This Saturday, April 27, 2013 from 7am to 1pm, volunteers will come together to beautify Waukegan High School and Madeleine Fuqua Waukegan Community Garden!!!

Several institutions have worked to organize this event, including Family First Center of Lake County, CeasefireGreen Town Waukegan, F.I.S.T., Townline Design, Landscape Concepts Management, Wild Ones, and more.

Volunteers are invited to meet on the third floor of the FFC Building at 202 S. Genessee Street, Waukegan 60085 for a free continental breakfast, to register, and to pick up their free T-shirt at 7am. Around 8am, volunteers will carpool with one another to the site that they chose to serve. Volunteers at the Waukegan High School can expect to do some minor school grounds gardening, touch-up painting, and refurbishing of bulletin boards. Volunteers for the Community Garden can expect to do more gardening and general clean-up. We encourage volunteers to wear clothes that they do not mind getting dirty. A free lunch will also be provided.

If you would like to sign up and have not yet, you can do it online or in person on the second floor of the FFC Building. Come support your community, lend a helping hand, and socialize with community-carers like you! For those who cannot make it, we will post pictures of this special day to show our volunteer effort :)