So The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Susan Bolling, Executive Director of RaiseUp Families, explains that when you intercept 400 calls a year from homeless people searching for shelter the Westside Homeless Prevention organization cannot provide, it makes sense to change the organization’s name to one that more aptly defines the mission.
Over the past quarter century the organization, known until this month as WHP, has helped nearly 600 families avoid eviction for not being able to pay their rent. They do that, but they do a lot more too. Bolling explains, “We work with about sixty families a year. They often come to us tired, lacking confidence, and in financial trouble. Nine months later they have confidence because we’ve been able to help them through a crisis to where they can be self-sustaining again.
“We’ve shown them how to mange their finances more effectively. Our staff and volunteers provide career coaching to get better paying jobs. We offer parenting classes so they can help them get the most from their educations. We even help them establish a savings account to address future financial challenges. Clients complete the program feeling in control of their lives again.”
Adapting To Keep Up With Changes
As part of their three-year plan the Board of Directors decided to change the name to RaiseUp Families, to alleviate the challenge of people turning to them for shelter and to more accurately define their mission. The original name was Westside Homeless Partnership, which evolved into Westside Homeless Prevention, and is now officially, effective September 2018, named RaiseUp Families. The non-profit started with the financial and volunteer support of a dozen area churches. “Our church partners are still critical to enable us to carry out our mission, but more and more today we depend on grants and individual donors to provide the funding we need to operate.
RaiseUp Families pays past due rent and gets families current on their utility payments. They continue to pay partial rent for several months while the family is enrolled in their program. Then staff and volunteers begin working with clients in the nine-month program to find ways to increase their income, get more mileage out of their money, and learn more effective parenting and life skills. They currently work with qualifying families in the Spring Branch and recently expanded to the Katy area of Houston. To qualify for help, a family have their own housing, have at least one family member eligible to work in the United States, and have a child enrolled in one of the school districts they serve.
Using Work Experience In New Ways
Executive Director Bolling came to work with the agency four-and-a-half years ago. “When I retired in 2009 from Hewlett Packard, I started volunteering in an after-school program for Latino children organized by my church, Chapelwood United Methodist. I did that for four years and really enjoyed the children and the families that I got to know. I also learned a lot about how difficult their lives could be sometimes.
“Before I started volunteering in this neighborhood I didn’t know that sometimes two families crowd together in one apartment to afford the rent or that family members have to share shoes. I was touched by how kind and loving they were, even though they had difficult situations to manage. I saw a real sense of unity among the families.”
Called To Serve
When she learned that the organization was searching for a new Executive Director she decided to apply. Bolling says that by the second interview she knew she really wanted this position. “I felt called to it. So, I went to the interview with a 30/60/90-day business plan for them. That seemed to blew them away. They told me they were just a small non-profit and didn’t have a monthly business plan. I prayed to God that I would get the position and that God would help me develop an action plan so they could grow and share their passion.”
With 35 years of sales experience in the corporate world, Bolling knows how to promote the mission of an organization and generate more financial support. Her corporate experience taught her how to work with groups and get people to come to consensus so everyone is moving forward in the same direction. Her active participation at Chapelwood United Methodist helps her make important connections that benefit RaiseUp Families. She says, “It was amazing to watch how we grew as door after door opened up for us.”
Raised in Abilene and nurtured in her childhood faith in the Presbyterian tradition, Bolling was taught to see God’s handiwork in everything – nature, other people, buildings – everything. “I have so much in my life. I wanted my response to be a blessing to others. God placed me in this position and it has been amazing to see the things that have happened. The other day we got a donation from one of our former clients. Three years after finishing our program she was able to buy her own home and is doing well enough to turn around and help others. We all have to rely on other people for help at some time in our lives.”
Addressing One Aspect of Homelessness
The name change opens up future possibilities to expand the mission beyond the two current school districts to help people at risk for becoming homeless. Bolling explains that there are three primary causes for homelessness.
- Mental illness. Sadly, some people simply are not able to adequately care for themselves. If they lack a support system of caring family or friends they often end up on the streets.
- Generational poverty. People who grow up depending on social services all their lives often raise people who remain dependent on such services to cope. It takes at least a generation of intervention to provide childcare, address chronic problems stemming from poverty, and improve education for people to qualify for jobs that pay sufficient wages and get out of the generational poverty cycle.
- One-time events that push people over the edge. Loss of a job or an expensive medical situation can leave people in a position in which they can no longer pay their bills.
This later group is where RaiseUp Families steps in to help. Knowing someone cares and getting non-judgmental help to work their way through whatever drove them into a crisis enables families to get through a set back to make a strong come back.
RaiseUp Families is a non-profit, managed by a governance committee and a skill-based Board of Directors. A small administrative and case management staff provides the services. Board members serve up to two three-year terms.
We’ve Only Just Begun
Now with the name change in place, Bolling says, “We’ve only just begun. We want to expand our outreach to all of Houston to help people as they recover from a one-time event that put them at risk for becoming homeless. We help those who, with a little help from us, can again take care of themselves.”
Read more about RaiseUp Families here.
Facing a stack of bills with insufficient funds to pay them is stressful for anyone. Have you ever been in that situation? I have.