After being imprisoned several times, Gilda Jenkins was ready for a new beginning. “I knew how difficult it would be getting out of prison. This time I wasn’t looking for just a place to sleep; I wanted a program that would help change my life. The Fresh Start program, a residential program designed for female substance abusing offenders, helped me stay in recovery, plan well, and move toward a more prosperous future,” she said.
Fresh Start offers a safe nurturing environment for women and their children. The women meet with a case manager while still in prison to assess their abilities, needs and plan for release.
Once living in the program, Gilda knew that she had found the right match. “Through Steps to Success, different kinds of services were available to me. I went to substance abuse treatment, mental health groups, and relapse prevention groups,” she remembers. Steps to Success, a holistic case management approach, brings multiple disciplines together to assist individuals and their families to change their lives and create opportunities.
According to Gilda, being part of CRT has been a blessing. Supported by her case managers and a CRT employment specialist, Gilda completed life skills and employment readiness training. Empowered by these experiences, she found two part-time jobs—one as a cashier in a bagel restaurant, and another as a maintenance worker.
Gilda moved to her own apartment, with ongoing case management from CRT Supportive Housing program. “Having my own place means a lot to me. While I was in Fresh Start I reconnected to my twin daughters; I gave them up for adoption almost 18 years ago. I was afraid of how they were going to look at me for having no housing. I can now invite them home and show them that I changed my life. I know I could not have done all this without the support of CRT.”
During hard times, Bryan Slater, a single father of two children, came to CRT looking for a place to live. Initially, he needed the basics – food and shelter. After a few months in CRT Supportive Housing, he realized it was time to look to his future and the future of his family.
Through CRT’s holistic Steps to Success case management approach, Bryan focused on his strengths, a job with steady income, and preserving his good relationship with his children.
He worked with a CRT employment specialist to increase his job skills; attended Life Skills training; created a résumé; and opened an email account. He obtained certificates in Weatherization, Energy Conservation and Supervisory Skills. Volunteering to deliver furniture to other families in subsidized housing helped him discover how much he enjoyed helping people.
But in the current economy, even a strong work history and good skills do not guarantee a job. CRT staff helped Bryan find appropriate work. “Without work I could not support my family. Thanks to the help of CRT, I not only have one, but two jobs. CRT staff listened to me, helped me to improve my skills and connected me with employers.”
Bryan has stabilized his budget, and is on a payment plan to retire old debts. He has graduated from Supportive Housing and is paying rent on a three-bedroom apartment on his own.
Bryan says that CRT has changed his attitude and helped him look for new opportunities. “I think CRT’s all-inclusive approach to assist people like me is incredible. They looked at my situation, identified my strengths and then helped me create a plan. I feel that they tailored the services to my needs,” he says.
“I’ve never seen a boxer win a match who didn’t have someone in his corner,” says Steven McQuade, who recently moved out of CRT’s Veterans Crossing, a transitional residence for homeless veterans. He credits his success to strong support from CRT staff and the Steps to Success holistic case management approach that helped him create a better future for himself and his daughter. A decorated Navy Veteran who served in Lebanon, Steven and his daughter are now living in Newington with help from the CRT Veterans Supportive Housing program.
Three years ago, however, things were very different. An on-the-job injury left him permanently disabled and without housing. For 18 months he bounced between his truck and friends’ couches, trying to stretch his Worker’s Compensation to provide for his daughter and cover his debts. At 48, this respected employee and loving parent felt hopeless.
Finally, Steven connected with a local Veterans’ center, where he learned he was eligible for CRT services. He was selected to move into CRT’s Veterans Crossing, in East Hartford. While working to re-establish a permanent home, he voiced another long-sought goal: higher education and a new career where he could help others.
Steven “kept his eyes on the prize.” He has completed the medical assistance program at Goodwin College, including an internship at the Newington VA Hospital emergency room, and is working on his Bachelor of Science/Registered Nursing degree.
“I am working toward giving back to Vets who, like me, may feel there is no way out. I would like to hold out my hand and have it available to them the same way CRT, Goodwin College and the VA was there for me.”
Olga Santiago never imagined she would be sitting in a U.S. Senator’s office to advocate on behalf of families across the nation.
Never politically active, she considers herself “the shy one” among her neighbors at CRT’s Generations—an affordable housing development for grandparents raising grandchildren. But in September 2011, she was part of a delegation sent to the 4th National Grand Rally in Washington, D.C., to lobby for rights and protections for grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren.
A grant from Comcast allowed four Generations residents and others to travel to the Rally. It was an emotional couple of days, but the grandmothers made their points at outdoor rallies and in the halls of Congress: protect Social Security; strengthen nutrition programs; and maintain support programs for vulnerable children and families.
Olga and the others from Generations credit CRT with inspiring them to becoming advocates for their community. Empowered and emboldened, they advocated for themselves and others in meetings with the offices of Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman John Larson.
“I came to Generations with nothing. With CRT’s help, I feel I have become a positive advocate for other grandmothers,” said Olga. She has completed the People Empowering People curriculum (PEP) and is currently a parent-to-parent mentor with a UCONN research project. “Maybe one of the best things I’ve gained at Generations is that I am comfortable coming out of my shell.”
Building a financial plan today for goals in the future
Maria Irizarry dreams of owning a home one day. But just one year ago, she was having trouble staying on top of her bills, let alone saving for the future. As a CRT Energy Assistance customer, she was invited to attend a 14-week Financial Literacy Institute. Budgeting, savings habits, credit repair and more are covered in the program.
Within one month, Maria was already saving money and managing a budget. “Daily decisions with money were affecting my whole budget,” Maria said. “I began taking my lunch to work — saving me $50 per month.”
Maria also needed to seek full-time work, after being laid off from her part-time supervisor position at Price Rite. As part of her long-term plans, she realized she would require a car.
She signed up for CRT’s Individual Development Account (IDA), a matched savings program that provides $2 for every $1 deposited by the participant. She set up weekly direct deposits into her IDA that put her on track to purchase a vehicle in 2013. “I’m not spending the money every week, but actually investing it,” Maria said.
Maria needed a plan for her job search. With the help of her case manager, she connected with CT Works and reworked her résumé, researched her qualifications and created profiles on the major online job boards. Now Maria works at Ocean State Job Lot as supervisor with more hours than she had before.
Maria looks forward to her monthly check-ins with her case manager. “I feel ready to keep pushing myself to stay on track with my employment and financial plans.”