Short stuff: Spotlight
Unemployed and in the midst of a divorce, Megan DeAngelis found herself and her two young children bouncing between the homes of friends and family. While her son Lukas was a newborn and unaware of the family’s homeless status, her older son Tony was forced to switch schools repeatedly, falling behind his classmates.
DeAngelis knew she needed to find a job, but without a home to call her own, the priority became just getting through each day. Moving constantly between the homes of others meant she was not able to tell potential employers how to reach her or to find child care and consistent schooling for her sons. Desperate and out of options, DeAngelis began making phone calls to government agencies to figure out how to apply for food stamps. When she called the DuPage County Health Department, the person who answered the phone suggested she call Bridge Communities, a DuPage nonprofit organization that helps homeless families get back on their feet. It was then her luck began to change.
DeAngelis began the interview process with Bridge and was soon paired up with Families Helping Families, a local organization that agreed to sponsor her family and provide mentors to help her make the changes that would provide long-term stability for her family.
Within weeks, DeAngelis, Tony and Lukas had moved into an apartment in Naperville. She sat down with her mentors and her Bridge case manager to map out a plan to handle her divorce, schools for the boys, job hunting and her education goals. Tony, who was struggling with losing his dad, began receiving counseling. DeAngelis, who knew she needed a college degree to support her boys, enrolled in classes at a local college.
Three years later, DeAngelis and her boys have moved into a condominium in Naperville that Bridge helped her buy. She has completed her college degree and is working full-time. Her boys are thriving in their schools.
She thinks the key to her success is the holistic approach Bridge offered. "It’s not just about a house. It’s the overall picture and goals," DeAngelis says. "They addressed legal, education and transportation issues. They helped with after-school activities and summer camps. It’s not just how does mom pay the bills. The whole family has to progress together. They do a great job of making sure the success is as a family unit."
Bridge Communities has spent the past 20 years helping homeless families in DuPage. Almost all of the families Bridge helps are single mothers, who spend two years working with Bridge’s caseworkers and their mentors. The majority of the families they help remain in housing after the two years, says Joyce Hothan, executive director of Bridge.
"Our philosophy is, we’re not about Band-Aid treatment. We’re about making big, systemic changes that will help this family move forward and be self-sufficient in life," Hothan says.
Because she was in the midst of a crisis, DeAngelis admits it was hard for her to look at the big picture and figure out ways to move past her current difficulties. Her mentors were able to help her begin to prioritize. "Mentoring meant everything. They sat down and took an outside point of view—what can we do about the divorce, job, school for the kids," DeAngelis says. "Part of the program is, they were able to assist me in maintaining a sense of normalcy for the kids. That meant not only having a house, but things in the house. And keeping the kids’ lives structured. There’s no structure when you’re homeless."
Making a difference in the lives of children who are homeless means making a difference for generations to come, Hothan says. Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.
"Our clients are mainly children, so we do have a lot of services focused on the children. While we have them for two years, we want to make sure that whatever the effects of homelessness have had on them, we want to help ameliorate those effects," Hothan says. "Kids are resilient. If you give them stability and guidance and extra help, it’s amazing what can happen to them."
For more information on Bridge Communities, call (630) 545-0610 ext. 20 or www.bridgecommunities.org.