ECHO touches the lives of infants, children, adults, elderly. Lilly is one of them!
ECHO is different. One unusual thing about ECHO is that it is grassroots, not part of a larger organization, not regional, not national. We don’t get funding from an umbrella organization, and we have a small staff, all of which means we have unique marketing and fundraising struggles. But it is amazing what ECHO accomplishes.
ECHO touches the lives of almost every low-income child and adult in this area! We serve over 3,600 different households, about 14,000 people, through our food, housing, transportation and other services. Some people come sporadically, others come regularly, for ECHO services that address basic needs.
ECHO gives people the opportunity to overcome barriers to self-sufficiency. I’d like to tell you one of the heartwarming success stories this year, someone well on the way to self-sufficiency.
Lilly’s Story. Last fall, a 30-year old woman, who I will call Lilly, came to ECHO. She had married a man who turned out to be a violent addict. Lilly fled, but her family would not take her in, upset that she married this man. Her friends couldn’t afford to help her. On top of homelessness, she was recently diagnosed with a fatal heart condition, was told she had about five years to live and not to work or over-exert herself. She was hospitalized almost every other week. She applied for SSI and SSDI, but an explorative surgery was required first, to learn more about the heart condition. She was unable to get into local shelters.
Lilly came to ECHO, scared and in desperate need of a safe place to sleep. ECHO helped her with lodging in a motel. We told her we could help her get into her own place, once income was closer at hand, either earned income or disability. Divorce was pending in court, her ex was stalking her, threatening her via text messages and the Internet, angry about the divorce. ECHO called the YWCA to help her file a restraining order against him.
Lilly was determined to survive and do whatever she had to do in order to get her life back on track. Despite doctors’ recommendations, she got a job at a fast food restaurant. In December, she found an apartment and put down $80 to hold it. She needed help with security deposit and first month’s rent. We offered her our Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) program, seeing that she may need more than first month’s rent and security deposit assistance. RRH is a multiple-month rent program targeted to people experiencing homelessness. Our regular rent program provides a single-month rent in a 12-month period.
Lilly knew she still needed more if she was going to have to pay all of her own bills. She landed a slightly higher- paying job working for a gas station. She struggled with working extra hours. Whenever she would push herself to pick up shifts, she would end up in the hospital for a few days because of her heart condition. Last spring, she had the exploratory surgery. However, the SSI/SSDI is still pending, with paperwork taking a very long time.
Lilly wanted more for herself. She didn’t have time to wait around, and she got a better job through a temporary help agency. She loved the job and her co-workers, and she was determined to continue to succeed. With ECHO helping her with the rent, she was able to obtain this steady job, get some furniture for her apartment, and make payments on a reliable vehicle. She was hired into the company after her 90-day period with the temp agency. This got her a $2/hr. pay raise! She was doing wonderfully except as soon as her income went up, she lost her Badger Care insurance. The medical bills quickly piled up to well over $6,000. She had to wait another 90 days (early Sept) to get insurance through her job.
Lilly’s managers at work helped her advance, completing various in-house training sessions to obtain higher positions. She thinks that by December, she will be making $13.45/hour, almost double what she was making a year ago. This fall, she registered for electro-mechanic classes at Blackhawk Technical College. She had been registered there four years in a row, but she never had the courage to follow through. This is going to be her year. She was very excited to start this school program this fall, and her employer will refund her costs when she graduates in two years. She will get a much higher position.
Lilly was able to do this because of ECHO’s help. We provided the security deposit, seven months’ rent, other services and case management throughout the program. The ECHO client advocate stressed to her that the desire to be successful was the key. Lilly took advantage of the time in this program and worked on stabilizing her life. She was recently elated to tell us that she budgeted out her rent payments for the rest of 2015, as well as paying for her education and making payments on the medical bills.
Sustainability is a challenge. It takes collaboration, duration of effort, focus, and ongoing resources. It is difficult for a program that literally changes people’s lives for the better to become self-sustaining. It takes perseverance and financial resources, but it also takes relationships, face-to-face, hundreds of times a year. With that, together, we can change things. Funding has been extremely tight in 2015 – we have been operating on a loan for several months and have cut back services. It is difficult when we have to deny services due to funds.
Finishing my 21st year at ECHO, I love knowing that the place I work is able to keep someone safe in lodging and get them into stable housing, rather than having to sleep in a car or in some bushes beside the river. I love knowing that families will be able to sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, prepared with the Thanksgiving groceries we provide. It’s heartwarming at Christmas to imagine the child we helped at Christmas being able to go back to school after break and talk about the gift they received, just like everyone else. Imagine seeing the faces of the people ECHO serves through community support; there is hope reflected in their eyes and more smiles on their faces when they leave than when they came in. Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to see that day-in and day-out.
We stretch every dollar you give us. With expenditures and in-kind together, ECHO’s direct assistance to administration ratio is 98% to 2%, respectively. ECHO is about Everyone Cooperating to Help Others – people giving, to help people they don’t know but care about, expecting nothing in return. That makes a difference in this community and in your lives and hearts! Thank you for helping keep ECHO afloat and making Janesville a better place to live. We need and appreciate your support throughout the year, as well as the extra boost you give us during the holidays.