The traditional approach to helping low-income families get access to the resources they need to thrive goes something like this: You hand them a list of phone numbers and organizations, and wish them luck.
It turns out, that method doesn’t work all that well.
But a new partnership between Circles Fremont County, Unite Us, and Central Wyoming College has turned that old model on its head, and provides a new way for individuals and families to connect with everything from transportation and mental health care assistance, to educational opportunities. The collaborative approach also helps ensure that services aren’t duplicated, and allows nonprofits and other organizations to truly track how a family is – or isn’t – connecting with what they need to start making that climb out of poverty.
Circles began as a Fremont County School District #25 program that works to help alleviate poverty. Unite Us is a program that provides a technology platform that allows services providers and programs to refer people for help, then track whether and when they make those connections. Instead of hoping the family is able to secure resources on that big list of phone numbers under the old model, instead, Unite Us helps service providers take the lead on outreach, and to see whether a person or family isn’t falling through the cracks.
“It allows organizations to see the journey of the clients they serve,” explained Lisa Ammons, community engagement manager with Unite Us. Her organization not only pools local resources, like Community Entry Services, Head Start, the Lander Free Medical Clinic, but also includes out-of-state programs that serve Wyoming, such as American Addiction Centers and national veterans organizations. Allowing those organizations to see who needs their help through the secure online platform, and take the reins on outreach, helps remove one of many barriers for people to get the assistance they need.
CWC Career Services Director Troy Archuleta explained. “If [Terri Hays, Circles facilitator], or Lisa [Ammons] were to say, ‘Just go talk to the people at CWC,’ those people might drive to the parking lot, get out, take a few steps, look around at all these massive buildings, and turn around and go back home,” he said. “It can be intimidating … Even just walking through the doors of an agency can be difficult.”
For CWC, joining the collaboration means it can both help people who are referred for help with higher education, and the college itself can refer existing students who might be struggling to find resources.
Terri Hays, Fremont #25 poverty alleviation systems facilitator, said the Circles program is currently serving four families, ranging from a single parent, to a family with multiple children, and a grandparent raising grandchildren, and she’s looking forward to a new cohort that might be tailored for teen parents, too. When families sign up with Circles, she spends the first 12 weeks getting to know them and to identify their needs, strengths, and resources. It can take awhile to build that trusting relationship and uncover what a family might be struggling with, from violence, homelessness, a lack of childcare, to a need for job training. Each family works to create goals and action steps to meet them, and now, with the Unite Us and CWC partnerships, there’s a secure platform that can help everyone involved see that progress and track what might be helpful to keep it going.
“We’re using technology to invoke a human connection, and that for me is exciting,” shared Archuleta. “There are a lot of needs here; there’s a lot of poverty. If you think about it, CWC, it’s a community college. We want to be active participants in this community, to make it a better place for everyone.”
Hays agreed. “Part of [Fremont #25’s] mission statement is we want to be the heart of the community,” she said. “We really can just work together to provide that cross support for our families.”
Some of the work being done through the partnership is funded through a Department of Education Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development [RPED] grant. “We are so excited that our USDA RPED grant is leading to this type of collaboration between CWC and the school district to serve our community better,” noted Beth Monteiro, CWC Foundation executive director.
Organizers hope that the partnership will provide a more seamless way to address poverty in Fremont County, ensure services aren’t duplicated, and assist families looking to work their way out of poverty. If you’d like to learn more, email email@example.com or call 307-856-9407.
Other ways to get involved
If you’re interested in learning more about Circles Fremont County/Unite Us, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 307-856-9407. Get in touch with Hays at the contact information above if you’re interested in volunteering. The Circles program is also always looking for organizations or individuals willing to sponsor a meal for one of the organization’s weekly meetings; if you’d like to donate, visit https://www.fremont25.org/page/circles-usa under the “donate a meal” tab, or contact Hays directly.
A Circles Fremont County/Unite Us meet and greet event will be held on May 16 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at CWC in the Intertribal Education and Community Center, room 106. Learn more about the collaborative program and enjoy light refreshments at the event. For more information, contact Terri Hays at email@example.com or Lisa Ammons at firstname.lastname@example.org.