June 2022

Morning Groups at the Phoenix

What’s the best way to start your day? The well-known Folgers tagline entices you to start off with a fresh, hot cup of their coffee. Morning coffee certainly plays an important role in the lives of our shelter residents. Now they have something more to go along with that first cup of joe.

Starting last month, we began offering the opportunity to participate in morning programming at the Phoenix Center throughout the week. Morning groups made up of around a dozen men and women have discussed coping skills with Kim Simpson, a member of our board who helps coordinate the new programming. They also spend time talking about life’s challenges with some of our staff and with representatives of the local GROW group.

Fridays feature Community Resource presentations from the many amazing community partners who share our mission to serve the most vulnerable in our community. So far, we’ve welcomed representatives from Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, Cunningham Township, Salt and Light Ministries, Regional Planning, and Vineyard Hope Center. Members of the U of I Women’s Basketball team came by to share a crafting activity, and U of I graduate students continue to offer weekly writing workshops.

Group participants are quick to share what they enjoy and appreciate about the program:

  • “It’s educational, it broadens you. It’s important to never stop learning.”
  • “I enjoy the camaraderie and honesty of the discussions we have. I’ve learned a lot about myself.”
  • “You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Don’t listen to the naysayers.”

New in June is Wednesday’s Morning Movie Club, involving a film screening and group discussion of selected films that examine the human condition and raise questions about how we respond to life’s challenges.

We’re excited by the positive response to this new morning programming and anticipate expanding our services in other ways in the upcoming months. Watch for future developments our weekly “What’s Going On?” email updates!

Meet our Case Management Team

Perhaps the most positive and significant transformation in our services over the past year has been the addition of professional case management support for the individuals we serve. When Cedar King came on board last August as our first case manager (see our August 2021 newsletter), he brought an important skill set to our programming that has borne fruit many times over.

Cedar (rear left) and Marco; Janelle (front left) and Domica

Over the past month, Cedar has been joined by three new staff members that now comprise our Case Management Team: team lead Marco Price, case manager Domica Light, and care coordinator Janelle Jaskula. But before we introduce you to the new folks, let’s tackle the question, “What is case management?” Here’s Marco’s “official” definition:

“Case management is a range of services provided to assist and support individuals in developing their skills to gain access to needed medical, behavioral health, housing, employment, social, educational, and other services that are essential to meeting basic human needs. This also includes providing access to basic community resources, being an ear to listen, and learning basic life skills.”

Now let’s meet the new team members!

Marco Price originally hails from Kankakee and has been in the CU area close to 15 years. He brings over 17 years of experience as a case worker to the job, six years of that working specifically with the homeless population. Marco received his BA from Blackburn College (Education with a minor in Sociology) and an MA in Child and Family Counseling through Universal Ministries School of Theology.

“I’ve always had a desire to help people in this population who are so often overlooked,” he says. “I want to let them know that they are important and that they can better themselves.”

Marco Price, C-U at Home Director of Client Services
Marco Price, Director of Client Services

As Marco moves about the Phoenix space introducing himself, it’s surprising how many people already seem familiar with him. He has an engaging presence that inspires confidence. The most exciting part of his work, Marco says, is seeing a person reach a goal or celebrate recovery.

“I’m big on obtaining goals no matter how big or small,” he observes. “Every little victory makes a big difference.”

Janelle Jaskula, C-U at Home Care Coordinator
Janelle “JJ” Jaskula, Care Coordinator

Care coordinator Janelle “JJ” Jaskula joined us last month to provide supportive services to the team and serve as a bridge between our daytime Phoenix and nighttime shelter services. A native of Watseka, she has lived in C-U for twelve years.

Janelle spent 18 years in law enforcement, most of that time serving in corrections. She’s also worked in corporate asset protection, but the pandemic brought about a change in vocational direction for her. After spending time working at Cunningham Children’s home, J.J. came to us at first as one of our part-time low-barrier emergency shelter workers last winter. After their closure, she jumped at the chance to come on board full-time in her current role.

“I enjoy working with this population and helping them reach their goals, no matter how big or small,” she shares. “I feel this population is overlooked by the community at times, and the case management that goes into making these clients successful is amazing to be part of.”

Janelle and her husband of 21 years we have 4 children. 20, 19, 16 and 15. They enjoy watching movies, grilling out, and throwing bags. After just a few weeks into her new position, she’s already become an afternoon fixture in the Phoenix.

“Giving to those in need is very gratifying, she says, “but also getting to know the clients is awesome. There are so many wonderful and original individuals who come through our doors.”

Case manager Domica Light has been with us just a couple of weeks now, but she too is already fitting right in! Domica grew up in central Illinois, has spent time in Tennessee and Texas, and returned to Illinois in 2010

Interestingly, Domica worked right here in this building when it was the TIMES Center, starting out as the overnight mental health tech. She’s also worked for Community Elements, The City of Champaign, Lutheran Social Services, Pavilion, Prairie Center, DSC and Champaign Park District.

“I am more than excited to be back here again,” she relates. “This time I am fully capable of helping our clients with meeting their goals and needs. I look forward to what we all collectively will bring to the table in the years to come at C-U at Home.”

Domica Light, C-U at Home Case Manager, sitting at her desk ready to serve clients
Domica Light, Case Manager

Domica enjoys new challenges, learning foreign languages, playing guitar, reading, and spending time with family. She says she’s been watching our ministry since it started and has always wanted to work here.

“Finally, I get the opportunity!” she shared. “I also believe that God called me for this particular purpose. He is definitely ordering my steps.”

We’re excited to welcome Marco, Domica, and Janelle our case management team line-up! The heart for service and genuine compassion each member brings to the individuals we serve is already impacting lives for good!

“The case management team that we have at C-U at Home possesses community knowledge of resources and a unique skill set that can be used to support our residents in any capacity,” Marco notes. “Whether it be their journey to sobriety, locating housing, employment, or just listening to the struggles they face on a daily basis, we’re here to help them reach their true potential.”

Beating the Heat

Mid-to-late June has been marked by multiple days with 90 degree-plus temperatures, coming in waves of 3-4 days at a time. Triple-digit “feels like” temperatures led us to open our Phoenix Daytime Center for extended cooling hours for many of those days.

Extra hours means everyone on staff pitches in to meet the needs of our Phoenix visitors. This was particularly challenging since, as luck would have it, several staff had already planned vacations during these weeks and were away from work! But with the help of volunteers (thank you!) and some schedule juggling, we were able to be fully staffed for the additional hours.

In addition, a generous outpouring of support from the community came our way in the form of literally hundreds of donated cases of bottled water and sports drinks that were daily chilled and distributed to our thankful shelter residents and Phoenix visitors. Several local businesses, a half-dozen churches, and many caring individuals (some prompted by media reports) dropped off donations throughout the heat wave.

It took a lot of muscle to bring all that generosity into the building and stacked into veritable plastic mountains around the place.

Whenever a donation showed up, it was great to see everyone pitch in together to get the job done. A real spirit of appreciation was readily apparent, blessing everyone involved in the process! Thank you to everyone who helped make this heat wave miracle happen!

A Message from Melissa

Ten out of ten individuals who enter our shelters are in crisis! The obvious crisis is the lack of a physical structure to call home, but for most those we serve, the issues that bring them to our door go much deeper.

Let’s take “Sue.” When she walks into my office, first thing I notice is her youth. She’s only 19; her face should show excitement about life’s opportunities. I can tell by the way she looks down that she’s experiencing a lot of emotions, but excitement isn’t one of them. She sits there, eyes down, shoulders slumped, not sure she trusts me enough to tell me her story.

We talk about small things  and she slowly begins to open-up. Her mother died two years ago, and she’s not sure how she feels about that. She shares that her mother was an alcoholic, drunk most of Sue’s life. She wasn’t violent, but her addiction meant Sue had to raise Herself and make her own way in life. After running into some trouble, she’s here now trying to get her life on track.

She starts to make eye contact, but not for long periods of time. She fixates on a spot on the floor and tells me she’s found a job, but with limited hours. She lets out a long breath and expresses appreciation for the work, but she knows she could get more hours working third shift. Her gaze shifts to a spot on the wall, sighs heavily, and tells me can’t work third shift because the shelter isn’t open during the day for her to sleep.

I tell her we are working toward becoming a 24/7 shelter, and I ask her what that would mean for her. She looks me right in the eyes and says, without hesitation, “That would mean everything.” She could work more hours, not worry about being out in the heat, or wonder where she would go to the bathroom.

As Sue’s story is continues to unfold, so does ours. We’ve come so far in the past year in our efforts to help individuals like Sue to take those next steps, but we need to take next steps of our own to be even better. When you pray for C-U at Home, when you give financially, you are making it possible for individuals who find themselves in crisis to take steps toward stability. Would you pray with us every day for the next thirty days for clarity about the next steps for our organization?

We would like to invite you to a “Hope Givers” breakfast on July 15th at 8 am to hear more about our vision, plans for 24/7 sheltering, and how you can help us move forward. Contact for more information. We hope to see you there.

All the best,
Melissa Courtwright, Executive Director

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