C-U at Home Newsletter

Spring 2023

Business Partner Breakfast

On Friday, April 21, we hosted representatives of several local businesses at our program center for a morning to learn more about the benefits of business-nonprofit partnerships. Local realtor Lisa Rector from Keller-Williams shared insights from her own personal and professional experiences with the group.

Drawing inspiration from speaker and writer Ed Mylett’s book, The Power of One More, she focused on his key point that everyone is “one more intentional thought and action away from discovering your best life.”

“What could C-U at Home do with one more donation, one more volunteer, one more opportunity to serve someone in need?” she asked. “C-U at home has supported our community in so many ‘one more’ ways.”

She encouraged attendees to work with colleagues and employees to find a local nonprofit of their choosing to support, some cause that everyone on the team could feel passionate about.

“We have such a thriving community because of partnerships like this,” she noted. “When the why is big enough, the how will find a way.”

Following Lisa’s inspiring talk, C-U at Home executive director Melissa Courtwright shared updates on the mission and vision of our “Pathways to Progress” program. The journey for us began back, she noted, when we were operating the year-round shelter and serving as many as 75 people each month (or more!).

“We realized then that not everyone experiencing homelessness is the same,” she explained. “We decided our calling was to focus on the people who are ready to take the next step.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the work we do now is any easier. Helping people find stability in a world that tells them they can’t have it involves intensive case management and ongoing support. We first can become that source of stability in their life, and then we can help them secure it for themselves.

“The heart of what we do has not changed,” Melissa noted. “We still help people experiencing homelessness in our community. Each person’s path to progress is different, and we’re here to help them along the way.”

Thanks to everyone who attended this event and for the support you provide for our mission. As Lisa noted, we are blessed to be part of such a thriving community and to have such rich and meaningful partnerships.

Along the Path to Progress

For most of us, going to work every day is a normal part of our daily routine. For many of the individuals we serve, having a job is an important step toward personal stability. That’s why one of the goals of our “Pathways to Progress” shelter programs is to support client’s efforts to prepare for, find, secure, and maintain employment.

Some clients find that opportunity through our C-U at Work partnership with Prosperity Gardens (see the next story for more on the new season of that program). For others who are seeking work in the community, a great place to start is by attending the “Resume Building” workshops we offer as part of our morning groups. Clients learn the basics of how to effectively communicate their experiences and strengths and project their best selves to potential employers. They also receive assistance completing applications for employment.

In late February, we invited employment counselors from Kraft to meet with clients to discuss local job opportunities and conduct interviews. One of our Austin’s Place residents secured a position as a machine operator and has been working there ever since.

Other program residents have found employment in a wide variety of local businesses and institutions. One woman is a custodian at St. Joseph elementary school; another works in customer service for Wal-Mart. Men are working as a forge operator at Clifford Jacobs, in manufacturing at Caterpillar, and at local restaurants and theaters. Five residents work at Prosperity Gardens.

Finding and keeping a job is just one part of a process that includes intensive case management, participation in sobriety and mental health support groups (for some), and positive engagement with others following a similar path. When all goes well, that path leads to progress, and we are blessed to share that journey with the folks we serve.

Prosperity Gardens Season 4

On any given weekday between late March and early November, you’ll find participants in our C-U at Work program tending the vegetables at Prosperity Gardens on First Street or at the “urban farm” site on North Street (both near downtown Champaign). This month we kicked off the fourth season of this amazing partnership with the City of Champaign Township.

Since the Spring of 2020, this program has provided employment to over 50 men and women. Work crews plant, cultivate, and harvest vegetables throughout the growing season and distribute fresh, organic produce at Mobile Market days around the community and weekly at Champaign’s Farmers Market. This year’s program already has five participants, with hopes that more will join the team.

Over the years, dozens of program participants have gained skills in urban agriculture, personal growth, household finance, and customer service. They’ve found and maintained housing, and several have returned for additional seasons to help with the transition to new work crews. One such “returnee,” Emmaniel, is starting his third season with the program and now works for the township as assistant farm manager.

The seeding of early greens for this season is complete, and plants are already beginning to emerge. All the raised beds at the First Street location are planted, and about half at the North Street farm.

“Now it’s just a waiting game,” says Prosperity Gardens director Nicole Musumeci. “All of our melons, tomatoes, eggplants, and such need the warmer weather that will come in May before they can go in.”

Early produce will be ready for the Farmers Market season that also begins in May. New for the program this year will be the opportunity to be part of the annual Champaign County Master Gardeners Garden Walk in June.

This amazing partnership is a fitting parallel to the work we do with clients every day. We plant seeds of hope in their lives, cultivate life skills, pray for an increase, and rejoice at the harvest of restoration and stability. This season, and all year round, we look forward to “seeing things grow!”

Prepping raised beds at First Street
Emmaniel at the North Street Farm
Nicole with new crew member Cheryl from AP

Midland States Bank Award

C-U at Home is pleased to be the recipient of a $10,000 Grant from the Midland States Bank Foundation.

“We are thankful for Midland States Bank and their generous support of C-U at Home,” executive director Melissa Courtwright expressed in appreciation. “They have a passion for working in and being strong partners in our community.”

Representatives from Midland States Bank met with Melissa and Shirita Johnson, who oversees our Shelter and Life Skills programs, at our Austin’s Place women’s shelter (pictured below). They also met with residents and were given a tour of the house.

“Together with our Community Impact Investment Statement, the Midland States Bank Foundation is a powerful way for us to give back to our communities,” commented Jeffrey G. Ludwig, President and CEO of Midland States Bancorp, Inc. “The funds we set aside from the Bank’s profits help us put our company’s culture in action to benefit the communities we serve.”

The Midland States Bank Foundation supports the general welfare, education and health of the communities where the Bank operates. Since its creation in 2011, the Foundation has contributed more than $1,700,000 to non-profit organizations throughout Midland’s footprint.

A Message from Melissa

When our team has an opportunity to present information to a group, people often ask, “How can we make a difference?”  After hearing us talk about clients’ experiences of trauma, abuse, and neglect for most of their lives, how substance abuse, addictions, and mental health issues impact the ability of many to find stability, the prospect of “making a difference” can seem understandably overwhelming.

A big way to make a difference is to simply listen to someone’s experiences with curiosity.  Many of us, upon initial contact, begin telling ourselves a story about what kind of person they are.  Sometimes we may be right, but many times we are wrong.  We think we know the story.  Maybe we have even talked with someone or knew someone experiencing homelessness, and we apply that one person’s story to everyone we encounter sharing the same experience. 

If we lean in with curiosity, we learn that each person’s story is unique.  Some pieces may overlap — early childhood abuse, trauma, neglect — but how their lives unfolded, how it affected them, is different for everyone.  Similarly, we all experienced the COVID pandemic but not all of us had the same experience.  We each have our own story of how it unfolded in our lives, how it affected us, and for some, how it continues to impact them.  There will be similarities in each story, but no two stories will be identical.

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a Girl Scout Troop who asked such thoughtful and meaningful questions, in addition to providing a generous donation of items.   These young girls asked questions about the lives of the people who came into the shelter. They wanted to know the stories.  There is always a place for data, numbers, and running reports, but each of can make a difference when we remember that everyone has a story – and take the time to hear it. 

C-U at Home’s shelter program seeks to honor each person’s story as they move from crisis to stability.  We seek to honor their unique experiences and provide their unique pathway to progress.  Thank you for supporting us as we do this.

Melissa Courtwright, Executive Director

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