Antoinette Scroggins-Smith and her daughter Savannah were among the first guests to walk through the door of Connections of Cumberland County last summer.
After being discharged from the Army and going through a divorce, Scroggins-Smith found herself behind on her bills. Her car had been repossessed in May, and the next month, she was evicted from her Reilly Road apartment on her birthday.
During a brief stay at the Jubilee House, Scroggins-Smith and a friend heard about a new nonprofit to help homeless women and children. So they went to see what it was all about.
There wasn’t much inside the new center that had just opened inside the old Cool Spring Tavern.
“They had tables, chairs, a notepad and a pen, and people with open hearts willing to listen,” Scroggins-Smith said.
Those were Robin Jenkins, who signed on as executive director, and his wife, Debbie, who worked as a volunteer to help get the new nonprofit up and running after it was started by the Women’s Giving Circle of Cumberland County after years of research.
On Friday, the giving circle received a national award for the project at the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network’s conference in Charlotte.
The Women’s Giving Circle received one of three “Spotlight Awards” that highlight members who have made grants that are truly transformational for the organization or community.
The Women’s Giving Circle, founded in 2008 as a program of the Cumberland Community Foundation, has grown to more than 120 members, whose collective dues go toward an endowment and pool for grants to help women and children.
In 2010, the group’s annual scorecard of local data related to this focus area identified a surge in homeless women and children in the county, said Lucy Jones, a co-chairwoman of the circle and Connections board member. So they set out to change that.
“We feel like we’re transformative,” Jones said, “because we brought a new concept to Cumberland County – a day resource center.”
Connections focuses on rapid re-housing for homeless women and children, connecting them to other organizations, offering a place for mothers to use computers or phones for various applications or other work, and helping them set and work toward goals.
In the first 12 months, Connections opened cases for 105 women, 89 of whom were in stable housing situations by year’s end.
During that year, Connections staff and volunteers worked with Scroggins-Smith, connecting her with the right resources as she and her two daughters essentially couch-surfed.
“Through the course of the year,” she said, “they watched me go from … bad to worse to great and now greater.”
The sparse center that Scroggins-Smith walked into last year, she said, has transformed into a full day resource center.
Debbie and Robin Jenkins played Santa Claus for Savannah, 4, and Hannah, 8.
In June, Crystal Bennett took over as the full-time director of the center. Debbie Jenkins has transitioned to a contract case worker and manager of the intern program for social work students at multiple universities, and a full-time case worker has been hired. The center has expanded to three days a week from two.
During a tour this week, Bennett explained new initiatives, including inspirational art projects, support group meeting space, and a room that will allow reflection, mediation and possibly yoga practice.
The goal of the center, Bennett said, is to help women grasp their purpose and reclaim their lives.
“We require higher levels of accountability from the ladies,” she said. “It’s important for them to do some legwork in the securing their own services.”
This way, she said, once they’ve achieved stability, they’ll know where to find resources to maintain it.
Activity increased with this summer’s opening of the Hope Center, a 21-bed homeless shelter for women.
As of October, Bennett said, 775 people have come through the center’s doors, serving 191 women and 162 children.
In August, Scroggins-Smith finally qualified for a federal housing voucher.
And when it came time to move into the four-bedroom home she rented, members of Connections’ staff were there to help.
“They did like an Anne’s move-in day,” Scroggins-Smith said, helping to clean the house, hang blinds and get it ready for her family.
“They don’t have to take out their Saturday and do that.”
Life is much more stable for Scroggins-Smith and her girls. She is working to finish her associate’s degree in January, and hopes to transition into a four-year program that can help her jump into a new career.
“One day,” she said, “maybe I can get stable enough to pay it forward.”
By Paige Rentz Staff writer
Posted: Friday, October 16, 2015 9:48 pm | Updated: 10:33 am, Sat Oct 17, 2015.
Staff writer Paige Rentz can be reached at email@example.com or 486-2728.