Nonprofit Expands Educational Services with Help from Community Partners
By SJ Schwartz
In an effort to expand services provided to single women in the community, Connections of Cumberland County (CCC) added new workshops and services earlier this year to increase opportunities for clients to build skills in self-sufficiency, financial literacy, workforce preparedness, and family wellbeing all thanks to local, community partners.
Here are highlights from three of these community partner collaborations. In February, 2023, Connections launched its partnership with a local branch of Carter Bank & Trust. The partnership has provided the agency’s clients with a series of financial workshops taught by Valerie Shorts, Vice President and Branch Manager. The series includes workshops covering managing debt, protecting your identity, lending, savings, and more. Workshop attendees have found the workshops helpful as they prepare to make financial decisions, with one participant sharing, “It’s nice to have more than just budgeting. I didn’t grow up with parents who taught me about money. These workshops with Carter Bank & Trust have helped me understand the things I missed but really need to know to improve my situation, like how to improve my credit score, how to save, and how to make smart money decisions.” When asked why volunteering to teach financial literacy is a priority, Shorts shared, “We often see where women have undergone a significant life change, where they suddenly have to manage their family’s finances for the first time. This can be not only overwhelming and intimidating, it can also add more stress to already stressful situations.” Shorts notes that helping others relieve stress by teaching them budgeting, credit building, and financial planning skills brings her a deep sense of fulfillment. “I feel like I’ve helped make a difference.”
In April 2023, CCC received its first of many diapers and period product donations from Diaper Bank of North Carolina. This new partnership was explored earlier in February, and the vision of Diaper Bank of North Carolina aligned well with Connections’ mission of “collaborating with community resources to empower women experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness to develop self-sufficiency and enhance their children’s future.” Diaper Bank of North Carolina envisions that every family in North Carolina will have access to basic necessities to support their dignity, health, and quality of life. To fulfill their vision, Diaper Bank of North Carolina partners with area nonprofits to distribute diaper and period products. The bank believes that this is the most effective way of distributing its products and enhances partnering nonprofits programs and services. Clients of Connections are already utilizing the service and several have noted that the service allows them extra cash to purchase food and non-food items such as toothpaste and soap. One single mother shared, “These diapers help me feel less frustrated. My child’s needs are met which reduces my stress. I’m thankful I can get diapers for my child.” In the first month of hosting this service, Diaper Bank of North Carolina has assisted 21 households through Connections.
CCC has also increased the number and variety of workshops offered in-house. Agency staff and interns asked clients what types of workshops they thought they could benefit from. Using client feedback, Connections created resume writing, emotional wellness, managing conflict, and healthy relationships workshops. In 2023, The Terri Union Endowment for Women and Girls of Cumberland Community Foundation, Inc. provided a $6,000 grant in support of technology improvement to help facilitate the presentation of these workshops. Connections used the funding to purchase a smartboard which allows for client engagement in all workshops, to include financial workshops, and increased ability to broadcast meetings through platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. In the past year, Connections has updated its Budgeting Basics class to teach clients how to use Zero-Based Budgeting principles to assist their household. “The smartboard is a great way to get our clients involved in our financial and resume workshops. The technology allows clients to come to the board and balance budgets or write sections of a resume in real time. They get to take ownership of the activity which boosts confidence,” shared Crystal DePietro, Executive Director at Connections.
Since January 1, 2023, 175 clients have attended workshops at the agency, with several clients attending repeatedly. “Our workshops are important to our work with clients. Clients typically come to us in crisis, but we’re no quick fix. Through our comprehensive case management, we sit with clients to explore continued patterns contributing to housing instability and/or homelessness,” shared DePietro. She went on to discuss how workshops cover skills and information that help clients break the patterns they’ve identified as contributing to their current circumstances. “Once we learn the information that we missed somewhere along the way, we can use it to improve our situation and ultimately change our life and the lives of our children.”
Connections of Cumberland County is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization located in Fayetteville, NC. Connections of Cumberland County serves single women and single women with children who are homeless or without stable housing and ready to improve their situation. Since July 2014, it has operated the only walk-in day resource center in the area offering comprehensive case management with supportive services. As an agency, it collaborates with community resources to empower women experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness to develop self-sufficiency and enhance their children’s future. Learn more by visiting our agency website: www.connectionsofcc.org.