Project Grow Kids

Adopt-A-Family Earns 14th Consecutive 4-Star Rating from Charity Navigator

Project Grow Kids

Adopt-A-Family recently earned a distinction that few organizations in this country can lay claim to — a 14th consecutive, 4-star rating from Charity Navigator.

Adopt-A-Family earned the highest possible ranking from the reputable charity evaluator for adhering to sector best practices and executing its mission in a financially efficient manner.

“Only 1% of the charities we evaluate have received at least 14 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Adopt-A-Family outperforms most other charities in America,” wrote Charity Navigator President and CEO Michael Thatcher to Adopt-A-Family in a Sept. 1 letter. “This exceptional designation from Charity Navigator sets Adopt-A-Family apart from its peers and demonstrates to the public its trustworthiness.”

charity navigator logo

The ratings are designed to show potential donors how well a charity utilizes their support, how well it sustains its programs and services over time and the organization’s level of commitment to accountability and transparency.

Charity Navigator uses data-driven analysis to measure organizations in seven key areas of financial health. The group also scores charities by utilizing 17 different metrics to assess whether they follow the best practices of governance and ethics and if they make it easy for donors to find critical information about them.

Charity Navigator enjoys the distinction of being the country’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of its kind. It reviews ten times more charities than its nearest competitor and attracts more visitors to its site than all other charity rating groups combined.

Adopt-A-Family is honored to have received this recognition, an achievement that is only possible because of the investment and guidance of our board, supporters, donors, and partner agencies. The agency’s commitment to efficiently and effectively using every dollar is a direct reflection of the support, backing, and commitment of our community of supporters.

 

 

Project Grow Family

Covid-19 may have significantly altered life as we know it, but it could not stop Project Grow. When the pandemic caused Adopt-A-Family to go remote, it meant that Grow staff could no longer see students face-to-face. However, the staff was determined to find creative ways to consistently invest in the lives of their kids.

Throughout the spring and summer, staff members pursued alternative means to provide the crucial wraparound services their kindergarten through fifth-grade students needed.  For the program’s students, who are formerly homeless and come from low-income backgrounds, delivering services that are proven, nuanced, and student-centered is of the utmost importance.

“Project Grow is working on building trust between the kids and the program and the people in it,” said Daron Morse, Director of Youth Educational Programs for Adopt-A-Family. “A consistent external support system is very helpful to them.”

An AAF client picks up food and supplies from AAF office in Lake Worth.

A client picks up food and supplies from the AAF office in Lake Worth.

Project Grow maintained contact with parents even when in-person interaction was untenable and discovered that an overwhelming majority experienced COVID-19-related job loss and food insecurity.

With summer approaching and pandemic-related summer camp closures mounting in the area, Adopt-A-Family recognized the importance of keeping the students engaged. In response, they designed a dynamic virtual summer camp.

Thanks to a generous program supporter, all 37 Project Grow families were provided with a new Chromebook so students could access online sessions.

While most virtual camps rely on prerecorded content, Project Grow upped the ante by designing a curriculum that featured live academic sessions and activities to foster student engagement.

Two Project Grow students participate in a virtual ballet class.

Two Project Grow students participate in a virtual camp ballet class.

Students took math and science classes and participated in poetry and art workshops. They also learned yoga, ballet, and computer coding.  Nature and wildlife sessions were provided by the Palm Beach Zoo, Florida Fishing Academy, and Gumbo Limbo.

Through it all, staff members wore many hats. Not only did they teach academic lessons, but they also administered technical assistance to parents and offered emotional support to the children. To help families experiencing job loss, Project Grow connected parents to job resources and opportunities for temporary financial assistance.

On Fridays, Project Grow staff handed out donated gourmet meals, snacks, toys, school supplies, and encouragement to students and parents while respecting social distancing protocols.

Project Grow family receives goods

Project Grow student Jonathan and his mother Rose Marie at a July food donation event held at the Lake Worth AAF office parking lot.

It was on those Fridays that teachers got to see their students face-to-face, which resulted in jubilant greetings and smiles. One Friday in July, 4th and 5th grade teacher Mr. Evan greeted a student named Jonathan and gave him some snacks and his mother a box of food.

The multitude of challenges posed by the pandemic revealed Project Grow’s malleability, innovation, and attentiveness in how it serves its students.

When the Palm Beach County School Board voted to postpone the start of the school year in late July, Project Grow extended its summer camp for four more weeks to ensure student enrichment was fostered until the first day of school.

“We don’t want a gap to occur where the kids lose practice in engaging with their peers and teachers, Ms. Daron said. “That’s a big step in a kid’s development.”

AAF employee visits clients at motel.

Before COVID-19 changed everything, service delivery used to be a family affair. Parents and case managers met – often for an hour or more – to talk about the family’s struggles, create budgets, and implement family action plans, while the children colored or played on the floor nearby.

At Adopt-A-Family, our work has always been about those face-to-face touchpoints, where staff can look clients square in the eye and say, “I believe in you and in your ability to get through this and come out stronger. I’m here to help.”

project grow staff pass out donation items to kids practicing social distancing

Daron Morse and Odet Rodriguez of Project Grow hand out food, games, and school supplies to students.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Florida, we shifted almost overnight to virtual and contactless service delivery. For every case manager in every program, that means relying on phone calls and teleconferencing platforms to stay in touch – a tough proposition in a field predicated on human interaction.

AAF staff member visits client to deliver groceries during COVID-19 pandemic.

Isabel Steube delivers groceries to one of her clients in early May.

And at the same time, there are more people than ever who need our help.

The Housing Stabilization Program (HSP), which provides rent and utility assistance to families at risk of homelessness, has seen a dramatic spike in calls from people experiencing job and income loss. To meet the demand, HSP hired three additional staff members and implemented an expedited virtual intake process. From March-June 2020, the Housing Stabilization Program provided emergency rent and utility assistance to 110 families, double the caseload for the same period in 2019.

The Homeless Resource Center (HRC) team responds every day to families in crisis. In May alone, 17 families were housed with Rapid Re-Housing assistance, 16 families were placed in emergency shelter, and three were moved to permanent supportive housing. “These clients still need us. They need showers. They need clothes. We can’t stop because of the coronavirus,” said Abbey Hartman, Shelter Services Coordinator at Adopt-A-Family’s 19-unit family homeless shelter.

Program REACH staff tends to the needs of clients during COVID-19 pandemic.

AAF staff at Program REACH wear face masks and practice social distancing when tending to clients.

Fieldwork is starkly different. HRC case managers used to make 20 home visits per week, sitting at each family’s table and exploring what was going well and what wasn’t. Now, brief exchanges take place at the front door. Smiling through their masks, case managers drop off groceries, toiletries, diapers, cleaning products – anything to help the family get by.

As for the agency’s six residential programs, all remain at capacity and no one will ever be evicted because they lost their job to coronavirus and can’t pay the rent. The agency continues to provide housing and emergency shelter to over 120 families on any given night, with new safety protocols in place.

Family Advocate Vivenne Owen, who normally enjoys face-to-face interactions with her Project SAFE clients, still comes to the office at least once a week. When clients see her car in the parking lot, they pop over and visit – wearing masks, of course. Even when she’s working at home, she is available and present for her clients by phone or video. Like every Adopt-A-Family team member, she’s working hard every day to remind her clients one reassuring thing in a frightening time: “We’re still there.”

 

 

As an agency on the front lines of family homelessness, Adopt-A-Family has been working since the earliest days of the COVID-19 health crisis to respond thoughtfully, creatively, and rapidly to our community’s most pressing needs.

Thousands of parents in Palm Beach County have no safety net – jobs have been lost or hours have been cut, and there’s not enough money to pay the rent and feed their children. Any anxiety about COVID-19 is amplified by the fear of becoming homeless. And so our initial efforts have been centered around ramping up our homelessness prevention program, to keep more families in their homes where they’re safe.

The community response has been extraordinary.

Adopt-A-Family’s many supporters have shown characteristic concern and selfless generosity, and we offer our unending thanks. They have provided us with hope and inspiration as we continue to provide vital housing services to families in need. (To join our family of supporters, please click here.) This work is simply not possible without the help of donors and funding partners who care so deeply about families in crisis.

We’re still serving families. It just looks different.

· The safety of our staff and the families we serve is our number one priority.

· Our emergency family shelter is at capacity, with extra safety precautions in place.

· In every program, case management services have transitioned to remote delivery and continue uninterrupted.

· While school is out, Project Grow teachers interact with students by phone and through Google Classroom, offering academic and emotional support. We miss the kids, but they are doing well considering the circumstances.

The number of families needing help has doubled…

… and so we have prepared to double our efforts to prevent family homelessness.

· Our homeless prevention program received 426 calls for assistance in March. That’s twice the call volume from March 2019, and we know the need will grow.

· We are hearing from families who work in every sector of the job force – mechanics, restaurant workers, health aides, and small business employees.

· In one week alone, we made $19,000 in rent payments to keep 15 families current on their rent.

· Adopt-A-Family believes this: the more quickly we respond in preventing family homelessness now, the less burden we’ll see in the family homeless system later.

“Stay home” presumes you have a home.

Keeping families housed is now a public health imperative.

“Through the ups and downs, Adopt-A-Family was my anchor in the storm.”

 

Karla Thompson has weathered the many storms in her life with grace, determination, and gratitude. She was born in the Bahamas as the sixth of eleven children. Due to the limited educational system in her country, Karla left home when she was just 12 years old to take an opportunity to attend school in Miami. She finished school, started a job, got married, and had two sons. Several years later her marriage ended, and she found herself raising two growing boys on her own. Living humbly, she maintained steady employment and the same apartment for over ten years as her sons grew. She proudly watched her eldest son graduate from high school and join the Navy.

Karla’s rent became a burden when her landlord raised the rent, and she began to fall behind. She moved out and began to apply for new apartments, only to discover that her landlord had evicted her through the court system, severely damaging her credit and her chances at securing a stable place to live. As Karla’s security slipped away, she tragically lost two brothers within the same year and she carried the entire financial burden of their funeral and burial expenses on her shoulders. Drowning in grief, with her finances depleted and no housing solution on the horizon, Karla and her 9-year old son were forced to split up and live with different family members because no one had room to house them both. Karla did her best to stay afloat as she called all around Palm Beach County seeking assistance, but she was beginning to lose hope.

The clouds above Karla and her son lifted the day they received a call back from Adopt-A-Family. Although timid because they were unsure of who to trust after losing everything, Karla and her son met with the program manager of Service Enriched Housing and were accepted into the program. Service Enriched Housing is an affordable housing program for employed households dedicated to the pursuit of financial stability and home-ownership.

After nearly a year of living apart, Karla and her son were finally reunited. Looking back, Karla shares “I can truly say that through the storm, Adopt-A-Family was my shelter, mentally and physically. For the first time, after losing what we had lost, we felt like we had hope. We had a place to call home. Adopt-A-Family made sure we were secure and provided us with the love and support we had been lacking.”

While in Service Enriched Housing, Karla slowly started to regain stability. She maintained her job, paid her rent on time, saved money in her escrow account, and slowly but surely improved her credit. Although Karla and her son were just getting back on their feet, she opened her home to a nephew from the islands who needed a stable home and a chance to finish high school. He joined the Army after graduation and is now living on his own in Texas after serving our country.

A few years later, Karla welcomed her grand-niece and great-grand baby niece from the Bahamas into her home to give them a chance at a better life. Karla’s niece is now in college and her great grandniece is a joy to everyone she meets. “Even though I needed so much help myself, somehow I’ve been able to help so many people over the years. I’ve found that the more you help others, the better you feel.”

Karla’s confidence grew and she felt ready to make a career change to increase her earning potential and do work that she was passionate about. Karla has always loved children, so she earned her Childcare Certification and left her retail job of 12 years to work in a daycare. She later earned her Associates degree in Early Childhood Education and is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She is currently a beloved Pre-K teacher for low-income children. Karla has her sights set on earning a Master’s degree in the future and becoming a motivational speaker for people trying to survive life’s storms. “What Adopt-A-Family did for me, I’d love to do for others. That’s why I want to become a motivational speaker. You never know who is out there that needs an encouraging word.”

Karla’s years at Adopt-A-Family were not easy. Raising teenagers, living a country away from her mother and much of her immediate family, deaths of loved ones, financial crises, lack of a vehicle, and long, hard hours of work and school threatened her efforts to move forward. Through it all, Karla kept her eyes on the horizon. She continued to be an active member of her church, a mentor to new Adopt-A-Family residents, and she took advantage of every supportive service offered by the agency. Karla participated in budget counseling, financial literacy courses, healthcare navigation, therapeutic services, and monthly case management. She says that the way she was raised helps her to look back with gratitude on everything she has experienced in her life.

“I was raised to be thankful and grateful. I was raised to see the good in people and be grateful for small things. I can honestly say I can look back on my life and smile.”

In 2018, Karla’s hard work, sacrifice, and heart of gratitude came full circle when she was accepted into Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County’s highly competitive home ownership program. On top of full-time employment and college classes, Karla completed hundreds of hours of community service to earn an interest-free mortgage on a new home.

In March 2019, over 100 family and friends celebrated with Karla, her sons, her nephew, her grandniece, and her great grandniece at Karla’s Habitat for Humanity Home Dedication Ceremony.

Today, Karla is getting settled into her new home, with ample space for her family and a yard for her great grandniece. Karla looks forward to sharing her story to encourage other families that are struggling and losing hope. “At one point, the storm was so severe I couldn’t see, but today I’m still standing. God has been good. Families need to know they have an anchor, a foundation to hold on to. And that’s what Adopt-A-Family was for us.”

Out of Reach 2019 Report

 

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition recently released its 2019 Out of Reach report which reveals startling statistics on the current state of affordable housing throughout the country. Out of Reach documents the significant and growing gap between renters’ wages and the cost of housing in every county and state in America.  The report breaks down the average hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to afford a modest rental without spending more than 30% of their annual income.

The Out of Reach report states that there is not a single county or metropolitan area in Florida where an individual working a full-time, minimum wage job can afford a simple 2-bedroom apartment. On average, they would need to work 108 hours per week or have 2.7 full-time minimum wage jobs to afford a decent place to live.  Coupled with the rising costs of food, childcare, and transportation, low-income families often find themselves having to make the impossible decision between paying rent and buying food or seeking medical care.

With Palm Beach County being the 3rd most expensive county in Florida and West Palm Beach-Boca Raton being the 2nd most expensive metropolitan area in Florida, drastic changes are needed to decrease the disparity between wages and housing costs.  The Out of Reach report states that Fair Market Rent in Palm Beach County is $1434 per month for a 2-bedroom apartment which would require a single parent to earn $27.58 to afford and maintain stable housing.

Every day, Adopt-A-Family works to combat the affordable housing crisis in Palm Beach County and equip low-income families with the tools they need to become stable and self-sufficient in the midst of a rental landscape that is stacked against them. The agency’s efforts include:

  • 51 units of housing for homeless Palm Beach County families
  • 55 units of affordable rentals for low-income Palm Beach County families
  • Financial assistance to prevent eviction for low-income families experiencing a crisis
  • A new housing project that will provide 14 units of housing reserved for unstably housed students at Highland Elementary School in Lake Worth, Florida
  • Case management, financial literacy classes, credit repair services, budget counseling, first-time home buyer education, mental health services, and linkage to support services to enable families to become self-sufficient.

 

Read more 2019 Out of Reach report here.

 

It is well documented that children’s educational and social outcomes improve when their parents are engaged in their academic experience.  Parent involvement is even more critical for very low-income children who often have to overcome additional obstacles including under-resourced schools and stressful environments.  Studies show that low-income parents want to be involved in their children’s education, but language, transportation, cultural, and employment barriers make it very challenging.

One of the Agency’s core programs, Project Grow is an afterschool and out-of-school program which fosters a stable and educational environment for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. At Adopt-A-Family, Project Grow provides an Academic Advisor to eliminate some of these barriers by acting as a liaison between parents and the school. The program is customized to meet the unique challenges of 60 formerly homeless and low-income students from Adopt-A-Family housing programs and the surrounding community. Project Grow teachers work with the children’s parent to ensure parental involvement and encourage parent/children engagement. The mission of Project Grow is to provide a safe, stable environment for low-income, formerly homeless children in which to learn.

Click the link below to read an article from How Housing Matters to learn more about the structural barriers preventing low-income parents from engaging in their children’s education, and the ways in which the community can come together to accommodate parents who have a desire to support their children in the classroom.

As part of a nationwide initiative funded by John S. and the James L. Knight Foundation, the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin counties (CFPBMC) spearheaded a discussion called “On the Table.” In October 2018, CFPBMC coordinated with local community partners who hosted in-person discussions on topics surrounding positive social change and exchanged ideas on actions that can make a difference in the community. Approximately 4,000 Palm Beach and Martin County residents participated in On the Table conversations. This initiative was a first of its kind for Palm Beach County and it allowed community residents, volunteers, and leaders to come together and examine the most pressing needs currently facing the community.   

After the On the Table discussions, participants were encouraged to fill out a survey. The report on the survey is very encouraging. It shows that 77% of On the Table participants feel that Palm Beach and Martin Counties have a strong sense of community. 73% feel that nonprofits and community organizations offer the most significant impacts on making the community a better place to live. The most conclusive response revealed by the survey is that an astounding 91% of participants expressed plans to take specific action regarding one of the issues or solutions they discussed during an On the Table discussion.  

 

77% of On the Table participants feel that Palm Beach and Martin Counties have a strong sense of community. Click To Tweet

You can read the full report here  

  

Adopt-A-Family looks forward to the positive impact of increased engagement, partnership, advocacy, grassroots organization, and multi-sector collaboration in our community that has been sparked by 2018’s On the Table. Thank you to the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties for coordinating this engaging event! 

 

Adopt-A-Family recently completed exciting renovations to Project Grow, the agency’s afterschool and out-of-school program that fosters a stable and educational environment for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.  A generous donor provided the funds to enable the agency to expand Project Grow’s capacity, enhance its security, and revitalize the atmosphere.

Stuart & Shelby Development, Inc. was hired to execute the renovations and they completed the project during the morning and on weekends so that Project Grow did not have to close for a single day during construction. The team provided daily updates to Adopt-A-Family’s maintenance supervisor to minimize the project’s impact on agency operations.

The newly expanded classrooms will enable Project Grow teachers to implement movement-rich activities like yoga and robotics.  In addition, the renovations included vital safety and security enhancements such as adding a private, secure entrance just for parents and students and new exterior doors and locks for all classrooms. Each teacher received new, modern desks and the front reception area got a makeover as well. A fresh coat of paint brightened up the classrooms and hallways, and the children have expressed joy and pride in their new space.

We want to express our sincere gratitude to the donor who made it possible to expand Project Grow’s capacity and enable the agency to work with more children in the community.  We also want to extend our thanks to Stuart & Shelby Development for their professional and efficient work. We are incredibly thankful for the individuals who made this renovation possible.

 

We look forward to seeing the positive impacts the updates will have on the future of Project Grow and the agency!  

 

During Construction:

 

After Construction

As part of the Arts in My Backyard series, GROW students visited the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County for ten sessions to learn and create art utilizing recycled items. The Resource Depot provided the curriculum and instruction for the students, working with them to explore and expand their creativity.

 

The culmination of the sessions was the final art show on January 16th, at The Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, where the pieces were displayed. The pieces all created by the students included self-portraits, woven yarn work, fabric wall hangings, and a collaborative yarn installation. A handful of students also spoke about their process and experiences creating the artwork for the show.

 

 

Attendees of the art show were impressed by the skill and creativity shown by all who contributed to the art display!