The week of Adopt-A-Family’s annual United Way campaign is always a favorite among staff – and for good reason. Our team comes together to participate in fun challenges, engage in exciting learning opportunities, and raise money for a great cause. Adopt-A-Family staff has an impressive track record of reaching 100% fundraising participation – and this year, our 62-member staff reached that goal once again!
What is United Way?
United Way is the largest privately-funded nonprofit in the world, motivated by a globally-minded mission to improve three areas of life: education, health and financial stability. Our local United Way partners, United Way of Palm Beach County and Town of Palm Beach United Way, contribute regularly to Adopt-A-Family’s mission to strengthen families who are experiencing or at risk for homelessness. Adopt-A-Family’s campaign raised support for United Way Palm Beach County, whose mission is to ensure that everyone in Palm Beach County has access to the basics: a quality education, a place to live, financial stability, good medical care, and enough to eat.
2021 United Way Campaign Week
Last week was a blast as Adopt-A-Family staff participated in games, training opportunities, raffles and challenges to celebrate our United Way partnership. This year’s United Way campaign week organizers, Ina Mallet and Miriam Garcia, were on their A game! The theme, “United We Play, United We Win,” appealed to our die-hard golfers and novices alike. Starting with a “tee-off” breakfast and ending with a party at Drive Shack, our week was infused with a sense of competition and comradery.
Ina and Miriam kicked off our campaign week Monday morning with breakfast and a short message from United Way of Palm Beach County’s Whitney Erasmus, who graciously shared her inspirational story and passion with us.
On Tuesday, more than 40 staff members attended a training led by Andrea Elrod of AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Inc). Andrea focused on data and trends surrounding abuse, and taught our team ways to recognize and act on potential abuse situations.
AAF staff dressed up in their favorite sports jerseys on Wednesday. Staff working in our office locations and staff working from home proudly represented their teams.
Thursday’s trivia game was a blast! Over 20 staff logged on to the virtual competition ready to win some great prizes. Prizes up for grabs each round included a pizza party for the winner’s department and a chance for the winner to choose a costume their supervisor must wear to work for a day.
Finally, Friday’s grand finale took place at Drive Shack. Staff members split up into small teams and took a swing at golf, and gift baskets were awarded to our raffle winners. CEO Matt Constantine and Board Chair Kirsten Turner thanked our AAF team for their hard work and announced that our goal of 100% participation was reached again!
Overall, the 2021 United Way campaign week was a success. United Way has been a tremendous support to Adopt-A-Family over the years, and we are always grateful for an opportunity to celebrate our collaboration and show our support for our partner organizations.
Stephen Vaughan is a Housing Specialist at Adopt-A-Family. For seven years, he has worked within the Rapid Re-Housing initiative operating out of the Senator Philip D. Lewis Homeless Resource Center.
Stephen is unembellished and steadfast in his work. The truly affordable housing landscape is bleak, and the Rapid Re-Housing team must stay laser-focused on the market around them to catch affordable opportunities before they vanish.
When asked how he works around the affordable housing crisis, his response was blunt:
“You don’t,” he said. “You just try to provide the best service you can, and you move as fast as you can to get people housed.”
Stephen explained that the reality of the housing shortage is daunting, but finding solutions is not impossible if a person is dedicated.
In other words, you don’t avoid the housing shortage, you face it.
The clients of Rapid Re-Housing are starkly aware of this reality.
What We’re Seeing
In Lake Worth, the fair market rent (FMR) value of a two-bedroom housing unit is $1,300 per month. Landlords typically expect tenants to prove a 3:1 income-to-rent ratio before they agree to the rental. This means a person would need to make $3,900 each month to qualify for a two-bedroom rental.
Suppose a single mother in Lake Worth is working a minimum wage job (Florida’s minimum wage is $10/hour), and is searching for a comfortable home for her family. To afford a two-bedroom home, she would have to work 97.5 hours each week. That’s 14 hours a day, seven days a week. After the commute from work, dinner, and a shower, this person may have time to get nearly 5 hours of sleep a night. A lifestyle like this would be unsustainable for any single person. Not to mention, caring for a family would be impossible.
What We’re Doing About It
Many people in Palm Beach County have found themselves in scenarios like this. These stories the motivation behind every Adopt-A-Family program, including Rapid Re-Housing. The Rapid Re-Housing team is charged with the duty of housing families who have become homeless and are in immediate need of a safe and sustainable solution. The program assists an average of 125 families every year by quickly locating affordable units and offering declining rent assistance.
Adopt-A-Family operates a broad range of programs, all of which contribute to the agency’s multi-faceted approach to homelessness prevention. One AAF program, the Housing Stabilization Program (HSP), offers emergency financial assistance to renters at risk of being evicted from the units they already live in; HSP’s mission is to prevent disruption to a family’s living situation by stabilizing it before relocation becomes necessary.
Additionally, Adopt-A-Family owns 120 affordable housing units at or near our Lake Worth Campus, and operates 9 major programs to strengthen at-risk families by providing stable, safe and affordable housing solutions.
September is Hunger Action Month!
In honor of Hunger Action Month, and as we approach another holiday season spent in the wake of Covid-19, there are many great opportunities to help protect our community from food insecurity – an issue that has intensified over the last two years.
Feeding America estimates there are 44,280 food insecure children in Palm Beach County. In their March 2021 report titled, “The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 and 2021,” Feeding America reported that a projected 42 million people in America, including 13 million children, may experience food insecurity this year.
In 2019, the food insecurity rate was lower than it had been in twenty years. Unemployment and poverty rates were also at recent lows in 2019; however, by March of 2020, the unemployment rate had risen from 2019’s reported 3.7% to a historic 14.7%. As the pandemic raged on, this jump in unemployment contributed to food insecurity rates nationwide– primarily among communities of color.
As Adopt-A-Family continues to care for at-risk families in our community, we have taken Hunger Action Month as an opportunity to compile a list of five ways you can join the fight against hunger.
- Program REACH Shelter
Program REACH, owned by Palm Beach County and operated by Adopt-A-Family, is the largest emergency shelter for families with children experiencing homelessness in Palm Beach County. They are accepting donations for their on-site food pantry. To arrange a drop-off, contact Program REACH at 561-514-0564.
- United Way Turkey Trot
Registration is open for the Town of Palm Beach United Way’s annual 5K Turkey Trot! Last year, runners raised enough money to provide meals to over 4,400 people in Palm Beach County! Sign up at https://www.palmbeachunitedway.org/turkey-trot.
- CROS Ministries Food Drop-Off
CROS Ministries is accepting food donations at their Lake Worth warehouse location Monday-Friday by appointment. Call 561-233-9009 X103 to schedule a drop-off time, and visit https://www.crosministries.org/food-pantries for more information.
- Volunteer for a Food Packing Project
United Way of Palm Beach County and Palm Beach County Food Bank are accepting 30 total volunteers to help package food on October 8th. This is the third volunteer project in United Way’s Days of Caring volunteer series! Sign up here: https://unitedwaypbc.org/event/day-of-caring-food-packing/?fbclid=IwAR1gY24RFS6CSk04Wm0AjyaYV39477SBBIdiFyJQJL7vK-n8q8hfXxIAvzg
- Sponsor a Meal for Homeless Men and Women staying at the Senator Philip D. Lewis Center
The Homeless Coalition’s Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers program provides three meals a day to homeless men and women staying at the Senator Philip D. Lewis Center and Lewis Center Annex. Donors and groups can find more information about meal pricing and serving opportunities here: https://homelesscoalitionpbc.org/volunteer/
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) federal eviction moratorium was recently extended to June 30, 2021, sparing millions from eviction.
When the moratorium eventually expires, the anticipated eviction crisis is expected to hit home here in Palm Beach County, putting thousands of renters on the brink of homelessness. With an eviction on their record, many will find it extremely difficult to secure an apartment in the future.
Although there are emergency rental assistance programs available through Palm Beach County and local nonprofits, the need has far exceeded these programs’ capacity to respond, leaving many unable to access assistance before an eviction is filed.
That’s why Adopt-A-Family contacted Legal Aid Staff Attorney Denita Jones, who provided useful information for families facing eviction because of unpaid rent.
If this sounds like your situation, here’s some advice Jones had to offer:
1. Respond to Your Eviction Notice
If you receive an eviction summons or complaint, you have five (5) business days to respond. It is very important that you submit a written response, also known as an “Answer”, within those five days.
2. When You File a Response, Pay Toward What You Owe If You Can
If you are able, deposit your past due rent in the court registry.
3. What to Do If You Cannot Pay Back Rent
File a Motion to Determine Rent and attach a signed copy of the CDC declaration, which shows you are protected under the CDC order. It temporarily halts residential evictions for non-payment of rent. The document will also demonstrate that you are not able to pay back the full amount owed.
4. Every Individual on the Lease Agreement Must Sign a CDC Declaration
Each adult on the lease should sign and deliver separate CDC declarations. In circumstances where individuals in a household (i.e. married people) file a joint tax return, it may be appropriate for one member of the residence to provide an executed declaration on behalf of other adult residents.
The CDC declaration must then be provided to your landlord, owner of the residential property where you live, or another person who has a right to have you evicted or removed from your residence.
5. If Your Landlord has already Begun Eviction Proceedings, Submit a Copy of the Required Paperwork to the Court in addition to providing a copy to your landlord.
After everyone on the lease agreement has signed the CDC Declaration, it should be filed with the court, along with the Answer document and Motion to Determine Rent.
6. Keep an Open Line of Communication with Your Landlord
It’s important to communicate with your landlord and make back payments whenever possible. When the eviction moratorium expires, you will still will responsible for paying back the rent owed.
7. Reach Out to Legal Aid for Advice
Legal Aid of Palm Beach County’s goal is to offer assistance to as many people as possible, even if it’s just legal advice. Legal Aid can assist individuals in applying to halt an eviction and/or provide them referrals to useful resources. For more information, contact Legal Aid at 561-655-8944 or complete the online intake form.
8. Rental Assistance is Available for Palm Beach County Residents
Residents can apply for Palm Beach County’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program here:: https://www.rentalassistancepbc.org/. Adopt-A-Family’s Housing Stabilization Program also offers emergency rental assistance. For more information, call (561) 253-1361 or visit https://adoptafamilypbc.org/housing-stabilization-program/.
9. Rental Assistance is Available for Undocumented, At-Risk Renters
Legal Aid of Palm Beach County has funds available for individuals whose legal status prevents them from obtaining rental assistance from Palm Beach County. For more information, contact Legal Aid at 561-655-8944.
10. You Are Not Alone
Help is available. There is legal advice and access to assistance. Organizations like Legal Aid of Palm Beach County and Adopt-A-Family are here to help.
Many thanks to Denita Jones of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County for providing this helpful information.
As we enter year two of the COVID-era, troubling trends have emerged among our children as a result of the necessary precautions required to protect them from infection: They are spending more time indoors in front of screens and eating snacks, and spending less time playing outdoors and engaging in physical activities.
That’s why Adopt-A-Family’s Project Grow after-school program has prioritized physical fitness and mental wellness as a critical component of its curriculum.
“It’s really important that the kids in Project Grow have regular opportunities to move their bodies and feel the joy that comes with that movement,” said Daron Morse, AAF’s Director of Youth Educational Programs. “Kids need to move to be healthy and to feel happy.”
In addition to hosting exercise and nutrition classes through FLIPANY, Project Grow has implemented physical education sessions for the kids. The program recently partnered with Girls on the Run – an initiative that empowers young girls to develop a connection between physical and emotional health.
The Importance of Exercise in the Age of COVID
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have prevented many children from playing sports or even walking the halls at school, notes this Stanford Medicine report. For so many kids, the school day begins with them rolling out of bed and sitting up in front of a laptop for class, remaining stationary for hours on end. Even children who attend school in person have had their P.E. classes and recess time limited or eliminated.
“Overall, we’ve seen excessive weight gain during the pandemic,” said Dr. Elizabeth Shepard of Stanford Children’s Health’s Center for Healthy Weight. “For some kids, that puts them suddenly into the range of overweight or obesity and that can be quite detrimental to their health over the long term.”
Before the onset of the pandemic, exercise was important. In this COVID-19 era, it’s essential and even lifesaving.
‘If You Keep Trying It, You Will Get Better’
When Palm Beach County students were off for Spring Break, Project Grow students assembled outside on the playground turf behind Adopt-A-Family’s Lake Worth office one weekday afternoon.
They stood in front of volunteer PE instructor Wayne Garber, who led them through a battery of exercises, like calf raises, push-ups, and sit-ups.
As some of the students began to tire and breathe heavily, Garber, in his most pleasant tone, encouraged them, revealing why those pushups were so important.
“When you do any exercise or sport, your brain has to learn the most efficient way to talk to your muscles, so these pushups will help you develop a pathway,” he said. “If you keep trying it, you will get better.”
Girls on the Run, More than a Race
A few days later, volunteer instructor Ann Olberding led the very first Girls on the Run session with a group of 3rd-5th grade girls. Olberding’s Delray Beach Division 6 Tennis Team generously donated running shoes, shorts, socks, and water bottles – everything they need to train for a 5k race, which concludes the program.
Olberding’s mid-morning class began with journaling activities and concluded outdoors, where they stretched and started doing exercises.
“Right now, we’re going to get our hearts pumping and we’re going to get moving, so the first thing we’re going to do is jumping jacks.”
The half-circle of girls that formed around Olberding followed her fluid and easy movements, as she led them from jumping jacks to arm raises, lunges, and jumps. They ended that first session with laps around the playground, sprinting past their instructor and giggling with delight only to tire themselves out a short time later.
“We did three great laps, next week we’re going to do four,” Olberding said. “This is not about the race; this is all about endurance.”
And it’s also about providing students the right environment to implement physical fitness into their daily lives.
“Project Grow is the perfect space for supportive development in physical fitness, health, and wellness,” said Morse, “The kids feel comfortable in Project Grow so they are willing to try a physical activity they may otherwise decline.”
Elliott Erwitt once said this about photography’s purpose: “It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
On a Sunday in January, Bryson Moberley spent the afternoon snapping photos of Adopt-A-Family buildings and spaces, either endowing his shots with vibrant color or allowing natural light to do the work.
Bryson’s photos exemplify Erwitt’s famous quote. Have a look!
Adopt-A-Family’s 36th Annual Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration was unlike any in the event’s three-and-a-half-decade history. Even though our participants traded a night out (in formal attire, with music and fine dining) for a night in (in comfy clothes, with a livestream auction), our biggest fundraiser of the year ended up being a triumph!
While the ongoing pandemic made having an online event a necessity, we did include some beloved traditions. Our Project Grow kids performed a holiday song; clients shared stories of resilience and hope; CEO Matt Constantine spoke about the agency’s work and mission, and the always-engaging Neil Saffer conducted the live online auction.
Here are some other cool things you might not know, even if you tuned in for the Dec. 1 event:
- Despite the major shift in the event format and the challenges of this COVID-impacted year, the Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration raised $700,000 – all thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of our faithful supporters.
- We were able to meet and exceed a $100K match opportunity presented by one of our gracious benefactors, allowing us to hit a critical benchmark in our fundraising efforts on behalf of the families we serve.
- 46 committee members contributed their time, advice, and resources in order to make this first-ever Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration a reality. We’re especially grateful to Tree Lighting co-chairs Nancy Kalaher and Beth Hennessy, their dedicated and hardworking committee members, and the production/technical teams.
- This year’s event was held in a somewhat less exclusive venue than usual – producer Robert Lentoski’s dining room.
- The online event allowed us to attract a wide viewership. The Virtual Tree Lighting Celebration drew more than 400 viewers who watched the event on our Facebook page, YouTube channel, and at our auction site.
- Speaking of viewers, they watched from around the country. In addition to friends from Florida, we welcomed viewers from Ohio, California, New Jersey, Colorado, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, and South Carolina.
- Going virtual was not without its complications. Ten minutes before the event, organizers were still figuring out how to get the broadcast to display properly on Adopt-A-Family’s Facebook page.
- Silent auction nugget: Restaurant gift cards from our Dine and Dash category sold out within 10 minutes of the online auction’s November 21 opening.
- This year’s big-ticket live auction item? A three-night stay at the luxurious Blackberry Farm. The winning bid was $8,000.
Most winners have picked up their items from the office. BONUS FACT: The 36th Annual Tree Lighting Celebration took 12 months of planning. But did you know that the day after our virtual event, donations were already coming in for the 2021 Tree Lighting Celebration? We really hope to see you there – in person.
By Abbey Hartman, Shelter Services Coordinator for Adopt-A-Family
The United Way of Palm Beach County performs important work in our community and supports organizations that do the same, including Adopt-A-Family. The agencies funded by the United Way form a collaborative network to serve all residents of Palm Beach County. Adopt-A-Family regularly partners with fellow United Way-funded agencies to ensure that the families we serve have access to services that will aid them on the path to stability and self-sufficiency.
Here is a snapshot of some of the incredible organizations that regularly support families served by Adopt-A-Family:
Boys and Girls Club of Palm Beach County cares for children, providing meals and child care up until 8 p.m.
Clinics Can Help gives out walkers and medical supplies at low to no cost for people who cannot afford equipment.
Community Partners offers therapy, housing, and case management to children and parents in our community.
CROS Ministries provides food assistance to low-income families through food pantries, meal sites, and gleaning.
Families First helps Adopt-A-Family secure housing opportunities for people with barriers who may need more support.
Gulfstream Goodwill provides shelter to pregnant youth until birth.
Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County, Inc. offers diapers, formula, and clothing to needy families.
The Palm Beach County Food Bank provides Program REACH fresh vegetables, fruit, and food for the food pantry.
The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County provides free legal services to low-income families and nonprofits.
The Lord’s Place offers job training, meals, SOAR assistance, and housing to families.
Urban League of Palm Beach County provides job coaching and placement to families.
Vita Nova helps young people with life skills training, job search/assistance, mental health services, and so much more.
211 Palm Beach is the number one referral source for homeless services.
Out of gratitude for the support of agencies and funders throughout Palm Beach County, Adopt-A-Family’s 2020 United Way Campaign was “Pay it Forward.” Adopt-A-Family’s staff certainly lived up to that credo during the campaign! One hundred percent of the staff pledged donations to the United Way of Palm Beach County, and the total pledged surpassed last year’s total. Those donations will help support United Way-funded organizations that do impactful work in our community. Adopt-A-Family is grateful to Pay It Forward now and every day! The work we all do collectively has such an impact on our families, children, and the community!
Abbey Hartman has been working in homeless services for 11 years in various roles, including housing, youth services, veteran support, and now families. This month marks her four-year anniversary with Adopt-A-Family. Abbey enjoys going to the beach, playing with her son, reading, and spending time with family.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”