Twenty years ago Terri Shaler joined Christian Neighbors as its volunteer treasurer. After two years, in 1997, she began a new role as executive director. Terri cites her love for the mission as well as providing a place for the community to volunteer as reasons for her long tenure with the organization.
The agency offers food and emergency financial assistance to Plainwell, Otsego and Martin area residents as well education programs to anyone. On average, the organization feeds 225 families a month. Families are allowed one visit a month to their food pantry and receive case management.
So far this year, its food pantry has fed 2,107 people. The financial assistance program has served 371 households and provided $178,780 for assistance with housing, utilities and medical expenses.
During our meeting, Terri spoke proudly about the organization’s education programs. “I like how Christian Neighbors has grown and developed its education piece. That’s where our agency really makes a difference in life skills and breaks the poverty cycle”, she responded when asked why she likes working at Christian Neighbors.
A big part of the education piece she is referring to is their Take Control class. The class lasts for six weeks and is open to anyone. Participants of the class learn household budgeting, credit score repair and developing consumer skills. The program comes from Colorado State University Extension that Christian Neighbors has adapted for its specific clients and community.
Clients are also able to participate in a financial mentorship program. The program allows clients one-on-one financial counsel from trained volunteers to assist them in money management. The one-on-one, private relationship has been successful for participants getting back on track with their financial goals. Because of the program, participants go from being behind on bills and overdrawing accounts to learning the necessary tools to get on track and save money each month.
In addition to its Take Control Classes and Financial Mentorship Program, the organization offers Connection Classes. These classes are designed to teach basic skills while providing a community for those who live isolated lives. There are usually 15 – 30 people in attendance at each class. Classes are offered every other month.
In preparation of the holidays, Christian Neighbors will host its largest class this month, which in years past has usually hosted around 50 participants. The class is a “Make It, Take It” event where there will be fifteen stations and participants can make gifts for family and friends. Crafts include making jewelry boxes, mittens and purses. All stations are led by Christian Neighbor volunteers. Other classes that have been offered in the past have included stress management, DIY cleaning supplies, container gardening, and as a follow up to the gardening class, a garden to table cooking class.
Christian Neighbors doesn’t just offer educational programming to its clients, but also to the local community. Quite often they send an article in the community paper, in addition to doing community bulletins, social media and movie screenings related to pertinent issues to the agency and its clients. The organization does a huge community outreach push during May for Hunger Awareness Month and in November for Homelessness Awareness Month. Most recently, Lindsy Barton, the Education Director at Christian Neighbors, became certified to facilitate poverty simulations.
For more information about Christian Neighbors and the services it provides, please visit www.christianneighbors.org or call 269-685-4166.