KATY | COVER STORY – By Liz Johnson –
When Jennifer Morales found herself and her three children living in a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Fort Worth, she realized help and big changes were going to be needed in her life. Luckily, Morales had some friends in Katy who opened their home to her, but with three small children, space was at a premium, and it quickly became apparent that staying with them would not work out. It was time to find her own place for the sake of her children. However, without a job, Morales had no way to pay rent and provide for her children. One step away from being homeless, Morales asked for help, and she found it with Westside Homeless Prevention (WHP).
Bringing Westside Homeless Prevention to Katy
Four Katy area women recognized that there was a true need to address homelessness in the area. Through their various roles and work in the Katy community, Karen Kessler, Chris Crockett, Cheryl Hollabaugh and Rebecca Fox decided to meet with the WHP team to see if they could help.
According to Fox, the program spoke to her heart. “We were convinced that WHP had the right plan of a ‘hand up’ and not a ‘hand out,’ and we were on board to make a difference for our students in Katy. The best part is their focus on keeping students in their home campus without moving them from school to school and disrupting their education.”
“For years, we have had homeless students and families in Katy ISD, but most people were unaware of the issue,” stated Crockett. “When my friend Karen Kessler approached me about WHP, I knew it would be a good fit for our community! There is nothing more important for student success than family stability, and WHP provides the means for families to achieve that.”
Transforming Families Through Confident Self-Sufficiency
WHP’s Executive Director Susan Bolling explained their success model. “In a recent study done by WHP, we found that for every $1 you give to help keep a student in school, the long-term rate of return is $20. A $1,000 investment in WHP yields a $20,000 rate of return to society and to the student. A high school graduate will earn an additional $350,000 over their lifetime over one without a diploma. Providing a stable environment for students who so desperately need a bed of their own, a place to do homework and the support to help their families become self-sufficient is vital to the future of the Katy community and its schools. No matter how much money you push into your neighborhood school, if these basic needs aren’t met, children will still fail and still be left behind.”
WHP has been in the Katy area for about a year but has been in Spring Branch since 1994. Early in the 1990s, Spring Branch ISD sought to identify the reason for chronic student transfers and poor standardized test scores in several schools. A task force was formed to address the cause: poverty and homelessness. At the same time, social services also noticed that they were seeing a lot of repeat clients. Students were transferring from one school to the next, because their parent could not afford a stable home for the family.
Recognizing that being homeless is more then just a housing issue, WHP was formed to help break the cycle of homelessness with the idea that stability equals success. WHP offers classes to clients on financial planning, parenting, job training, counseling services, rent and utility assistance. For children, WHP offers a summer book club, a back-to-school party with free school supplies, an Adopt a Family Program for Christmas and Thanksgiving meals. But more importantly, WHP offers support and love through an amazing case management team.
The Heart of WHP’s Katy Volunteers
Two special community volunteers helping to make WHP successful in Katy are Dr. Steve Robertson and his wife, Elaine, who serve on WHP’s Advisory Board. “Steve and I are very passionate about WHP, as it involves families in our Katy community,” said Elaine. “As educators, both of us have experienced working with homeless families and would like to help provide resources and solutions to these families in order to reverse this painful cycle. It is not an organization that just gives money to a situation, but it is an organization that invests in our children’s futures by creating opportunities.”
The Robertsons have big plans to make WHP successful in Katy, and their love for children motivates them and drives their commitment. “Many people are not aware that Katy ISD currently has over 600 children who have been identified as at risk,” said Steve. “These are families who could be homeless tomorrow. We hope to spread the word of WHP in order to receive as much support as possible from our Katy community. With support, we will be able to guide more families into self-sufficiency, keep families and their children in their homes and ultimately support them in order for children to stay in their schools. Providing a stable home for our children will increase their success in their education and ultimately lead them on a journey to a more successful, self-sufficient life.”
Proven Success in Times of Need
Morales couldn’t agree more and is now one of WHP’s best clients and success stories. She is doing well in her job and is in a management training program.
“WHP has given my children and me stability and happiness, not only through financial help but also with life training. Just following a simple budget, watching expenses has become much more effective. There’s a lighter side to things as well. I see my children smile more. They are just more at ease with life, as am I. It is with much gratitude and appreciation that I can look to our future with hope and confidence due to the reassuring and positive attitudes and actions of Myrna, my case manager and everybody at the WHP.”
Bolling stressed the need for WHP in the Katy Area. “Over the last six months, we have served the same number of families as we did in our whole last fiscal year. The need continues to be great, as we now serve Spring Branch and Katy ISD and strive to help families keep their kids in their same school throughout the entire school year. We are so grateful to have been welcomed into the Katy community with open arms and hands ready to serve. It is critically important that we have the financial support of the Katy community to reach the families in Katy who most need our program and support.”
Visit www.westsidehomeless.org for more information on Westside Homeless Prevention.