In 2015, Natasha arrived at Union Station Homeless Services looking for a pathway to recovery and some assistance to get back on her feet. She quickly found much needed shelter and services at our Adult Center bridge housing program. Before too long, Natasha was well on her way to recovery and a place she could call home.
Over time, Natasha formed a close friendship with Karen, a community volunteer who worked in the Adult Center kitchen. Natasha credits this relationship with providing her guidance and support as she moved into her own apartment, settled into her new community, and grew into the person she is today. Natasha's relationship with Karen serves as ongoing inspiration for Union Station's Community Allies Program, a LA2050 Challenge grantee in the CONNECT category. To learn more about what our program is achieving in our community – and to hear more about Natasha's experience with her ally, Karen - we invite you to view this new video available on our YouTube channel and this article recently published in Pasadena Weekly.
“It's a wonderful friendship to have, because I grew up without a family. My siblings were separated from me at a really young age. So, to have that commitment with someone else, to be able to share your thoughts and dream, it makes me a better person to know that I am loved and cared for and guided every step of the way." – Natasha Head
The mission of the Community Allies Program is to support and empower individuals and families to combat isolation while achieving self-sufficiency, housing stability, and overall wellness by fostering one-on-one relationships, developing social networks, and building community. In this way, Community Allies is transforming the traditional one-on-one mentor relationship. This year, despite the unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Allies program is continuing to change lives. In recent months participants have reported that their allies and additional telephone pals have become an important lifeline as isolation, anxiety and depression rates have increased across all sectors of the population.
Now more than ever before, it is the human connection that goes beyond service provision that truly sets Community Allies apart.
“(We have) case managers helping recently housed clients but there's a whole other piece that case managers can't always provide. We established Community Allies to provide a sense of ongoing belonging and friendship in a new community. Pairing a client with a friendly face in the community really helps clients create a wonderful transition into housing." – Dana Bean, Union Station Homeless Services
The essence of Union Station's Community Allies Program is human connection, and this has presented a unique challenge during the current pandemic. The health and safety of our community is our number one priority, and we have had to make significant adjustments to how we provide services over the past 10 months as we have had to forego all in-person group activities and one-on-one visits. Nonetheless, during this time, our volunteer community allies have been working hard making connections with program participants while also following CDC guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy.
We are pleased to report that our Community Allies Program is continuing to match volunteer allies with newly housed individuals and families to provide an additional layer of support, mentorship and community integration assistance. Many of these relationships are new and have been born of the increased need during the pandemic and others are long-standing over the past two to three years.
In recent months, program staff have implemented creative online group activities (including a book club and writing group) and supported allies as they meet with program participants online through zoom calls and phone calls to maintain social distancing. Some allies and participants have also chosen to meet at a park or other public outdoor location following social distancing guidelines. In spite of recent challenges in reaching out in person to potential new volunteer allies and new participants, today we have 45 active program participants and 35 active community volunteers, with 25 current one-on-one matches between a community ally and a program participant. We have also celebrated the successes of many program participants, from getting the keys to a new apartment to new jobs… all from a safe distance.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about becoming a Community Ally, please visit https://unionstationhs.org/help/volunteer/volunteer-mentor-program/.