On October 20, Barbara Siemer, co-founder of the Siemer Institute, paid a visit to Orange County United Way to learn more about the work we are doing to stabilize local families in their homes, thus ensuring their children remain in the same school and are able to attend school consistently.
The Siemer’s first began their work in 2003 with the United Way of Sarasota and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the Suncoast. Barbara and her husband Al had been deeply impacted by her experiences as a schoolteacher, where she saw firsthand how harmful homelessness and school instability were to students and classrooms and decided to pilot a program to tackle these issues head-on.
That success launched a national movement and today, the Siemer Institute and numerous local United Ways in 53 communities across the nation are providing crucial services to prevent family homelessness and reduce student mobility among low-income families, allowing them to stabilize and thrive. Orange County United Way is proud to be one of these partner communities and was delighted to have the opportunity to take Barbara to Jonas Salk Elementary school, one of our SparkPoint in School’s sites.
A successful program of this nature requires multiple community entities coming together to work for the common good. Both the Principal and Vice Principal of Salk were present to meet Barbara, , as well as staff members from Project H.E.R.O. (the school district’s McKinney Vento/homeless student liaison program), United Way staff, SparkPoint leadership and case manager, Ibet Villalpando were also present and a former client, Irma who was the highlight of the visit.
Irma, a single mother, was referred to the SparkPoint program when she was unlawfully evicted from her home. She spoke of the warm and kind support she received from Ibet her case manager, who made her feel welcome from day one, encouraged her to dream and set goals, and taught her how to budget and save, which are skills she has now passed on to her daughters.
Irma shared her successes with the program and how she is taking charge of her future, “I went back to college this year…I want my daughters to see that if I can do it, that they can do it. It’s never too late to go back and do whatever you want to do… In five years’ time I see myself having a small family business, this program helped me to think not only about my present, but my future as well.”
Reflecting on the site visit and the opportunity to meet Irma, Barbara said, “She is the model of success of what we could hope is accomplished through programs like SparkPoint in Schools and is now a powerful example to her daughters.”
We would like to extend our thanks to the Siemer Institute for all they do to ensure this dynamic life changing work can happen. This year alone through our SparkPoint in Schools sites, we have served 194 families through our yearlong program where people receive one on one case management and coaching. These families represent 470 children whose parents are working on creating both a secure home and a secure future for themselves by becoming financially stable. Each one of these successes brings us one step closer to reaching our FACE2024 Income goal of cutting the percentage of financially unstable families by 25%.