Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mothers from Many Different Countries Share Why Keystone’s Family Literacy Program Is Important

Keystone Opportunity Center’s Family Literacy program serves 35 families representing 14 different countries. Parents work on expanding their English proficiency through Basic Education, Workforce, and Parenting classes, while their pre-school children enjoy their own Early Education classes and activities.  Parents and children join together weekly for Interactive Literacy Activities (ILA), including learning nursery rhymes, listening to stories, and doing simple crafts together.

As the 2013-14  term neared its end, class members were asked to answer the question “Why is Keystone’s Family Literacy program important you?”  Student advisor Janet McBride recorded their thoughts in the annual “FamLit” newsletter. These messages are shared below: 

Renee (Democratic Republic of the Congo) I have been with this program for one year now. I have improved my reading and writing skills. I really appreciate what the family literacy program has done for me. They helped me get ready for my GED. I have learned different cultures in this program. I have found new friends in the program. They taught me how to cook different food like pupusas and tortillas. 
They have been kind to my daughter, she’s 20 months old. She can sing her ABCs and other nursery rhymes. This program has taught me how to be on time. They taught me how to be creative. They taught me how to create a resume. I am happy to find good teachers in this program. They mean everything to us, because it is hard to be in new country without friends. They really help me a lot.

Camila (El Salvador) I like the Family Literacy program because I read more to my kids. I understand more English when I have school conferences for my kids and I feel more confident when they are talking to me. I recommend people who want to learn English to go the program. My dream is to get the GED. I enjoy going to the program because I like learning and talking to people from different cultures.

Sara (Mexico) Keystone is important because I can have more opportunities in my life. If I speak English I can help my children with their homework and I can talk with their teacher. I can have a better job because I understand English better and have learned more about American ways.

Iris (Honduras) ESL is a goal of my life and Family Literacy Program gave me the opportunity to complete. It is not easy to attend class every day especially when you have kids and work, but I am trying to get a better life learning English. This is the country of the opportunities and it is easier if we know the language. I’ve been enrolled in the program eight months and I feel so good, more confident when I talk, write and read to my daughters, and in the classroom, work or any place. I know more people of different countries and their culture and traditions.

Eunmi  (Korea) I have so appreciated this program. I have been coming to this program since 2009, almost five years. I thought this program would not be helpful for me, but now I know this school is important to me and what a wonderful school it is. I can speak English without being afraid. I can understand English when they speak it to me. My kids have learned a lot from this program. My youngest daughter, Kailyn, wants to go to school every day!! I’m very happy that I am still here.

Ratan (Bangladesh) I came from Bangladesh in 2010. I started Keystone’s Family Literacy program ESL class in 2012 in Lansdale. I take three classes: Adult Ed, Workforce and Parenting.  I have been learning English and about American culture. My English language skills are better than when I started in the Fall. I am a pharmacist and would like to be one here in America. My English is better now and I hope to go to college here soon. I feel my life is getting better because classes help my plan for get a better job. So I would like to keep coming to class next year.

For the complete Newsletter: Click here

Friday, May 16, 2014

Keystone and Keller-Williams Partner for an Extreme Home Furnishing

Twelve empty apartments became homes for Montgomery County residents facing homelessness last week. 

Thirty volunteers, three trucks, and four thrift stores joined forces for an extreme furniture delivery day coordinated by the Your Way Home (YWH) Montgomery County Housing Resource Center staff at Keystone Opportunity Center.
Keller-Williams Real Estate, Montgomeryville, provided the volunteer moving crews as part of their annual Red Day of service.  Furniture was donated by Care and Share Thrift Shoppes of Souderton; Habitat for Humanity Restore Montco in West Norriton; Impact Thrift Stores, Montgomeryville; and Liberty Thrift & Home Furnishings, Pottstown. Trucks were provided by Hands in Service Ministry and Gillmer Trucking. 

“We look forward to Red Day every year,” said Todd Umbenhauer, realtor and Keller-Williams volunteer. “It’s part of the Keller-Williams philosophy to give where you live. Obviously, with us being so closely tied to housing, when we have the opportunity to make someone’s housing better and more comfortable for them, we don’t have a better sweet spot than that. When we can help with the place that they call home, we love it.”

A YWH participant who received furniture on the delivery day wrote a note of thanks to the YWH staff who coordinated the project.

“In my book, you all rock!” said the client. “The Keller-Williams volunteers were awesome in taking time out of their schedules in delivering furniture to me, and you are great in checking with me and keeping me focused on my goals,” she said of her YWH housing stability coach. “Keep up the good work you are doing. I am thankful and grateful for all your help and support.” 
YWH is a partnership between county government and philanthropy structured to coordinate, leverage and maximize the impact of scarce public and private resources to end homelessness and housing instability once and for all by changing the systems and service. Keystone Opportunity Center’s YWH team serves Eastern Montgomery County, and includes a housing locator and housing stability coach.

YWH houses county residents facing literal homelessness. A person is experiencing literal homelessness if they have nowhere to live and have no support system to provide housing. Some may be living in a homeless shelter or a car, on the street, in tents, garages, or abandoned buildings. 

The YWH initiative is a “housing first” model for addressing homelessness. One of the guiding principles of the county program states: “Housing stability is the key to leading safe, happy and productive lives for everyone in our community but needs to be combined with economic opportunity, food security, healthcare access and community connections.”
Each year, on a single night in January, the Point-in-Time (PIT) count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons is conducted across the nation. It is a count of homeless persons who are in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and safe havens on a single night. Each count is planned, coordinated, and carried out locally. 

Montgomery County’s recent PIT count indicated that 438 people were literally homeless on the night of January 29, 2014. Keystone Opportunity Center staff participates in the count each year. Social service providers actually visit shelters and known locations where people in the county are living homeless and complete surveys on each person they find. Montgomery County has eight emergency shelters, two winter “Code Blue” shelters and nine transitional housing programs. 
“During the Point-In-Time count we go out to where the people are, in the woods or on the streets,” said Allegra Cressman, social worker and housing manager at Keystone Opportunity Center. “Most of the time, they are hard to find. They tend to hide because they don’t want to expose themselves to being hurt or harassed or run off from where they are staying.”
The 2014 count was six percent lower than last year, when 464 people were found to be in homeless living situations. 

According to the county’s report, adoption of housing-first and rapid-rehousing models, along with prioritizing housing for the longest and most vulnerable homeless persons through the YWH initiative has contributed to a modest reduction of people living homeless over the past year. 
However, the numbers show there is a long way to go. 
Of the 438 people experiencing homelessness on that very cold January night, 157 were children under the age of 18, and 33 were between the ages of 18 and 24. Sixty-one were the victims of domestic abuse. Twenty-eight were chronically homeless.  
“There are so many housing needs in Montgomery County. It is great when we can all combine our efforts to make a difference,” said Pat Peddie, ReStore Montco Manager. ReStore donated furniture for three families on the Red Day event. 

“We are very happy that we were able to support the Your Way Home program with the help of Keller-Williams and Keystone Opportunity Center,” said Peddie.

On Thursday, May 29, the 2nd Annual Your Way Home Montgomery County Summit will be held at Montgomery County Community College, Central Campus, Science Center Auditorium, 340 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell. The event will celebrate the successful launch of Your Way Home and provide an update on the program’s impact to date. 

Registration, coffee and breakfast will begin at 8 a.m., and the program will start promptly at 8:45 a.m., and end at 12:30 p.m. Registration is required. Go to 

Attendees will include service providers, county officials, community partners, regional funders and consumers. All providers and funders working toward achieving housing stability and economic security for Montgomery County residents are encouraged to attend. 

“More than 100 families have been housed through Your Way Home since the beginning of the year,” said Cressman. “Our staff is working hard at building relationships with potential landlords for housing opportunities and working with eligible families to connect them to a home. Housing brings stability and changes in people.”

“The extreme furnishing day is a great example of seeing a need, having an idea and connecting the dots to get the right resources in place to make it happen,” said Keystone Opportunity Center Executive Director Richard Aichele. “I must admit when we came up with this idea, I was a bit nervous about being able to pull it off. We had the families with a need for furniture. We had the Keller-Williams volunteers. We needed trucks and the generous donations of the thrift stores to supply the furniture to complete the project on a very short timetable.”

“We have worked with Keller-Williams on Red Day for the past few years and have always looked forward to this day. Last year they cleaned and completely painted a two-bedroom apartment in one day. This energetic work enables us to turn around our apartments quickly between families.”
Hands in Service (HIS) is a virtual non-profit network of volunteers that have partnered with Keystone Opportunity Center on a number of apartment or house refurbishing projects. HIS also distributes excess products such as baby formula, diapers and furniture to food pantries and non-profits in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Ed Tornetta, founder and director at HIS provided and drove a truck for the delivery day.
YWH housing locator Dave Garber and housing stability coach Stephanie Flamer coordinated and supervised this event. Other key people involved in the event were Lauren Britt and Dan Smith of Keller-Williams; Brian Jones of Liberty Thrift & Home Furnishings; Melissa Campacci, Impact Thrift Stores; Dana Ketterer, Care and Share Thrift Shoppes; and Gary Gillmer of Gillmer Trucking. 
“A job well done by all,” said Aichele. 
For more pictures click here.