Initially, the program was solely funded by United Way of Bradley County Inc. Community donations, fundraisers like Project Roundup and continued support from United Way have allowed the program to experience some growth.
Original case manager Shady Hernandez has been joined by Tenesha Thomas and Amber Mullinax. Since its inception, the program has steadily seen an increase in the number of people seeking help for rent, mortgage payments, and/or utilities with past due or cut-off notices.
Each sees an average of 45 to 50 reoccurring clients each month. First-time clients and visitors are split between the three caseloads. New clients can reach upwards of 90 each month.
The program operates by appointment only. Those interested are asked to call the office at 423-472-0769. Either a person will be placed on the waiting list or a case manager and time will be assigned. The case manager will review the participant’s financial need and make sure they have the required documentation.
Needed documents include:
- Photo ID
- Social Security cards
- Proof of address for each adult
- Proof of assistance: food stamps, child support, Families First
- Proof of income: pay stubs, tax statements, verification from employers, SSI or SS verification
Each case is reviewed alongside other submitted requests based on the gathered information and the extremity of the need.
Regardless of whether financial assistance is received, all participants have the opportunity to draw up an action plan alongside their case manager.
An action plan lays out the steps a person could follow to go from distress to stability in their life.
Thomas recalled an NIN client who was homeless when she initially sought help. A case manager helped her work up a plan to move from the homeless shelter to her own place. The steps took several places, but resulted in a job and stability for the client.
“I’ve seen clients for whatever reason get ill and lose their job because they can’t work,” Thomas said. “We’ve assisted them, helped them work the plan and connected them with the right resources.”
These resources consist of everything from nonprofits to Social Security and disability. Networking ensures NIN forms strong ties with agencies across the county. Additional resources and options are especially important for those the program is unable to assist.
Thomas made it clear not everyone who requests aid will receive help. In addition, those who miss their appointment will be placed on a waiting list. Sometimes people on this list must wait months before another slot opens.
Often NIN clients explain they have never sought financial assistance before. Thomas believes most are grateful for the help. They are looking for a hand up, not necessarily a handout.
“We can look at the parameters of what the person’s situation is versus dealing with income guidelines,” Thomas said. “We help people who had a job and for whatever reason it [the job] has unexpectedly gone away.”
Utility payments seem to cause a majority of the clients the most problems. This is especially evident in the winter.
“Sometimes utilities in the winter are dramatically expensive. That is when we get hit very hard,” Thomas said. “People have enough to pay some of it, but when it is above their budget, then that is when they come to us for help with the other part of their bill.”
Additional empowerment opportunities provided through the program include: mental health counseling; credit counseling/debt reduction; averting bankruptcy; job readiness classes; job training; GED preparation, parking skills classes and substance abuse training, among others.