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2010 Top-Rated Nonprofit

Mercy Communities Inc

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Homeless & Housing, Homeless Centers, Homeless Shelters

Mission: The mission of M.E.R.C.Y. (Mentors, Empowerment and Resources for Change in Young families) Communities is to provide housing and supportive services to foster the independence of homeless and at-risk families.

Results: Over the past ten years we have served 138 families.  Four mothers have gone on to home ownership. In 2009, 96 percent of transitional families moved into permanent housing upon completion of the program. In 2009, 93 percent of permanent supportive families maintained their housing for one year or longer.

Target demographics: Homeless or at-risk parents with children between the ages of 0-18.

Direct beneficiaries per year: In 2009, we provided services to 30 mothers and their 52 children.

Geographic areas served: Sangamon County

Programs: The transitional housing program utilizes existing community services along with twenty-four hour onsite staffing, weekly case management, life skills training, job training, counseling, children's services and daily reinforcement by mentors and support staff. A family can participate in the transitional program for up to two years. An additional five years of aftercare program services are offered with the goal to sustain the gains made during the transitional phase. Currently, the transitional housing program can house ten families (up to 40 individuals). A new partnership program with a local church is providing support for an additional family. In 2005, services were expanded to include a permanent supportive housing program which offers decent, safe and affordable housing and a professional support system to help disabled families live healthy, interdependent lives, realizing their potential in homes of their own. Families can remain in this program as long as needed.

Community Stories

14 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Board Member

Rating: 5

I recently joined the Clinical Advisory Board and attended my first meeting earlier this month. I was immediately impressed with the the way the director and the counselors and social workers there combined a deep sense of caring with a high degree of professionalism. The MERCY employees and director know the landscape of available services, know the population they serve and know how to collaborate with other professionals to bring about the best results possible. It was truly inspiring to take part in this results-oriented meeting.

Donor

Rating: 5

I was introduced to Mercy a couple of years ago and quickly saw how important their work was. There are several local agencies helping provide the homeless with shelter, but Mercy goes beyond that. Not only do they provide shelter, they also provide the counseling and structure and support these moms need to become self-sufficient. Mercy will help moms: get off drugs, go back to school, find a job, get transportation to/from the job, budget for life outside of Mercy, find an apartment, furnish the apartment, etc. How many not-for-profits are this wholistic? This is not a temporary fix. It's life-changing for the moms willing to put in the effort.

1

Board Member

Rating: 5

I tell my friends that MERCY is the perfect charitable agency. It would be compassionate and useful enough if we just took in homeless women and their children, and gave them a place to stay. But that would just change their environment. We want to change their lives. We provide a nice place to stay but, in return, we demand that our moms go through parenting classes and life skills classes and drug/alcohol/mental health counseling, GED classes, job training ... - whatever is necessary to turn their chaotic lives into structured, productive ones. We have been phenomenally successful in ending the cycle of homelessness and failure for our moms and, especially, for their kids. We have a solid board and a great, caring staff. It is the most time-consuming, emotion-wringing work I've ever loved doing.

10

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I recently worked with MERCY Communities, Inc. on a community service project as part of a leadership development program in the City of Springfield. I was impressed with the passion and hardwork the staff members I worked with had to the organization's mission and service in the community. Our group was proud to work with MERCY Communities, Inc. Keep up the Great Work!!

10

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

I have had the opportunity to co-lead a psychoeducational therapeutic group for clients of MERCY Communities for the last four years. This group has introduced a variety of mental health topics to the residents of MERCY Communities residential programs. The topics have included the exploration of healthy relationships, sexuality, boundaries, addictive behavior, goal setting, self-care, self-esteem, parenting, domestic violence, depression and other affective disorders. In addition to providing important information to the clients, these groups have also offered an opportunity for the women to examine their own life situations, share their experiences, and receive support and feedback for their behavior and decision making. The mental health component of the MERCY Communities program is an important addition in providing the kinds of services the clients need as they anticipate becoming self-sufficient by providing stable housing for themselves and their children. I am happy to support the programs provided to the Springfield are by the MERCY Communities Inc, programs. Mary L. Ossowski, LCSW

10

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been on the M.E.R.C.Y.'s Advisory Committee for approximately five years. I also have volunteered my services as a psychotherapist providing counseling to some of these women and children. During this time, I have watched this nonprofit organization that was set up to serve women grow exponentially in meeting the needs of women. It not only as expanded in terms of the numbers of women that it serves but has deepened its service to connect with these women holistically. It has been a joy to be a part of this excellent team of professionals providing a valuable service to our community. Carley Mattimore, MS, LCPC

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My team and I worked closely with MERCY to help them potentially transform a space into a children's learning center. MERCY helps women and children daily and their commitment to these families is unique in our community. The space that we helped design would enhance children's experiences during their stay with MERCY. The organization is run smoothly and provides a truly sincere benefit to women and children.

7

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been aquainted with M.E.R.C.Y. Communities for about 10 years; first as an employee and now as a community supporter. I have had the pleasure of seeing first hand the amazing opportunities that M.E.R.C.Y. can offer the young families that choose to participate in the program. M.E.R.C.Y. Communities provides support in all aspects of the participant's life. Through self-esteem, money management, parenting, and various other life skills classes, participants are able to embrace who they are and focus on areas of their life that they want to improve. While the participants work toward self-sufficiency, their children benefit from the safety and comfort of a stable positive environment in which to live and grow. Since I have been acquainted with M.E.R.C.Y. Communities I have seen many successes. I have seen participants come into the program homeless and leave as homeowners. I have seen participants come into the program with little to no self-esteem and leave with the confidence that they can make it on their own. I have also seen participants with very few skills leave the program with full-time employment. M.E.R.C.Y. Communities is truly an organization that has helped to empower many young mothers to become self-sufficient and promote positive change in their lives.

9

Former staff

Rating: 5

My name is Sr. Margaret Mary Byrnes O.P. or Sister Maggie as the moms and children called me. In March 2000 I received a call to tell me about M.E.R.C.Y. Communities. Then I was asked if I would be interested in working there. I decided to find out more about M.E.R.C.Y. and the job there. Finding out what the initials stood for (Mentors,Empowerment,and Resources for Change in Young Faimilies) was one of the big selling points for me. It was the word empowerment that attracted me. I had heard the saying, "Give a person a fish and it will last for a day. Teach a person how to fish and it will last a lifetime." I knew that I wanted to be part of a program that empowered women with children to be self-sufficient. I also learned that since the Transitional Living part of the program had started by accepting its initial client in December 1999,it was growing The Service Director needed an assistant. I knew that I wanted to be that assistant and started working as her assistant in August 2000. One part of my job was to do the initial interview with a woman who wanted to come and stay in an apartment at M.E.R.C.Y. I explained to the woman that at M.E.R.C.Y. she would re ceive help so that she could set her goals to one day become self-sufficient. She would receive individual help since each person is unique. One woman that I interviewed said that she had food stamps but after 3 weeks she ran out of stamps and she had very little to feed her 3 children until the next month when she got more. I told her about a food pantry that she could get food from once a month. When she came to M.E.R.C.Y.,I helped her figure out how she could have those food stamps last a month. Also I told her that there would be regular classes (such as parenting) that we offered at M.E.R.C.Y. to help her reach her goals. One 6 week class that I taught was on self-esteem. During that class I found out that many of the moms lacked good self-esteem and therefore didn't really believe that they were capable of reaching their goals. Helping them work toward obtaining a good self-esteem gave them the motivation to reach their goals. Some comments that were made were: I gave up obtaining my G.E.D. years ago. I realize now that I can't change or blame my past for my failures now but I can change the effect they have on me now. I am a worthwhile person. I can learn to love and accept the person that I am. It's been a joy to know that women have completed their goals and are succeeding at living on their own.

1

Donor

Rating: 5

I first got involved with MERCY about four year ago when the executive director, Mary Stone, asked me to serve on a volunteer committee. At first, I didn't know much about the organization other than that they worked with women and their children, but the more I learned about MERCY's model and their programs, the more inspiring it was. I took a training class that Mary taught for women who were interested in mentoring a mom in the program, and we read the book "Understanding the Causes of Poverty." Even though I already had a background in psychology and social work, it really helped me see things from a different perspective and understand the challenges that these moms were facing. I mentored a woman named Jodi, and although she left the program after about 6 months, it was still a very rewarding experience. MERCY is not for everyone, and these woman have to be willing to make significant changes in their lives to be successful in the program- it's not just a homeless shelter or a way to get free services for a period of time. Because of my experience mentoring through MERCY, my church ended up sponsoring a MERCY family and two women from the congregation are currently mentoring a mom in the program. While I am not involved in the mentoring aspect, I am the landlord so I am still able to be part of the church partnership in that way. One of the most exciting projects that I've been involved with through MERCY was the first ever "Homeless to Homeowner" partnership. In 2008, my husband and I purchased a house in a neighborhood where many of MERCY's families are located, and with the help of many volunteers, we rehabbed the house on behalf of a MERCY mom who wanted to become a homeowner. Through the various donations and volunteer labor, we were able to keep the house affordable for her while making sure she would have a nice place to live. Just last month she was able to become a homeowner, after originally being homeless when she first came to MERCY just five years ago. That's a remarkable journey, and I am so glad to have been able to play a small part in her life changing experience. I know that MERCY made those changes in her life possible by walking with her every step of the way and showing her what she was capable of achieving for herself and her children to have a better life.

9

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

Over the past two years in my role as the director of a university volunteer center, we have had extensive contact with MERCY Communities on various service projects. Our students have assisted with spring cleaning efforts, painted apartments so families can move in, donated items to the MERCY Furniture Store, provided child care services for families, and assisted with renovations of homes for MERCY clients to include porch repair and painting. MERCY Communities does an amazing job of assisting local women and children, providing real support at a critical time. We have met some of the clients MERCY serves while working on various service projects for the agency, and can truly state that the work they are doing is changing lives and making a difference. One particular client told our students she would not have been able to become employed and become a home owner if it had not been for MERCY.

1

Donor

Rating: 5

As a landlord who has rented to MERCY, I became a supporter and donor after seeing firsthand the way the organization works with its clients to support them. Professionals are with the clients on a daily basis, helping them to set goals and achieve them. The staff is both compassionate and strict with the clients, holding them accountable for their actions. As one who has worked in the field of low-income housing for 20 years, I believe that the kind of supportive services that MERCY provides is the key to success of a housing program.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Hello my name is Celeste Dean and I am a mother of 4 beautiful girls, MERCY Communities helped me in 2002. My experience at Mercy was exceptional, it helped me to become a better mother with the Life skills classes, as well as developing my self-esteem.And also in developing lifelong friendships with the mothers of the house. Mercy is a great place for mothers who are at-risk, or just need help with transitioning in their lives. Mercy is different from other organizations, because they are there for lifelong situations, they are there throught the ups and the downs, through smiles and tears. for example, when I go see Mary, she is ALWAYS there for me, to give advice, to keep encouraging me. I feel comfortable and confident with them, knowing Mercy has made a difference in my life and I can't thank them enough. Since Mercy I have maintained housing, accomplished my goal of finding my father and reconnecting with him, i have gone to school for Cna, and Currently graduated for Midwest Technical Institute, majoring in Massage Therapy, I am a business owner of Major Moves Massage Therapy, it was all in the efforts and support of Mercy. And I am thanking them by keeping up the good works and acheivments, and goals. and staying in touch with them in the aftercare program Thanks Mercy...Love ya

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My name is Joelle Knoles, I live in Springfield, IL, and would like to share my story about a wonderful local charitable organization called M.E.R.C.Y Communities. On Christmas Eve 2001, my 7 year old daughter, Bethany and I lost our home in a fire. At the time of the fire, I had no insurance, no job, and now we had no home. Needless to say I was terrified for our future, and wondering what we were going to do. We stayed with my mother, but seeing that she lives in a 3 bedroom mobile home, and my sister was also staying there, the quarters were pretty tight, and we found ourselves stepping on one another's toes. I knew that we had to get out and find our own place, but I didn't know how I was going to do this. I started working at Blue Cross Blue Shield in February 2002, so I at least had an income coming in, but I still did not have enough money for a security deposit. I was not making enough money to get a nice place, so I just felt kind of stuck. I was looking through the housing packet that I received from Red Cross, and I noticed a flier for a place called M.E.R.C.Y Communities. I started reading through the information, and was pleased to see that the rent was income based. In addition to affordable rent, I also saw that they offered some services that I could benefit greatly from including counseling, parenting skills development, and budget management to name a few. I called M.E.R.C.Y, and was pleased to find out that I could get in immediately for an interview. I was a nervous wreck when I went in, because if I could not get an apartment there, I was basically out of options. During my interview, it became apparent to the staff member that I had some physical issues that I needed to address, and was instructed to get in to see a doctor before I could be considered a candidate for residency. Thank you Sister Maggie for making me see the doctor. I was diagnosed with a hypo active thyroid, and severe depression, and was immediately put on medication for both conditions. About a week later, I received a call advising me that I was eligible for the program, and they had an apartment that my daughter and I could move in to immediately. When I saw the apartment that we would occupy, I broke down in tears because it was so beautifully furnished, and I did not have to worry about what I didn't have because of our loss, but I could focus on rebuilding our lives in a home that had all the essentials that we needed. I soon came to learn that living at M.E.R.C.Y came with a price, or so I thought at the time. I had to attend regular group and individual counseling sessions. I had to start paying my bills on time. I had to start keeping a clean home. I had to start participating in my daughter's life. I had to start being accountable and responsible for developing our future. I DID NOT LIKE THIS!!! I am ashamed to admit that I was a hard client to deal with. I was rebellious, I was insolent, I was self absorbed, and I was selfish. I tried to get my caseworker, Heather fired. I complained about her to whoever would listen. I would refuse to talk to her. In other words, I was throwing temper tantrums and pouting like a 3 year old. Luckily for Bethany and myself, Heather never gave up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself. Heather continued to embrace me with compassion, empathy, and understanding, and eventually I came to realize that if this woman who had heard me talk about abusing my daughter physically and verbally, who heard me tell of the times that Bethany was forced to fix her own dinner because I was sleeping. Heather, who had heard me tell about my anger and fears, if she still had faith in me, then maybe I was worth it. One day after having been at M.E.R.C.Y for a couple of months, I suddenly realized that I wasn't looking for the negative in everything and everyone. I noticed that I wasn't as angry. I noticed that I heard my daughter's laughter more, and I realized that I had a wonderful daughter to spend quality time with. I noticed that I wasn't screaming, yelling, and hitting my daughter like I had in the past. Suddenly I had a clean home and my bills were paid. What was happening to me? Was I actually growing up? Apparently I was. I know I was growing up because my now husband, Bryan proposed to me after I had been at M.E.R.C.Y for about 4 months. I don't think that this would have been possible if not for M.E.R.C.YI left M.E.R.C.Y after I had been there for about 14 months to finalize my wedding plans, and marry my wonderful husband. When I left M.E.R.C.Y, I thought that this was a chapter of my life that was closed, and would not be revisited. I received invitations to participate in after care meetings, but was too busy with my new life. I kind of shut that door in my life to focus on my new family and continuing to improve my relationship with Bethany. Two years after getting married, I got pregnant with my daughter, Alexis, so that kept me busy too. Now back to how M.E.R.C.Y continues to impact my life today. As I stated earlier, I started working for Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2002, and continue to work there today. Last year, I was offered an opportunity to assist in our United Way campaign, and worked closely with others to promote United Way during our campaign week. While working with these people, I kept thinking about M.E.R.C.Y, and how much their help and assistance saved my life and my relationship with Bethany, and I felt moved to share my story. I thought that if I could personalize the services that United Way supports, then maybe I could get one person to donate one extra dollar. I never would have dreamed that it would have the effect that it has had. Several co workers approached me after hearing my story and informed me that they had never given to the United Way in the past, but signed up for it because of my story. Apparently, my story moved one of the United Way representatives also, because she contacted Brian Ganz who now works at M.E.R.C.Y, and informed him of my story. Brian in turn contacted me and asked if I would be interested in speaking at M.E.R.C.Y Communities 10 year dinner celebration in November of last year which I was very excited and nervous to do, but I did it because I would not be the woman that I am today without all of the assistance and support that I received from M.E.R.C.Y. I continue to speak on behalf of M.E.R.C.Y, and I recently became the newest member on their board of directors. I have worked closely with senior management to encourage some fund raising opportunities for M.E.R.C.Y. The staff at M.E.R.C.Y treats me like I am now doing them a favor, but what they do not realize is that they are the ones doing me a favor. They have reinvigorated me, and I feel like I am finally giving back. I may not be able to repay them for the life that I have now, but I can help pay it forward. Thank you M.E.R.C.Y for helping me to become a woman that my daughters can be proud of. Thank you for helping me to hold my head high and realize that I mattered. Lastly, thank you for helping to make me the type of woman that I would be proud for my daughters to be.