MENASHA — When the late Capuchin Fr. Robert Udulutsch saw vulnerable residents of the Fox Valley struggling to meet their basic needs, he founded LEAVEN (Limited Emergency Assistance Valley Ecumenical Network) in 1987.
LEAVEN offered a centralized screening and funding process, both to prevent people from falling through the cracks and to eliminate the duplication and abuse of services. From the vision of Fr. Udulutsch, who died in July, LEAVEN has grown into a campus on Menasha’s north side, where the Fox Cities United Way, St. Joseph Food Pantry and the Community Clothes Closet also operate.
On Oct. 10, LEAVEN held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its remodeled Community Resource Center, which opened in September.
The Community Resource Center provides “one-stop shopping” for people who come to LEAVEN, said the program’s executive director, Mary Parsons.
In 2017, LEAVEN addressed the financial requests of 6,302 households (16,459 people), processed 10,806 requests for assistance and distributed $818,568 in direct client assistance. More than 15,000 volunteer hours were logged in 2017.
The building is a new model for helping those in need of financial assistance, she said. LEAVEN created the resource center after extensive study in how to better serve households in Outagamie, Calumet and northern Winnebago counties in the coming years. The building, which doubled the size of the original structure, was completed thanks to a $1 million capital campaign that paid for construction and an endowment fund for future maintenance.
The new center has space for 20 or more full- or part-time partners, who provide the services and resources LEAVEN’s clients use. Currently, offices there include: FISC (a financial coaching group), Energy Services, Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, St. Vincent de Paul Appleton, Catholic Charities, Fox Valley Technical College, Partnership Community Health Center, Feeding America, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Riverview Gardens, Fox Valley Veterans Council, Kimberly-Clark’s pro bono legal clinic, NAMI Fox Valley and Forward Services Corporation.
Parsons said many of the people who come to LEAVEN are referred to other agencies which can be daunting for them. This “one-stop service model” allows LEAVEN volunteers to walk clients down the hall and introduce them to others who can provide more help, she said, adding that LEAVEN is looking to add a Spanish-speaking resource person full-time to help people get past the language barrier.
“Our goal is to help everyone in the community,” she said. She would also like to add a part-time peer support specialist in mental health.
The building also has a community meeting room that seats 48 people. It is available to nonprofit, civic, community and social groups, and has been used for workshops and training sessions. This community outreach “exposes people to what LEAVEN offers,” she said, and another way to get their message out.
Though LEAVEN has its roots with the Catholic community, it has been ecumenical from the start, with clergy, volunteers and board members from various faith traditions.
Since 1987, LEAVEN has addressed the financial requests of more than 125,000 households, providing more than $13 million in direct client assistance and countless referrals to help with basic necessities such as housing, utilities, transportation, health insurance, food and diapers.
Providing emergency financial assistance is a necessary starting point, said Parsons, but it is not enough.
“Financial assistance needs to be combined with other social services and programs to help forge a path to self-sufficiency,” she said. “While our community has an expansive network of services, we know that households experiencing a financial crisis are focused on addressing their immediate needs and less concerned about preventing future crises.”
Parsons said the one-stop resource model was piloted in 2016-2017 by offering space to select community partners. “Immediately, we saw the value of being able to walk someone down the hall to connect with services, changing the process from referral to a ‘warm hand-off,’” she said. “We had great success in connecting people with education, addressing legal issues, engaging in financial counseling and enrolling in public benefits.”
With the expanded facility, “LEAVEN will continue to serve as the ‘emergency room,’ diagnosing the problem and stabilizing the household,” added Parsons.
“This expansion is much more than a bricks-and-mortar investment. It’s the community’s collective investment to help improve the lives of people in need,” she said.