Updated: Apr 1, 2021
During our last LLM staff ‘community’ meeting (and exciting first in-person meeting since last March) our CEO, Jan, asked us an interesting question for us to consider. “Last year was a tough year, what are the good things that have come out of the difficulties?” As we reflected back, we surprised ourselves by filling the white board full of answers.
Here are 10 of them:
1. Banding Together to Support Others
It turns out that operating a housing program for low-income families in the midst of a pandemic changes everything. 100% of our residents lost their job within 60 days of March, 2020. Suddenly, life skills that they had long mastered, like providing food, utilities and child care were difficult to maneuver. Lower Lights housing programs waived all fees and housing costs including utilities and provided medical and transportation support. We were housing 34 people when the pandemic hit, and we all banded together to ride out the storm.
Residents worked alongside staff to hand out emergency supplies to others, encouraging them with a laugh or a socially distant fist-bump. They found creative ways to support each other and to keep their family stable. They found new jobs, or returned to old ones and kept looking forward to accomplishing their goals and dreams.
2. Opportunity to Give More Support to Families
Mid-March Bright Lights Kids program was forced to shut down temporarily due to COVID-19. This gave staff the opportunity to make weekly deliveries with educational items (tablets, books, workbooks, school supplies), games, lego kits as well as lists of community resources, gift cards, and cleaning supplies for the families. These visits made it clear that our families and students appreciated the continued support and engagement throughout the lockdown period.
3. Volunteers Cooked and Served Hundreds of Meals to our Neighborhood
Every Saturday partners from all over the central OH area brought meals in to-go boxes to serve to our friends and neighbors. More than 2,140 meals were distributed all throughout the pandemic.
4. Women in Recovery Grew as Leaders
With limited access to outside partners and providers, Lower Lights Recovery temporarily provided nearly all programming in-house. Participants farther along in the program assisted with co-leading groups, organizing group meetings, and leading meditations.
Although this was difficult for Recovery staff to maneuver at first, these opportunities allowed the women to serve as leaders and helped provide participants with a sense of purpose in their sobriety.
5. New Opportunities to Serve Ex-offenders After Life-Sentences
This year at Rachel’s House was a year full of growth and transition. Unfortunately, we were unable to hold our weekly in-person bible studies at Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) due to COVID-19 restrictions. Typically these gatherings are the way we connect with new program participants. Instead, we started communicating with potential residents through case managers at ORW. Despite these disruptions in our traditional referral process, we were still able to house and serve 13 women and made meaningful connections with ORW staff. One of these new connections included a partnership with the ORW program that serves “lifers” (a woman sentenced to life in prison with the option of parole). We are now receiving more of these referrals and are trusted to help women navigate the challenges of life after a long prison sentence. Those challenges include things like finding employment after decades of not working and reconnecting with estranged children and family members.
6. Sharing ‘How you can help’ Through the Relationship Effect Documentary
LLM shared a behind-the-scenes documentary titled “The Relationship Effect” which explored the question “How can we help?” It was an encouragement for us all to redefine our relationships from passive connections into those that transform lives.
7. More Learning Support Opportunities for our Kids
Because our kids had been in virtual school since March, we used this as an opportunity to offer them more learning support to help prepare them for the upcoming academic year. So after we finished Summer Day Camp 2020, we rolled into five weeks of Academic Readiness Camp (ARC). We had weekly themes where we worked on fun reading, writing, and math activities.
BLK team also began planning to provide daily educational support to our neighborhood friends based on the likelihood that schools would remain virtual at the start of the school year. We collaborated with Westside church partners and then Columbus City Schools to become a Learning Extension Center where we provided internet, meals and caring adults in a safe environment.
8. Volunteers Work Together to Renovate a House for a Family in Recovery
We had been able to purchase a new home for families in our Family Housing program. The house needed some real work and we had big plans for a volunteer-led renovation in the spring. March came and suddenly the city went into quarantine, volunteers weren’t able to come, supplies weren’t available and staff worked from home.
Several Columbus corporations heard Lower Lights was trying to get this home fixed up in the midst of the pandemic and they reached out to help. We saw the result of hard work put in by many to make this house a home. They shored up weakened beams and walls, bought and installed all new windows, hung new drywall, and installed all new flooring, painted walls, and more. The renovation project became a home for a family in recovery and their new baby.
9. Amazing Generosity from our Lower Lights Donor Family
LLM was blown away by the support received from our extended donor-family. We are so thankful for the gifts of time, efforts, prayers, and finances! Inspired by the difficulties we all were facing we received radical gifts of stimulus checks and donations from personal fundraisers. We also received hundreds of hygiene kits which the ladies in our Recovery program handed out to people on the streets during winter.
10. Trials Inspire Vision for New Opportunities
Seeing the difficulties for pregnant women in recovery to receive addiction treatment, 4 Lower Lights Family Housing units have been designated “Mom and Me” units, specifically equipped for women recovering from substance use disorders and their brand new infant. The women will begin in the Lower Lights Recovery program and then upon delivery, mom and infant will move into a private home, complete with a new nursery, parenting support, continued recovery programming, and holistic supportive services. Additionally, seeing the continuing difficulties of work opportunities in 2020 for low-income families, Lower Lights established a Transitional Employment Program, hiring housing residents to work at the organization, learn a specific skill, earn competitive wages, and establish a work history and solid reference.
As we reflected back on last year, most surprisingly we realized the organization had not only survived but in many ways, had thrived. We grew, we adapted, we worked together, we learned to appreciate a lot of things we had taken for granted. We are stronger because of it, we may not have always succeeded at staying hopeful or considering our troubles an opportunity for great joy, but we know that when our faith is tested, our endurance has a chance to grow.
As April of 2021 approaches, we are looking forward to the future and are celebrating the positive changes we have all seen. Our mission remains unchanged, however: to create a safe environment where we see hope-filled, restored lives empowered to change the world and the world of others.