Neibert Richards, Senior Director of Housing, spent most of her first 20+ years with Episcopal Community Services (ECS) in child welfare programs. “Working with foster children and young adults was part of my life for a long time,” she explains.
Then in 2017, she made a leap of faith into a whole new system of care with the same dedication that marked her earlier career work.
Since spearheading the Rapid Re-Housing program, Neibert was never content with just meeting the numbers required by the government contract for placing families into stable homes. She and her team have always sought to go that extra mile and add “an ECS-ness” to their work.
One of these value-added elements to the Rapid Re-Housing program is what staff refer to as the “basket project.” Imagine walking through the door of your first real home. You’re standing there with a set of keys, and nothing else. You realize that you have no mattresses, no pots, no dish detergent, no shower curtain. Nothing. This is the typical experience for most of the families placed by ECS. While the government contract pays to locate landlords and subsidize rentals generally for up to a year, it does not provide assistance for essential household items.
With pluck and frugality, Neibert and her team scrape together small amounts of funds then scour the local Dollar Stores, Walmarts and Targets to assemble a Welcome Basket of needed household items for each family they place. They solicit domestic goods businesses like Bed Bath and Beyond to donate items they are unable to sell. Neibert often shops for items in Delaware where there’s no sales tax to stretch Basket dollars even further.
“We always try to add something to the baskets that provides a little warmth to the home,” noted Neibert. A picture frame, a small ‘Home is Where the Heart Is’ plaque, a decorative hook to hang their house keys. Something a little special. Some “ECS-ness”.
While the government contract does not require regular home visits for placed families, Neibert notes that ECS takes a more “hands-on“ approach and will visit families as often as necessary to ensure a successful settling in. “Many of these families have never had to maintain a home before. So we often teach them basic home management skills during these visits,” she explains. “Things like how to maintain hygiene in the home by not leaving food out and promptly washing dishes, or making sure you put your trash cans out on the designated days and bring them back from the curb when they’re empty.” Coming from a shelter environment, these ordinary tasks are likely foreign to many program participants.
Whether it’s baskets or home visits or home management tips, Neibert’s message to participants is clear: “ECS cares about you and your success. We want you to see beyond what your life has been so far and to strive for more in the future. We want you to set goals and we will be your coach, cheering you along.”
To learn more about ECS’s Rapid ReHousing Program, click here.