October 29, 2020
“I truly believe that programs like these provide hope, opportunity, and a sense of empowerment for people who would otherwise be stuck in a cycle of survival.” – Sophie M.
Through our 100+ programs, the RPC touches lives in positive ways throughout East Central Illinois. One client, Sophie M. of Savoy, recently completed her two-year experience with us through the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) program. This rental subsidy helps individual households afford housing costs such as rent and security deposits. Thanks to the program, Sophie was able to save up enough money for a big deposit at a nice apartment complex and decided to further her education by pursuing a Master’s in Social Work.
We talked to Sophie about her experience with the RPC and her hopes for the future. “I have no idea how I would have gotten on my feet if it wasn’t for this program,” she says. At the RPC, we are committed to “People. Possibilities.” Sophie is a shining example of that.
Q: What originally brought you to the RPC and the tenant-based rental assistance program? How did you hear about us?
A: “I have a daughter who recently turned three-years-old. I used to live in southern Illinois with her dad, but he had a severe heroin and meth addiction. I had to leave him for my daughter’s safety when she was only six months old and come back to Champaign, where I was raised. I originally moved in with my mom and I started looking for quality daycare.
“I finally found a great daycare to enroll my daughter in so that I could start working. I didn’t know this at the time, but the daycare was a home Head Start program (run by Deloris Lee) and she asked me if I would like to sign up for Head Start. I agreed and got connected with my Family Advocate, Jacki Buckingham, who introduced me to TBRA, which I had previously never heard of. The application asked for some background information, so I told them my story, as well as my plan to graduate by the end of the program. According to Jacki, mine was the first application that was accepted, and it felt like the first step to finally getting my life back and becoming a strong and independent role model for my daughter.”
Q: What has the program allowed you to do with your life?
A: “Since I have been in this program, it has allowed me to work one job instead of multiple ones, to spend consistent quality time with my daughter, and to continue in school. It also allowed me to save enough money to make a large deposit on an apartment in Savoy. My rent will be low enough that I can sustain it on my own without future assistance, and it is a great neighborhood with tons of children for my daughter to play with. I could not be happier about this move and I certainly would never have been able to afford the deposit without this program.”
Q: What was it like working with your Case Manager (Sara Wilham)?
A: “Sara was great throughout the whole experience. I believe I was one of her first clients when I started the program two years ago. She always showed up to the meetings with the landlord, was very responsive to any questions or concerns I had, and is overall a kind, helpful, and wonderful person. It has been a pleasure to work with her, and I appreciate all the help she has given me.”
Q: What do you think would have happened to you had a program like this not been available?
A: “I’m honestly not sure where I would be if this program did not exist. I know that I couldn’t have afforded the full cost of the rent. My options would probably have been to work multiple jobs, probably drop out of school, and to try to find different people to live with along the way. If I had to drop out of school, I may have been stuck in a cycle of working low-paying jobs and it would have been extremely difficult to get ahead. This program has made it so that my daughter has a present mother, a consistent place to live, and she has never known what it means to go to bed hungry or to not have clothes to wear. I cannot thank you enough for that.”
Q: You are now pursuing a Master’s in Social Work. Was that decision inspired at all by your experience with the RPC and your interactions with our staff?
A: “I always knew I wanted to get my Bachelor of Social Work. I have been working on it slowly but steadily since before my daughter was born. I have only been able to take two classes at a time since I also have to work, do my field practicum, and raise my daughter 100% by myself. I have always been determined to make it happen. I actually have one semester left, and then I graduate with my BSW.
“My experience with the RPC has definitely changed the trajectory of what I want to do. I have experience with many different services besides TBRA. My daughter is still in the Head Start program, now with Juanita Rogers, and it has been a great experience for both of us. I am also doing my field practicum at Head Start. It has made me more interested in case management and finding and connecting clients to different resources in the community, as well as opening up new resources and opportunities to fulfill unmet needs. I know that without all the resources and assistance I received back when I had nothing, it would have been extremely difficult for me to be where I am today.
“Without this program, it would have been very difficult for me to make it through my BSW, so I’m not sure if I would have felt that I could or should even pursue my MSW. I am very honored to have received the assistance that I have, and it makes me want to give back to the community and to help other families and individuals in the same way that I have been helped.”
Q: How important are programs like this to people in the community who may be experiencing tough times?
A: “Safe, affordable housing is one of the biggest barriers for people trying to pull themselves out of hard times. Especially for people who lack the education, skills, or experience to obtain a higher paying job. Programs like these give people the step up that they need to be able to further their education, to be able to spend time with their children, and to be able to seek better opportunities without the constant stress of how they are going to feed and clothe their families.
“Quite often, people who receive public assistance get a bad reputation and those in the community wonder if the programs really help or if they just perpetuate a culture of poverty and dependence. I truly believe that programs like these do the opposite. They provide hope, opportunity, and a sense of empowerment for people who would otherwise be stuck in a cycle of survival.”
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about your experience over these past couple of years and your dealings with the RPC?
A: “I want to offer a sincere thank-you. I appreciate everyone who gave me this opportunity more than I can express, and I thank the RPC for giving me a chance and accepting my application. It has changed so much for me and given me so many opportunities. Someday I hope to do the same for someone else.”