The nonprofit organization located at the Blythe Family Support Center, has more than a dedicated staff of workers who love their job and the people they serve. They have the results to prove their community outreach programs and services are working in an under-resourced area full of potential and productivity.
When the agency started in November 2009, there were only 10 families participating. Today, there are more than 1,000 individuals participating and hundreds of grateful families. Last year saw record results for the local agency. Of the 129 who signed up for the jobs program, 95 have already found jobs. Those remaining are still in the program working to achieve their goal.
“We had 31 people to complete the introduction to Microsoft Word class,” said Terry Johns, director of The Refuge. “We had 22 to complete the basic computer literacy class. We had 28 people to complete our couponing class, which teaches how to use coupons and shop wisely. We had 63 to be certified with The American Heart Association in CPR AED (Automated External Defibrilator) and infant CPR, 21 to complete our money and banking class and 52 who completed resume writing.”
In addition to its computer training, The Refuge life skill and educational services as well as its job search, financial literacy, parenting skills and resume writing assistance. The Refuge has partnered with Legal Aid of East Tennessee for those who need access to pro bono legal services. According to Johns, more programs and events are already in the works.
The Refuge is looking into adding tax return services pro bono and a health care information seminar where people can learn about the Affordable Care Act and sign up on site,” he said. “That’s not settled yet, but we’re in negotiations about that. Basically, what we’re trying to do is help low income families find a way to a better life through their own means. We just help them find it. Anything that someone walks through that door with — if we don’t do it directly, we connect them with someone who does.”
In fact, The Refuge will hold a Job Fair at Bradley Square Mall on April 22, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for anyone interested in a new career.
Keeping with its theme, “Set HOPE free,” the agency has launched two new literacy programs through Access 180. One is a tutoring service designed to assist individuals preparing for the GED exam. The other is Reading Connection for Adults, a basic reading program for adults who desire to learn how to read or improve their reading skills.
A newly projected Arts and Music Program for children K-8th grade will also be implemented in the summer of 2014. The program will be designed to bring out the hidden talents of youths through painting, scultpting, drawing and music. Several great local artists are already on board and willing to volunteer their services.
When asked what he enjoys most about working at The Refuge, Johns was quick to say, “meeting the people. People don’t realize how many good people we have in this community. Just because their income is low does not mean they’re not good people. We’ve made a lot of friends in this community and it’s been a great deal of joy getting to know them.”
Johns’ daughter, Kelli Kyle, the director of community involvement and coordinator with other agencies, added, “It’s neat to come to a place that you want to come to because you enjoy the job so much. I love the relationships with the families that we build, the stories that we hear, their successes and going through that with them. I enjoy that — going through their walk with them and seeing them succeed. It’s awesome to be a part of their lives.”
According to Johns, it was in 2009 when staff members started visiting families in East Cleveland project government housing to ascertain their needs and determine how to meet them.
“As we met people and found out their needs and things that weren’t being addressed or them not knowing how to address what’s going on in Cleveland as far as other agencies, we kept increasing our involvement,” Johns explained. “We wanted to target low income families and try to find a way for them to move out of dependancy so they can sustain themselves through their own means, especially through work. We didn’t assume we knew what the community needed. So we built relationships. We listened carefully to what people were telling us.
“We found that part of the problem to finding jobs was a lack of skills. So we started adding our literacy classes. Each piece of our literacy class schedule is directly related to our jobs program. For example, some people couldn’t get a job because they couldn’t work a keyboard. So we started a keyboarding class. It’s an online site where people learn to type. It also guides them, recording their progress and speed. At the end of the class they receive a certificate of completion. They move from that into basic computers, Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and we’re adding an introduction to Microsoft Excel class for people that might work in an office.”
The widely respected 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency has partnered with organizations like United Way of Bradley County, Habitat for Humanity of Bradley County, Salvation Army-Cleveland Corps, SkyRidge Medical Center and many others. According to its mission statement, The Refuge offers access to resources, information and opportunity so that those who find themselves in difficult economic and social situations may move from need to sustainability.
By helping others help themselves through holistic programs and services that address social, economic, physical and spiritual concerns, The Refuge, located at 1075 Blythe Ave. S.E. Suite 8 in Cleveland, has located itself in the primary area of Cleveland where they can do the most good and set hope free.
For further information, visit http://www.therefugecommunity.org or call 423-584-5211.
“We didn’t assume we knew what the community needed. So we built relationships. We listened carefully to what people were telling us.” — Terry Johns