GETTING THE WORD OUT: SEVEN VALUABLE SERVICES AT THE FERGUSON COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT CENTER
Jason Acklin, Executive Director of the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center and Veronica Edwards, Program Manager
The Ferguson Community Empowerment Center is a signature part of The Salvation Army’s Midland Division, a one-of-its-kind community-builder built on the ashes of a fiery protest that shook Ferguson’s core in 2014. The many services it offers are open to the public in need, starting with the FCEC’s cherished, cornerstone educational and social program for third and fourth graders, Spark Academy.
“Our job is to empower them,” Veronica Edwards, program manager at the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center and creator of the Spark Academy, said, of the FCEC’s clients of all ages. “They should be able to come here and have some sense of empowerment, to go out the door and make a difference.”
Spark sprawls over an expansive, open-floor plan as a playground for the young imagination. A library has several bookcases of books with characters of people in color, speaking directly to the Ferguson’s community of children of color. A bright (and cushy) furniture set (provided by partner Ikea) and games offer social time, while tables and a teaching area create a learning space that touches on scriptural verse lessons.
FCEC services, some of which are below, are available for clients of the location, which is at 9420 W. Florissant Blvd., in Ferguson, in the interest of community improvement.
“We’re not here for a season,” Jason Acklin, executive director of the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, said. “This is not something that we’re here for a temporary fix. We want to make sure we’re here for the long term and look to the future to empower our families.”
Emergency intervention services.
When people come off the streets after a phone call, they are often in dire straits and in need help with immediate solutions for complicated problems. “They are in distress,” Edwards said. “We had one lady come in one time who had talked on the phone with one of our community workers and was like, ‘I’m tired, I just want to give up.’ They said, ‘If you can get to the center, we can do our best to help you.’ She got here. We prayed with her and talked to her. She was able to get into school, get a job and keep her son.”
Financial ABCs education and help in debt repayment.
Up to $300 of bills, such as utilities, can be matched, and there is financial literacy education about keeping a checkbook and tracking expenses. “It’s about being able to open a checking account, how to work on your credit,” Edwards said. “How not to get caught up in those payday loans.” In addition, federal funds as part of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program can assist with living expenses.
Job assistance and networking events.
When connected with case workers, clients at the FCEC are tied into access to events promoting employment. This is part of the FCEC’s Pathway of Hope program, which has long-term services to getting someone back on his/her feet. “If that’s something they need in their assessment, their job manager will keep them posted on job fairs,” Edwards said. “Another great thing about this building is when [fellow occupant] The Urban League has certain functions, we partner with them, or if we have something that’s going on, [we] let them know.”
Pathway of Hope to break generational poverty.
With its hands-on support for people looking for a better life, often with setting goals, Pathway of Hope is one Acklin’s most treasured programs of the FCEC. Beyond helping the individual, the FCEC has loftier goals of helping for generations to come. “In general, I think it’s a pathway program to really get people out of the hole of generational poverty,” Acklin said. “It’s to give people a goal so that they can change their status situation or life situation. One of the things I like about Pathway of Hope is that it gives opportunities to take ownership and make that significant change for their families and themselves.”
Healthcare payment assistance.
In recent years, help has been given to people who do not have access to medical care and can not afford the extreme out-of-pocket expenses, under the Pathway to Health program. After three years in existence, the program is seeking future funding. “A lot of time you have clients in the community who go to the ER because they don’t have primary care doctors for a headache, toothache, or whatever it is,” Edwards said. “They accumulate all these extremely large bills. To help them, we would have community workers come out to their homes, assist them.”
For people with diabetes, finding the ways to manage the condition can be overwhelming and confusing without guidance in setting up a program. Access to the information empowers individuals to handle the serious condition, sometimes rivaling what is offered in a doctor’s office. “We gave one woman education on diabetes, how to maintain it, healthy living and diet,” Acklin said. “She went to a class that we provided for her. Later, her doctor recommended she speak with a nurse practitioner about diabetes, but she told she learned more diabetes and healthy eating from us than the nurse practitioner. She used that knowledge to better herself, maintain her diabetes and live right.”
Quick problem-solving under pressure.
People’s situations, which run the gamut of severity of conditions, can show up at the front door, on their own schedules. With its care for others and ability to reach out to organizations for help, the Ferguson Salvation Army corps must think quickly to reach a solution – the best one, often, on the fly. “Recently we had a family that came up and just had their home flooded. He had a family with six children and didn’t have anywhere to go,” Edwards said. “Eventually, the client was able to get a voucher to go to a hotel. You get situations where it’s not really the best solution, but it’s some sort of solution to get them the help they need. It’s a process.”