Good Neighbors Fund: A network of social service agencies in the Roanoke area to stimulate families | Local news

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roanoke Area Ministries Emergency Financial Assistance Program, which is supported by the Roanoke Times Good Neighbors Fund, has been accepting requests for assistance with the Roanoke Times. rent, ordinances and utilities only online. This has sometimes been a problem for those who have difficulty using the Internet.

But for parents of children enrolled in Total Action for Progress’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, the transition has been easy. Darlene Bannister, Family Development Specialist at TAP, has been helping Head Start families seek help for many years.

The difference now, she said, is that instead of accompanying her clients to RAM, she helps with the application and supporting documents at her office, and then personally delivers them to RAM.

“A lot of our families don’t have access to a computer,” she explained.

Bannister said she directs her clients to RAM because aid is given on the basis of need rather than strict income criteria. So if a family who wouldn’t qualify for regular social service programs needs help, they can get it.

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RAM also typically has funds later in the year than most charities, but Bannister said, “Sometimes RAM also runs out of money.” When this happens, the charity must find grants elsewhere. Even then, she said, “They don’t cover the entire rent. “

Bannister has heard that some people believe eviction suspensions during the pandemic mean they don’t have to pay their rent. “But I haven’t seen this with our families,” she said.

Head Start also offers access to pantries, money management training, classes for pregnant women, and lead reduction grants for older homes.

“We are not giving them a helping hand, we are giving them a helping hand,” she said.

Bannister said TAP Head Start programs are free for families who meet federal poverty guidelines. Most of her clients are working, she said, although they are among the working poor and otherwise cannot afford to babysit their children.

At the moment, she said, there are openings in TAP’s 3- and 4-year-olds, despite the fact that in the United States there is an ongoing crisis in child care. with child care centers choosing to stay at home rather than risk exposure to the coronavirus, and some parents do not want their children to be cared for in a group setting.

“Everyone is being pushed to the limit right now,” Bannister admitted.

Because children are now regularly tested for COVID-19, Bannister said, more and more cases of respiratory syncytial virus are being discovered as well. It’s not a new infection, she said, and is often referred to as a mild cold. But it can be very serious for the very old and the very young, and children often bring it home after daycare.

Recently, she said, she helped three generations of a local family find enough money to secure a three-bedroom house. The mother “made quite a bit of money,” Bannister said, but was also responsible for taking care of her parents and children.

After the whole family fell with COVID-19, she said “she couldn’t work for months”.

Part of the help they received came from the Good Neighbors Fund.

The additional federal money has made life easier for many families, she said. This year, for the first time in her 37 years with Head Start, almost all fathers are getting involved with their families.

“I’m so proud of them,” she said. “There’s more of it than we’ve had in a long, long time.”

Bannister attributes this new turn of events to fatherhood education programs and the support and mentorship from local churches. It also doesn’t hurt that in recent years the rules have changed the programs governing programs that offered more benefits to mothers if fathers weren’t around, and some of them include new COVID relief programs.

Bannister is a big supporter of Head Start. In fact, her own children participated in the program over 40 years ago. When she was 20, she said, she was a single mother and a victim of domestic violence. Like the families she works with today, she turned to TAP and the Head Start program.

“My kids could have been a statistic,” she said. “Now they are doing very well. “

Bannister said she was grateful for the role RAM is playing in allowing TAP to continue helping local families. “There aren’t a lot of other places they can go,” she said.

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