What We Do on a Daily Basis The United Ministries office is open to serve clients Monday through Thursday, from 9:00-12:30. Volunteer counselors from area churches welcome families in crisis into the doors of our office. The following is an example of what a family might experience when they contact United Ministries.
If a family is experiencing a crisis and finds that they are in need of financial assistance for rent, mortgage or utility needs, they can call the United Ministries client line to talk with someone about their crisis. Trained phone counselors gather information from the family in an effort to learn as much as possible about the situation. The mission of United Ministries is to provide assistance to families with dependent children who have emergency needs such as housing and utilities, and to offer hope, encouragement, and spiritual guidance. It is the hope of all affiliated with United Ministries that families who call into our client line will be able to feel this sense of hope and encouragement even from the moment they first contact the office.
Once the phone counselor determines whether or not the family meets basic guidelines for an appointment with United Ministries—namely that there are in fact dependent children in the home and that there is a real and verifiable crisis—an appointment is typically made for the following day, and the family is asked to bring in verification of their crisis, along with a few other item that help the United Ministries counselors prepare for ways to best assist clients.
The family then comes into the United Ministries office the following day and is greeted by another volunteer counselor. We make great efforts to keep the office warm and inviting so that families will feel comfortable and safe when they come for an appointment. Generous churches donate furniture and toys so that children will have a place to play while their parents spend some time with counselors. Upon arrival, the family and the front desk counselor go over basic paperwork and efforts are made to contact landlords and/or utility providers to verify the exact amount of financial need.
Once the family is checked in, they are then greeted by yet another amazing United Ministries counselor. During their time with counselors, families typically receive at minimum, some basic financial and budget counseling and a chance to just talk and release some of the anxiety that comes with a crisis. As the counselor talks with the family in crisis, the counselor determines what United Ministries will be able to do in assisting with the financial needs. The counselor also offers the family a chance to simply speak and unload their burdens and stress. The importance of this faithful act of listening cannot be overemphasized. Further, as the counselor listens, the counselor is making notes of other forms of assistance. For example, if a person is looking for work, we schedule for job coaching, referring clients to community resources that can help and we always share job postings of which we are aware. If a person is interested in education, we direct them to additional community resources such as George Stone or Pensacola State College. If a person is looking for more counseling, we set them up with an additional appointment at United Ministries for Job Coaching or we attempt to connect them with great groups like Lakeview or Ninety Works. If a person is paying a high amount of rent, we might offer them information about Habitat for Humanity and encourage them to pursue the stability of home ownership through a great program like Habitat. If a person expresses interest in committing to long-term solutions for coming out of poverty we might refer them to the wonderful Bridges to Circles program at Catholic Charities.
There are so many generous and dynamic programs in our community and we want to connect people with the great resources available in this community. In attempting to help families in crisis, we have come to understand that, initially, meeting the immediate needs of the family are very important—this is the financial assistance piece. But it cannot stop there. Families in crisis often are dealing with more than one barrier and often it is the overwhelming nature of everything combined that can be so debilitating. Once a basic need is taken care of, a family can put all of their focus and energy on the next step or challenge they face. At United Ministries, families in crisis find counselors who care about them and who want to help them transform their difficult situation into something better, hopeful and sustainable.
What is so remarkable about the daily experience at United Ministries? Two things:
The volunteer counselors. These amazing women and men give of their time and hearts to the mission of United Ministries. Many of the counselors have been volunteering at United Ministries for more than 10 years. They bring with them the love of the people in their churches and the desire to move mountains to help families in crisis. They are wise and discerning, and often when we hear back from former clients, they are calling in or writing in to say thank you—not just for the financial support they received, but often they are even more grateful that someone took the time to listen to them. We try to allow plenty of time for each family that comes into United Ministries because each family situation is unique, and we want to serve and assist in the best way possible. The genuine care and love expressed by dedicated volunteer counselors bring great hope to many families struggling with desperate situations. Simply put, the volunteers at United Ministries are remarkable servants.
The clients themselves: the strength, perseverance, joy, passion and hope that families in crisis grace us with each day. “How effective can it be to only spend a few hours with a family in crisis?” Well, as people of faith, we believe in irrational possibilities all the time. We believe in some pretty radical things, not least of which is that which we celebrate each year at Advent and Christmas—that in an unfathomable act of grace, God would come to earth in the most vulnerable of ways, as a baby, and through this act, would offer unconditional love and restoration to the entire world. As we walk into the United Ministries office each day, we are reminded that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Sometimes the families who come into United Ministries are carrying unimaginable burdens! What is so amazing to witness, is what God can do when people are willing to open themselves up to one another and share their burdens, share their crisis. Often when we meet with clients, we might become overwhelmed and think, “What on earth can we do?” So often it is during these times, that it seems as if miracles occur. Through that intimate space that comes when someone shares their pain and anxiety, it’s as if God opens up some sort of clarification or reveals a new way to move forward. Many times, the families in crisis who come into United Ministries have wonderful, strategic ideas for how to get out of their crisis, and when counselors can just offer those families a space to speak and release their burdens, a clarity often comes. Truly, we believe that God works in all things, and the strength, determination and fortitude of the families we see each day is amazing.