How one center works to serve the community during the pandemic
LaDeena Curry wants to offer a safe, warm and inviting environment where someone can feel comfortable.
“That’s what we are here for,” said Curry, who is the new coordinator for PEACE Inc.’s Emma L. Johnston Southside Family Resource Center.
Offering a range of traditional and COVID related services, Curry and the rest of her South Side team are trying to empower local residents through support and empathy.
It’s been something of a homecoming for Curry. Born and raised on the South Side, she began her PEACE Inc. career as the center’s family advocate. Returning as a coordinator has long been a goal.
“I am glad that I can be here in a position to make change,” she said. “It’s pretty dope.”
The center continues to serve the community during the pandemic. Its food pantry is Thursdays and for emergencies. Crisis, whole family and other case management services are available by appointment as well. For Curry, such offerings are especially needed now.
“Look at COVID, look at how many have fallen off … If you fell off of your plan, it’s no big deal,” she said. “There is no judgement. We are here to help.”
Even with the pandemic, many services have been expanded. Staff member Martese Dodson now works in a newly created employment specialist position. Each Thursday or by appointment, job candidates can receive resume, job search and mock interview assistance. Bus passes and job attire are also available. To help people obtain quality work, trusting relationships are key.
“In these new and strange times, people need jobs,” Dodson said. “We’re learning from one another — two heads are better than one.”
Through mutual support, Dodson feels she can learn, identify and ultimately help her clients overcome barriers and head on a path towards self-sufficiency.
If the word “support” feels repetitive, well, it’s a value shared by all at the center. “If the roots aren’t healthy, the plant won’t grow,” said the center’s Re-Entry Case Manager Shaquana Petteway.
“Change your situation,” she often advises.
While providing whole supports for recently incarcerated clients, she also sees the need for greater youth interventions. As someone who was in “juvie” during her youth, Petteway wants to pay it forward.
She is excited to redesign her program and to focus on teenage girls in particular who often lack the same access to employment, training and education as their male counterparts.
Effective re-entry services are reached through broader whole family supports. Trauma-informed support groups, parenting, financial literacy, GED tutoring and homeownership are just some of the broader initiatives Curry wants to pursue in the next year. She is also looking to create stronger lines of communication with the community through her Neighborhood Advisory Council. Curry wants to change the narrative. She wants to partner with others.
In short, she wants to let her community know “they don’t have to go it alone.”
It’s this drive that also informs the agency’s “Towel Turnout” campaign, which is currently running until Feb. 28.
This initiative came directly from client and staff feedback. Bath towels can be difficult items to purchase for many families who are struggling to make ends meet.
Guest column contributed by staff at PEACE Inc.