Over the holiday season, Maria Robles, a West Chicago mom, and her son were suddenly forced out of their home. At a time when they should be celebrating, they found themselves in crisis.
For help, she turned to Crystal Dela Huerta, a family liaison working in her son’s school.
Family liaisons from WeGo Together for Kids (WeGo), a United Way community partner, provide services and advocacy to students and parents in schools across West Chicago Elementary School District 33. Much like social workers, they work to ensure students have safe housing, food in the cupboards and healthy and thriving households. WeGo helps students focus on their academics by relieving them of unneeded stress.
This is just a piece of WeGo’s work to create “community schools” that address residents’ needs and prioritize more than students’ academic success.
“We’re helping families reach self-sufficiency, and we’re really being a guide for them, connecting them to resources in the community,” Crystal said. “The best and most rewarding part of my job is building those relationships with families.”
As the lead agency of our West Chicago Neighborhood Network, United Way of Metro Chicago partners with WeGo to provide financial support, training opportunities, and more to its staff. In turn, WeGo is able to sustain and grow its programs and improve the quality of its services.
For example, through a grant, United Way was able to send WeGo family liaisons to the Siemer Institute for Family Stability’s annual conference. There, they gained new tools that make it easier to identify families’ needs and provide more robust supports, including housing assistance for families who face homelessness or are housing insecure.
For Maria and her son, this support was critical. Maria, a resilient, resourceful mom, first met Crystal when she and her husband of 14 years began divorce proceedings. Hoping to connect her son to counseling, Maria reached out to the school for help.
She was quickly referred to Crystal, who enrolled the pair in individual counseling. Through WeGo, the Robles also got help filing legal paperwork and accessing food, clothing and transportation to and from meetings with lawyers.
Then, when they were forced to vacate their home in December, Maria knew she could turn to Crystal for support. Through their Siemer Grant funding, Maria secured rental assistance and was able to move into a new apartment with her son just before Christmas.
Now that their most basic needs have been met, Maria, with Crystal’s help, is working towards financial security. Her goal is to find a more spacious home for her and her son.
“I’ve built a really good relationship with Ms. Robles. I’ve seen so much growth in her,” Crystal said.
And though they’re still facing day-to-day challenges, Maria’s only looking to the future.
“Mom says she’s extremely grateful and happy with the services that she’s received,” Crystal said, translating Maria’s praise from Spanish to English. “When she was in the process of divorce, it was really difficult for her. She kinda felt as though the world was crumbling and falling all around her and she wasn’t going to get through it.”
“But, she said, ‘I never would have imagined that through this phone call I made to ask for help that I would receive all I needed,’” Crystal added on Maria’s behalf. “‘Now, I feel like, little by little, I’m moving forward.’”
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