Tonya Stanfill has spent her adult life looking out for others. It makes her a perfect fit for her current role as the Housing Case Manager at the homeless emergency shelter the Alliance for Children and Families operates. The agency’s shelter provides a safe, warm place to sleep for people with nowhere to go but the streets.
People who need emergency shelter are at their most vulnerable, recovering from a major trauma that may be as simple as job loss or as complex as surviving domestic violence. Working with the residents keeps Tonya on her toes. Her days are long, generally starting at 7:00 AM and sometimes going well into the night when she might get called in to deal with a crisis. Residents are usually coping with multiple challenges in their efforts to get back on their feet so there is no time of day immune to an emergency need. She tries never to turn them away, saying she wants to be there for them.
Tonya takes it all in stride. She conducts all shelter intakes for new homeless residents and works with them to create a plan with action steps they will take to stabilize their lives. Each day is a new day when Tonya meets with residents to support their work on their goals. One minute she may be counseling an individual on their job search, and a few minutes later she is mentoring a resident on conflict resolution or other life skills. This is what keeps her passionate about her work – the time she spends getting to know the residents so she can “catch them doing good.”
She agrees it can be tough to watch families go through the ups and downs of the difficulties they are trying to overcome. Nevertheless, Tonya has never experienced the burnout often found in social service workers. She credits her optimistic nature for her ability to continue the work no matter how hard it is sometimes. She likes being there for the clients.
Wraparound Services for Homeless Families
Alliance for Children and Families provides additional supportive services to shelter residents and residents of its permanent supportive housing. Skills to Acquire Mastery of Parenting (STAMP) helps parents establish good habits in raising their children. This is especially critical when the whole family is going through the stress of homelessness. The agency’s Financial Literacy program teaches residents better skills to handle their money. The class covers the range of money management topics from using banking services to avoiding scams and money traps.
The story of Sam shows how close to the edge homelessness pushes people. When he arrived at the shelter with his girlfriend and their three children he was suicidal, feeling like things would never get better. He worked full-time at a stable job and felt he made a good salary, But it wasn’t enough to care for his three children and to pay child support for two more from a previous marriage. The pressure was getting to be too much.
With Tonya’s help Sam and his girlfriend were able to create a plan to get back on their feet. Tonya helped them obtain affordable housing so they can keep up on their rent. They took all three children to the health clinic operated on site at the A-First apartment building owned by the Alliance for Children and Families. After taking the financial literacy program Sam knows he needs to create and stick to a budget. With all of these supports Sam and his family are confident they can be successful.
A Surprise Destination
Tonya’s path to serving the homeless at the Alliance for Children and Families was a little unexpected. She served in the Army as a Communications Specialist for six years, but she ended her military career when she couldn’t get enough time with her two young children. So, she returned to her hometown of Louisville and enrolled in Stark State College of Technology where she earned a degree in Early Child Care education. While working at the Louisville Child Care Center she discovered how much she enjoys working with children with special needs. That realization led her to Alliance for Children and Families to work as an early intervention specialist for children enrolled in the agency’s Help Me Grow program. When funding for that program evaporated she left briefly but returned to the agency to be a case manager and, as she puts it, anything that needs doing.
It seems Tonya is right where she belongs – helping families rebuild their lives. Whatever trauma led to their homelessness she wants to be there when they most need the supports she can provide. She takes pride in helping residents get back on their feet; it is rewarding when she sees former residents make it. Tonya acknowledges that not everyone succeeds their first time through the shelter. But if their lives take a turn for the worse again, she will be at the shelter to take them in.
Think homelessness is not an issue in Stark County? The annual point in time count happened on January 29, 2019 and documented at least 273 people were homeless on that one night. The work that Alliance for Children and Families and staff like Tonya do, day in, day out, remains critical for our community’s health.