Heather Evans and Robin Ritter can smile now when they talk about one single mom.
But they encountered a sad case when they first met the young mother of two.
“She cried through our first entire meeting,” said Evans, program director for Uniquely Yours Stability Support.
Life had been tough for the woman. She was out of food and had been waiting weeks for food stamps. Before that she’d been relying on friends and food pantry boxes. She was in between jobs, had left an abusive relationship and didn’t know how she was going to provide for her children.
Yet she was motivated to embrace changes.
“I taught her how to budget her money,” Evans said. “We helped her believe in herself.”
And her life improved.
The young mom is just one example of how the local agency, situated in downtown Fremont, helps area residents.
UYSS, which moved to 240 N. Main St., two years ago, works to help prevent homelessness or move people out of that situation.
It provides a host of services, such as free life skills classes on various topics including: budgeting and employability (how to get and keep a job). It offers workshops on self-esteem, stress management, nutrition education and basic computer skills.
As one of five basic needs agencies in Fremont, it can help people with rent and utilities payments and deposits.
Last fall, the agency received a $15,000 donation from the Rupert Dunklau Foundation for the 2015-16 grant cycle.
The donation is allowing the privately funded agency to continue to provide the life skills classes for free.
“We feel strongly that education and services go hand-in-hand,” said Ritter, the agency’s CEO. “Our team has seen great success as a result of combining education and services.
“Most of the families and individuals that we serve are not asking for just a handout. They want to learn new skills and know there is support to help them along the way.”
The agency can help people whose income is above the federal poverty line, but who still don’t have enough to make ends meet.
“Being above the poverty line doesn’t equate to cost of living,” Evans said. “There’s a significant gap between poverty level and what a family actually needs to survive.”
Most of time, these are people who can’t be helped with federal monies.
That’s why grants and donations are so important to Uniquely Yours and to families and the community.
Because UYSS is privately funded, it can help in ways that other entities cannot. It doesn’t have income restrictions for families to receive services.
“Anyone can come into our agency,” Ritter said.
It also can provide flexible hours.
“We can be here on Saturdays and in the evening. We can respond quickly to a need,” Ritter said.
The agency can provide life skills classes onsite and off-site, and offers one-on-one money management instruction. That instruction is confidential.
Gerald Ritter, who has a business degree, teaches the budgeting classes and does one-on-one money management with people who come to UYSS.
Employability classes include mock interviews, communication skills and help with resume writing.
In addition, the agency offers an interview clothing shop. Anyone can receive an outfit to wear to an interview. If they bring back verification of employment, they can receive up to four more work outfits.
Along with that, the agency offers a computer lab so participants can work on resume writing, conduct online job searches and applications, apply for unemployment benefits or those through Health and Human Services or check the status of their Social Security benefits.
Participants who complete a class can get a certificate.
“There are organizations and churches in town that have requested that an individual take a class, like budgeting, before they’re eligible for any further financial assistance. They can bring a certificate to show that organization or church that they took the class,” Evans said.
Someone who completes the Smart Start hygiene class and gets a certificate can take that to the Low Income Ministry of Dodge County and receive a free personal care box.
Participants who accomplish an identified goal, such as successfully completing a job interview and being hired as a result, who received a certificate for a life skills class or workshop, or who completed a six-month follow-up and survey get to take a leaf from a tree on a poster at UYSS, Robin Ritter said.
If they pull a leaf with a gold star behind it, they are eligible to receive a Wal-Mart gift card that ranges in value from $5 to $100.
UYSS also offers a Community Café, which centers people on “conversations that matter.” The next, which includes a catered meal, is scheduled from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at Fremont Church of the Nazarene. The theme will focus on what it feels like and means to be connected.
Two more similar events are set for May 12 and 26.
Those interested need to call UYSS at 402-727-8977 so the agency can have a meal count. Individuals wanting to register for life skills classes may do so online at uyss.org or by calling the phone number listed above or stopping in at the agency’s office.
Ritter noted that the agency accepts self-referrals and refers people to other community agencies for services it doesn’t provide.
“In 2015, we had 77 different, unique needs that we addressed through our unique approach and collaborative partnerships throughout the community,” Ritter said. “UYSS has always strived to provide services to enhance our community agencies.”
Ritter and Evans are pleased about the positive results, including those experienced by that single mom, who became employed full time and started going back to school. Her children were on the honor roll.
The woman had food in her refrigerator and was no longer on food stamps. She had car insurance. She was excited to have a job that offered sick time with pay.
“She wasn’t aware that there was such a thing,” Evans said.