Single mom finds help in DSS program

Melissa Brewster works on her computer inside the Warren County Department of Social Services in Front Royal. Brewster was a prior recipient of benefits through the agency and was a volunteer before landing a job with the agency. Rich Cooley/Daily

When Melissa Brewster fell on tough times, the single mother found help from the Warren County Department of Social Services.

In fact, Brewster landed a job at the agency through a program aimed at helping people in poverty return to the work force. Brewster spoke well of the program recently and urged people in need to seek out the agency’s help.

“Sometimes you get into a situation where there’s really just nothing you can do just by yourself,” Brewster said. “You have to have help.”

Brewster, 43, lives with her 5-year-old son in Front Royal. Until recently she did not have a job and had few transportation options while she stayed with a relative near Fort Valley. She was taking care of her mother who was ill. Brewster said her plan was to return to work once her son entered school.

Brewster applied for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families [TANF] through the county Department of Social Services. As required to receive benefits, Brewster applied for the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare. The program benefits include transportation assistance.

“Then that way, since they provided transportation I was able to get around and get out to do stuff,” Brewster said.

Brewster said she used to live in Lorton and had access to transportation and other services. But, after moving to Warren County, Brewster found herself without those options.

“The only way I was going to be able to work was to be able to get some support like this,” Brewster said. “There’s no shame in it. Everybody needs help.”

Brewster started working as a volunteer for the agency in February and then applied for a position in the department in April. Eventually she was hired to work in the department.

Volunteering and then returning to the workforce made her feel “useful and productive,” Brewster said.

“Now I have my own apartment with my son and we have structure, routine,” Brewster said. “He’s a lot happier. It’s been really, really wonderful.”

Living in town also means her job and other needs are within walking distance, Brewster said.

DSS Director Beth Reavis and Julie Strickler, self-sufficiency specialist, spoke recently about the VIEW program, its benefits and requirements as well as Brewster’s situation.

Brewster went through the same screening and interview process used for all employees, Reavis said. Brewster didn’t get the job the first time but she applied again and was hired on as an assistant responsible for helping the agency scan case files and other paper documents into the digital records system.

“There was no automatic getting the position here so she had to compete just like everybody else and we probably had maybe 20 people competing,” Reavis said.

Reavis lauded Brewster.

“Melissa was such that I think she could have gotten a job in just about any office anywhere,” Reavis said. “I mean, we were lucky that we were able to see her work ethic when she came to us and she was a volunteer because we have lots of volunteers and we rarely hire people.

“We try to help people and help get them work experience but we don’t hire all of our volunteers by any means,” Reavis added. “So Melissa had the skill set and the work ethic and the attitude that we look for in any employee.”

Most of Brewster’s benefits have ceased given how much she earns working for the DSS, Reavis said. Brewster has since entered the VIEW Transition Payment program – another initiative that helps clients who make too much money to qualify for VIEW to continue to receive some of the benefits, though the monthly monetary allowance drops to $50.

“That was another thing, too, was getting my son in day care,” Brewster said of the benefit offered to clients in VIEW and the transition program.

Brewster urged anyone who might need the agency’s help to “just ask.” Brewster said she didn’t think she would qualify for VIEW benefits, especially the transportation benefit and, as such, she put off applying for TANF.

“If I had asked sooner I could have done it a lot sooner,” Brewster said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com