WOODSTOCK — Some people have jobs, but they need a bit of help to pay their rent, car repairs and medical bills.
Those are the people the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley’s Valley Assistance Network (VAN) aims to help. The group is looking to expand its services in Shenandoah County.
“We want to make it more accessible,” said Jennifer Hall, director of community engagement with the organization, at a recent information session about their efforts.
The organization works by referring people — sometimes referred to as the ALICE population since they are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — to appropriate agencies so they can achieve more financial stability.
The group formed three-and-a-half years ago and is primarily based out of Winchester. It’s helped people in Shenandoah County since its start, in addition to Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Page and Warren, but about a month ago it received a grant and decided to grow a bit.
Since the group’s inception, more than 11,395 people have been helped and 4,678 families have been served; 10,960 referrals have been made and 2,350 cases have been resolved.
In the past year in Shenandoah County, the organization had helped 88 families, with 186 people impacted and 173 referrals made. The average monthly household income was $1,662. Clients from the past year include 25 in Strasburg, 20 in Woodstock, seven in Mount Jackson, five each in Edinburg and Toms Brook, three in Maurertown and New Market, two in Fort Valley and one each in Quicksburg, Shenandoah and Star Tannery.
A $50,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency went toward partnering with Faithworks Inc. to help with housing issues in Shenandoah County. Another grant from Data Across Sectors for Health as well as supportr from Pamela Okumuro, and Sharon and Carla Taylor, also helped get local operations off the ground.
The group is primarily looking for office space right now. They’re working out of the Department of Social Services building in Woodstock, but they want a place to call their own so staffers from partner agencies can stop in regularly.
The plan is to have the VAN pick up the cost of the space initially, and then have the partner agencies contribute a bit toward the costs a year or two afterward, Hall said in a phone interview.
They need about 12,000 square feet with some separate offices or cubical space, Hall said.
Paul Rush, who used to work as a central intake coordinator with Mercy House, has been hired to run the Shenandoah County operations.
“I’m always, always on the phone with different homeless shelters, different service providers, who’s got what,” Rush told the attendees. “That is the cornerstone of having any type of effect ending poverty...I’m so excited to be able to do this within the community that I grew up in, that I got my education in, got my training [from].”
A steering committee was formed for the Shenandoah Valley operations. Members of the committee are Sharon Baroncelli, president of the Shenandoah County Chamber; Beth Delullo and Megan Kelly from the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services; Dennis Dysart of First Bank; Town of Woodstock Mayor Jeremy McCleary and Town Manager Aaron Grisdale; Tammy Gasper of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and a United Way Northern Shenandoah Valley board member; Strasburg Mayor Brandy Boise; Kurt Beyreis, a Shenandoah County resident and United Way Northern Shenandoah Valley board member.
Dysart noted spreading more education about the hard work the group does, and fundraising, such as a corporate challenge, would go a long way toward meeting its aspirations.
Sheila Ordnorff, executive director at Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter, noted the importance of being familiar with all the agencies out there and knowing exactly how they can help with certain programs for different times of the year.
VAN already partners with several agencies, including Wells Fargo, United Bank, Dominion Energy, Advanced Homecare, Our Health and Valley Health. Some of the help comes from volunteer hours instead of money, Hall said.