County connects to help needyPublished 6:21pm Monday, May 21, 2012
“Dennis” and “Diane” have been together for 10 years, though at times, it can be a struggle. Those struggles led them to attend Project Connect at Southwestern Michigan College Monday, provided by the Cass County Housing Continuum of Care.
The event aimed to provide local agency services to those in need of assistance. Some services provided counseling and help for individuals or families suffering from domestic abuse, while others received help from employees of the Department of Human Services. A major portion of the event also included a housing forum with county officials who took public comment on the creation of a housing plan.
“Cass County doesn’t have an official housing plan,” Ruth Andrews, coordinator with Cass County Housing Continuum, said. “The forum can show us where we need to add, what type of housing is needed and understand what the county needs.”
Besides the housing forum, county residents explored services they may not have known about otherwise.
“Diane has been trying to get disability for almost eight years,” Dennis said. “Luckily, we have a lawyer on it, and, hopefully, in about six months, she’ll get it, and we can get back on our feet.”
Dennis and Diane often collect cans to pay for things they need, as well as the court costs for Diane’s disability case. They also must rely on the kindness of others for groceries or small household items. By working with Andrews, they’ve been connected to local agencies that help them get by each month, something Andrews said whe hopes to do for more people in need.
“One of the things we wanted to do (at the event) was connect people with the resources they need online,” Andrews said.
Terry Hogan, an area specialist with Rural Development, attended the gathering to spread awareness about what her agency can do for others.
“This gives us more exposure to help families,” Hogan said. “This is something that we can do to make rural America a better place to live.”
Andrews also said she hoped to bring awareness to homelessness in the county. Because many needed the resources, the Department of Human Services donated $200 to the event, along with McDonald’s who donated drinks and Porky’s, Full Bull and Saylor’s Pizza who donated pizza.
“We also had area dentists provide toothbrushes and toothpaste, Berrien RESA (Regional Education Service Agency) donate paper products and United Way provide black canvas bags for visitors,” Andrews said.
Cassopolis village administrator Meg Cluckey said she was pleased local agencies were connecting with people who hadn’t known about their services before.
“I think it’s important, especially in this economy,” Cluckey said.
For couples such as Dennis and Diane, Project Connect provided better understanding to how they can look forward, instead of the past.
“It’s rough, but we live through it,” Dennis said. “We’re survivors.”