Just off the 5500 block of York Road at Harwood Avenue is a parking lot in the rear of the St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Govans. Posted on a door leading to the church’s basement are four signs, each on a simple index card. The signs, though plain and ordinary, make up a directory rich with promise: “Financial Assistance,” “Food Assistance,” “Rental Eviction,” “Job Assistance.” Located inside the basement are the facilities of CARES (Civic And Religious Emergency Services), which operates under the umbrella of GEDCO (Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation). It is here where the promise of the signs is carried out.
In 2011, CARES addressed more than 600 requests for financial assistance and more than 4,000 requests for food, representing an average of 151 individuals receiving food each week. Volunteers, working in two- to four-hour shifts, help to meet the needs of clients one-on-one. One of those volunteers is 21-year-old Megan Peterson. Following a week’s training, she and each of her colleagues from Loyola and other nearby colleges—as many as eight—come into CARES a few days a week to interview clients. Much of these volunteers’ work involves accessing data on one of the six computers—searching for job postings, sources to assist clients with rent-eviction problems, and resources leading to food contributions for distribution on Saturday mornings. (Current contributors include Mars and Giant super markets.) CARES keeps a well-stocked pantry, and offers its clients canned vegetables, meat and fish, bread and rolls, and fresh produce.
Janice Lawson, a 58-year-old resident of Govans, feels such a connection to CARES that although she lives a few blocks away, she considers the CARES offices, located at 5502 York Road, her home because, she says with unabashed enthusiasm, she has spent so much time there. “Most every day of the week, months on end,” Lawson says. “I was out of work and down on my luck, and I needed a job. Working with CARES I got a job. My luck turned! Is it any wonder I call the CARES offices my ‘home?’”
At any given time, the CARES student coordinator works with eight to 10 unemployed persons in need of emergency services. Approximately 55 percent of those served have criminal records. Because many, if not most, of the clients do not have regular access to a computer, the student volunteers establish e-mail accounts for each of them. These accounts are checked regularly and the volunteers meet with each client individually.
In 2011, CARES helped 148 persons complete their résumés and of those, CARES estimates that more than 60 percent found jobs in these difficult economic times. With an average hourly wage of $11.52, CARES participants are employed as van drivers, certified nursing assistants, warehouse workers, housekeepers, and retail sales clerks. After six months, 60 percent of those placed into jobs are still employed in the same job.
Seventeen of the participants who were placed into jobs had been coming to CARES for food or emergency services regularly; of those, nine—or 52 percent—no longer require food or emergency assistance because they are now self-sufficient through employment income. CARES boasts a cost-per-person served at $1,145.
The Abell Foundation salutes CARES for the promise of its offerings of emergency services, and the fulfillment of that promise one-on-one in Govans.