An article published by the Georgia Community Action Association (GCAA)
See the full article here
Written by Amanda Caraway
Mark Aguilar was completely homeless when he was introduced to the Ninth District Opportunity, Inc. (NDO) a Community Action Agency in Northeast Georgia. Today Aguilar has a full-time job with benefits, and he lives in his own home with his wife and 10-month old daughter.
The NDO runs a housing and homeless prevention program with the goal of helping individuals become self-sufficient so they no longer require the use of shelters and other government programs.
According to Shawn Howell, the Housing Program Manager with Ninth District Opportunity, Inc., it is not just a financial aid program.
“We run an intensive case-management based program that uses needs assessment, accountability and progress review to ensure that those who receive funding are successful,” Howell says. “This program requires commitment and is not a handout.”
Aguilar was referred to the Ninth District Opportunity in 2011 through an acquaintance at the rescue shelter where he was living. Following an interview he was accepted into the program and within a week he had a place to live. Aguilar received funding to pay rent and utilities so he could concentrate on finding employment.
“Mark was only in the program for three months,” Howell explains. The total amount of funding that he received was around $2,100, and now he is completely sustainable.”
Aguilar agrees that client accountability played a part in his success. After joining the program, he was required to check in with his case manager every couple of weeks as they tracked his progress.
“Getting stuck at the rescue level is a problem,” Aguilar says. “In my case this program worked perfectly to help me hit every point that I needed to become sustainable.”
Aguilar started by working at lower level jobs, such as doing yard work at a golf course, and gradually moved up to better paying jobs. he is currently a sales manager at a nutrition company, and he and his wife own a home across from the golf course where he worked cutting grass.
Although Aguilar’s story might be exceptional, his experience with NDO demonstrates what a motivated individual can accomplish with a little assistance. He credits the staff at Ninth District Opportunity with helping him to learn to develop the necessary skills to be successful in life. Having a support system was so important to his own success that he started mentoring others through the homeless prevention program.
“It became a dual journey – the journey to help myself and the journey to help others,” Aguilar says. If you have people working with you to guide you through the process it is easier to overcome the hurdles and be successful.
Howell grew up in poverty, so he experienced firsthand the importance of Community Action.
“We help people obtain the job skills necessary for employment, which clears out the shelters, keeps kids off the streets and cleans up the neighborhoods,” says Howell. “If we invest in people, our neighborhoods become safer and everyone becomes more successful. Landlords receive rent and utility payments get made, which keeps the costs down for everyone.”
Aguilar says he would recommend this program to anyone who is looking to get back on their feet. There is a clear starting point and end point that makes it easy for anyone who has the heart to achieve.
“Just be honest and disciplined and you’ll get there,” Aguilar says. “I am so grateful for the opportunities this program has brought me.”