Chalese Knight, a Wilder supportive housing team member, unloads food boxes from her car

How Wilder Is Adapting to Meet Community Needs

Through a global pandemic, the unrest and community pain following the murder of George Floyd, and economic and financial uncertainty, Wilder has adapted and innovated to continue critical services that help families thrive. Here are some examples of how Wilder met the needs of families and the community in 2020.

Attaining Home Ownership During the Pandemic

Jenny Holloway and her two children joined the ROOF supportive housing program after she escaped domestic violence. With support from housing staff member Gloria DuPree, the family moved from a domestic violence shelter into a three-bedroom apartment. Gloria connected Jenny to Build Wealth Minnesota, an organization that helps families work toward financial security. Jenny worked with Gloria for two years before exiting the housing program.

Through planning and perseverance, Jenny paid off her debts. In April 2020, she bought a home for her family and is working to remodel it. “People will live up to your expectations,” Gloria says. “If you tell them ‘You’ve got this, you can do this,’ they are survivors, not victims. Treat them like survivors and encourage them. Show them someone believes.”

Wilder staff Gloria DuPree and housing participant Jennie Holloway
Wilder Family Supportive Housing staff member Gloria Dupree (left) meets with participant Jenny Holloway.

New Approaches Help Families Maintain Economic Stability

In Fiscal Year 2020, 50 families enrolled in the Direct Housing Assistance program, which provides financial assistance for families to prevent households from entering a crisis. As a response to the pandemic, Wilder extended household subsidies by three months, revised income eligibility and transitioned the application to a digital format.

Direct Housing Assistance provides payments directly to participants’ landlords and mortgage holders during a 12-month period. The program is open to families who participate in Wilder services.

The Family Independence Initiative (FII), which supports families as they work in peer groups to move themselves out of poverty, made cash payouts available immediately that would have been available over the remainder of their two-year commitment to the initiative.

Setting goals and checking in on a monthly basis has helped me to stay on track with my
path to success. The group meetings have given me a sense of belonging, I have made new friends and I receive the continued encouragement I need to stay on task with my goals.

FII participant

Child Development Center Maintains a Reassuring Space for Kids

When the pandemic began, 90% of parents at the Wilder Child Development Center said
they needed child care so that they could continue to work and support their families.

The Center, which provides high-quality early childhood education, remained open, and served as a place with welcome routines and a reassuring environment for children and families. “You walk into the classroom and the kids are just as happy as can be,” says Director Angie Clair. “Our kids know what to expect, and they feel safe and supported.”

Wilder staff ensure the safety and health of everyone coming into the Center with temperature checks, masks and more. Thanks to increased food donations, staff have expanded a small food shelf of basics that parents may fall short on during this time.

A child eats lunch at the Child Development Center

Customized Living Staff Provide Extra Support for Participants and Each Other

Customized Living Services works with adults in Saint Paul public housing who need daily assistance to live independently and prevent or delay the need to move into a nursing home. During the stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19, some participants experienced new or increased challenges with mental health because they were isolated and unable to see their providers. Staff received additional training in suicide prevention and mental health first aid to respond.

In the community unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, the longtime community pharmacy used by many participants was destroyed. For six weeks, Wilder nursing staff worked extra hours to make sure clients could obtain their medications. Staff themselves were experiencing hardships during this time: Many use public transportation, which was reduced during COVID and again during the unrest. Coworkers provided rides for each other to make sure everyone could get to work.

I’m so proud of how our staff came together to support the well-being of the residents we work with. This has been a challenging time for residents and staff, and the resilience we’ve shown in caring for one another is inspiring.

Jennifer Baker, manager of Customized Living Services

Support For Families Even With Schools Closed

In Achievement Plus, a Wilder partnership with Saint Paul Public Schools to coordinate resources in three community schools, staff are working with partners and families to continue meeting needs even when school buildings are closed.

Cindy Torguson (left), Achievement Plus coordinator for Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School, helped secure a $10,000 grant from the Fairview Foundation in April to provide food for families on the East Side of Saint Paul. “What has been really amazing to me is the outreach from all our partners,” Cindy says. “Community partners know there’s someone to help get information to families. That definitely is what it means to be a community school.”

In fall 2020, the Achievement Plus team and Wilder’s school-based mental health program worked together with Greater Twin Cities United Way to secure a grant to support students and families on the North End of Saint Paul with needs related to the coronavirus.

Cindy Torguson, Achievement Plus coordinator, working at her dining room table
Cindy Torguson, Achievement Plus coordinator for Dayton’s Bluff Achievement Plus Elementary School