Team LifeSTEPS

It started out as an exercise in cross training.  At the conclusion, it was clearly more an exercise in connection. During our annual LifeSTEPS leadership retreat in October I decided to divide our corporate staff into two teams to plan and deliver an Ice Cream Social at two separate properties:

team lifesteps pic

Making Connections at Valley Commons East in Grass Valley, CA

Vintage Square at Westward Park, a senior complex and Valley Commons East, a family complex. I wanted to engage our corporate staff in the process our field staff undertakes on a routine basis— the challenges they face and the wide variety of responsibilities they have, plus create an activity meaningful for the residents. At the day’s end each corporate team would easily check off this goal as accomplished, but what each team member gained from this exercise went so much deeper.

Here is an account from Team
#1:  “We arrived at the appointed time to Vintage Square at Westward Park, and were greeted by a muster of seniors who had been patiently waiting for our appearance. These residents clearly knew how to take charge and within minutes they jumped in to help set up and get the show started. News of the Ice Cream Social had spread throughout the community and many residents were eager to attend, so it wasn’t long before a diverse group of seniors came to participate.

To identify these residents as “seniors” doesn’t begin to describe them. “What was interesting to me was the variety of people at the site. One woman I spoke with had only retired from teaching 4 months prior and another woman was a nurse who had been retired for some time- she was 90 years old!” shared Katie G. Administrative Specialist. The diversity in age and abilities was striking, and so was the obvious common bond they all seemed to share. LifeSTEPS
CFO, Jody McKay, was touched by this, “It was heartwarming to witness the residents looking out for one another; those more mobile helped those less mobile, served them, wiped their face, etc. They truly care for one another; they’re family.”

The resident’s interaction during the Ice Cream Social allowed our team a valuable glimpse into what LifeSTEPS has been building over time through the dedicated work of the LifeSTEPS’ Social Worker—a community that had developed connections over countless Ice Cream Socials and Bingo nights. The residents of Vintage Square painted us a beautiful picture of what community looks like. “

Corporate Team # 2 had a slightly different view of community at the Valley Commons East…. “We arrived at the family property with plenty of time to spare. In fact, even after getting everything set up and ready for an onslaught of hungry ice cream eaters, there was no one to be seen so we decided to spread out across the complex to deliver a personal invitation door to door. This canvassing effort uncovered several surprising revelations.

One revelation was that despite this property being a “multi-family” property, many who answered their doors were actually seniors living alone. These residents were delighted to have a visitor— smiling faces, who for a brief minute, were not only encouraging them to come to the Ice Cream Social, but listening intently to what they had to say. We had the immense privilege of hearing these residents share everything from their unique histories to ideas for future LifeSTEPS classes. In as few as two minutes our team was able to give each resident a little of what they needed most—a sense that they were not alone.

It wasn’t long before the children began to return home from school that the whole complex seemed to come alive. As kids raced for the community room, a backpack flapping over their shoulders and mom or dad in tow, it was as if new life was breathed back into the community. And there is nothing more contagious than the excitement of happy children! Other residents came out of their apartments to investigate—and ended up joining in the fun.  An impromptu group of older women brought their chairs out onto the cool grass and enjoyed ice cream sundaes and some long overdue conversation. Inside the community room, young moms got acquainted; several had never even met before, but soon they discovered their kids were in the same
class and with every new resident who came, a new foundation for community connection was built.DSCF1898

Some connections were also discovered among our team members themselves. We saw our HR Director Krista Vera, in a whole new light as she reverted back to her days as a preschool teacher to connect to the little ones; and as Fund Development Assistant Kellie D. handed out new backpacks and school supplies, she was reminded how securing in-kind donations has the potential to change young lives.”

My original intention in this team exercise was more than fulfilled –both corporate teams came away from this activity not only with a stronger connection to the amazing work of our field staff, but also to a deeper connection to the LifeSTEPS mission to maximize the strengths of individuals and build resilient communities. Most importantly, no matter what role each staff member plays in their day to day work —corporate leadership, staff support or direct service field staff, all who participated in the Ice Cream Social exercise had a renewed appreciation that we are all an integral part of “Team LifeSTEPS” and each of us feel very privileged to be able to do this life changing work.

LifeSTEPS After School Programs Promote Self Confidence and Leadership

AngelaAngela has been coming to the LifeSTEPS After School Program at Palm Community’s Rancho Dorado since February 2014.  The After School Program has been a safe, stable haven for Angela since her own school environment had become unbearable.  Being in Junior high is tough enough, but Angela was getting bullied at school as well. Without an end in sight, her parents decided it was best for her to transfer to a new school. Though the bullying subsided, the transition to a new school was still difficult for Angela and her LifeSTEPS’ After School Program Coordinator (PC) noticed she was having a hard time in social situations.

A little extra one on one attention from the LifeSTEPS PC helped to bolster Angela’s self-confidence. Angela also discovered a new world in literature during the LifeSTEPS Summer Reading Program. She excelled as a reader and was soon reading at the 11th grade level and helping the younger children to read too. She’s now always quick to volunteer whether it’s cleaning up at day’s end or helping other’s with their homework. This new found leadership role within the After School Program has helped Angela weather the changes of going to a new school and gain new ways to express herself. Her parents have noticed the positive changes in their daughter too which they attribute to both the change in schools and to the mentoring she has received from the LifeSTEPS Program Coordinator.

LifeSTEPS is proud to be part of Angela’s progress through her challenges. It has been rewarding to help her identify what she’s good at and give her an opportunity to use these skills to benefit others.

*Not her real name

LifeSTEPS Discovers Fraudulent Activity in Older Adult’s Bank Account

Older Americans are becoming victims of financial abuse and fraud at an alarming rate. Very few have the advantage of having someone to watch out for them and advocate when necessary.  I am proud to say LifeSTEPS was recently able to do just that for Ray*, an older adult living in a Southern California senior community. Ray was referred by his property manager to LifeSTEPS for financial assistance when they learned he didn’t have money for food and was having trouble paying his rent.

LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services, Erick, met with Ray and immediately noticed Older adult, Rayred flags. Ray received a sizable Social Security income that, based on his expenses, should have been adequately covering his living expenses. Upon reviewing Ray’s budget and bank statements with him, it became clear that there were several cases of fraud being perpetrated on his account, leaving him with a low and often negative balance. The fraudulent activity dated back several months and was happening repeatedly.

Even after Erick explained the situation, Ray was at a loss as to how to solve the problem. Older Americans like Ray are less likely to report fraud or financial abuse against them because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or may not even know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs. Further exacerbating the problem, Ray’s primary language is Spanish and he suffers from loss of hearing; this, in conjunction with his advanced age makes it hard to advocate for him.

LifeSTEPS was able to assist Ray in documenting the fraud, filing a police report, notifying the bank and ultimately securing a $900 reimbursement from the bank. Furthermore, Erick helped Ray identify the perpetrator of the fraud – a certain individual that “helps” him with day-to-day activities unfortunately had access to his bank information and was abusing his privileges. Through the Riverside Office on Aging, Ray has been connected to additional resources, including a more trustworthy support person to assist him with daily activities.

LifeSTEPS continues to monitor Ray’s well-being and has seen an overall change in his demeanor. He is more cheerful and feels relieved to know his finances are in order. He is also more confident knowing how to better protect his financial security and where to turn if he has questions.

*Not his real name

Helping Single Mom Through a Tough Time

What would it be like to be a single mother, raising three young children (two of whom were autistic), and find a lump on your lymph nodes? And then, added to that, you were a victim of identity theft, leaving your bank account drained while rent and other financial obligations were due?

Unfortunately, Denise E. found herself in that position. The sole provider for her family, Denise Theresa Ewing USA Properties Terracina Springlake CA Photounderwent a biopsy (and is awaiting the results). During this time of stress and worry, her bank account was hacked and all her money stolen. As she attempted to sort through this trauma, her rent became late, putting her in danger of being evicted.

Thankfully, Denise lived in an affordable community that LifeSTEPS serves. She reached out to her social worker for help. First and foremost the social worker provided to Denise the emotional support and stability she so desperately needed during this difficult trial. Next, she assisted Denise in reinstating her bank account, filing the necessary paperwork required. She also helped her apply to LifeSTEPS’ Client Assistance fund, which provided her with temporary financial assistance to pay her rent. Finally, she helped Denise reach out to other local social services that could help with other necessities (like Cal Fresh).

We are grateful that LifeSTEPS can be of service to people like Denise who need help during their most difficult circumstances. Even more gratifying is that Denise not only received the help she needed, but is also gaining valuable knowledge and skills via our financial and other education programs.

We are keeping Denise and her children in our prayers, hoping for a speedy and complete recovery, while also establishing a hope for their future.

Teaching Children Healthy Nutrition is a Priority for LifeSTEPS

At one of our communities in California’s Inland Empire, families have access to weekly after school programming.  At LifeSTEPS After School Programs youth are introduced to new ideas and encouraged to explore their creativity.

Earlier thisSan Remo year nearly 25 youth from the community learned about Health and Nutrition in “hands-on” sessions where they prepared healthy snacks, such as protein balls, pita pockets filled with peanut butter and assorted fresh fruits and Strawberry Smoothies.

This class was on topic with LifeSTEPS adult education class themes of the same month; creating an opportunity for parents and children to engage in conversations around health and wellness.

Our youth program was further supported by a donation of “Choose My Plate” pamphlets and recipe books from nutritionists at the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools.  The literature illustrated the five food groups and was an exciting take home for the kids.

The kids enjoyed preparing their own food and were enthused about the prospect of healthy food tasting good.   Food safety was also covered.  The goals of the class were successfully reached; the kids were introduced to nutritious food ideas as well as thinking about making better food choices.

Youth Already Making His Mark – and Helping Others Along the Way

Cashius W. is one of those rare individuals whom everyone feels good to be around.

A rangy 15 year old with a winning smile, Cashius has become a vital member of his Northern California community. When he moved to the community at age nine, his mother immediately enrolled him in the LifeSTEPS after school program.

“I got to know people real fast,” he says. “The after school program is great because it’s a safe place wherCashiuse I could be with my friends. Everybody gets along…there was no bullying or any of that going on there.”

As he got older, Cashius became a steadfast volunteer in the community, helping with the Summer Lunch Program, Bingo parties, and attending regularly at resident meetings. “This is a really close-knit community. We look out for and help one another.”

At 15, Cashius is very clear about what he wants to do with his life: become a chef. This career path was solidified when he, along with fellow community member Tasiya O., were asked to teach other children and youth in the community how to cook simple meals through a program sponsored on-site by LifeSTEPS. Cashius was so popular that parents from other nearby communities have asked if the class was going to be offered again, and if he was going to be an instructor.

“I love to cook, and it was really fun teaching others.” Through the program Cashius was befriended by Adrian Day-Murchison, chef for Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. She would provide Cashius with some basic cooking gear, along with some “fun recipes to try.”

When asked how he learned to cook, Cashius said, “I’m mostly self-taught. I read a lot of books and watch the The Food Network. And my mother and grandmother have taught me a lot, too.”

Upon graduation he wants to attend Le Cordon Bleu and continue his quest to become a professional chef.

“I don’t want an office job or anything like that. Cooking is fun and I’d like to make it my career.” Smart, self-directed and community-minded, there’s no doubt Cashius will succeed!

LifeSTEPS After School Programs Boost Confidence in Shy Youth

Each week at AMCAL’s Villa Esperanza in Avenal LifeSTEPS facilitates after school programs.  Focusing on the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 pm, after school activities help children like Jason* succeed in school and build positiveVilla Esperanza social skills. Importantly, they also provide a safe place for children to explore their creativity.

When Jason first attended the LifeSTEPS After School Program in 2013, his mom told our Program Coordinator (PC) that he was very quiet and shy.  His mom was hoping that participating in the program would help him make friends and feel more confident in social settings with his peers.

The LifeSTEPS PC made an extra effort to include Jason by engaging him in easy conversation about things like the weather, his favorite color and favorite cartoon characters.  Jason responded well and soon began asking his own questions of the PC and other students.  Now he is one of the first to arrive and quick to offer help.  His grades have improved as have his social skills.

In his own words, Jason says, “I like the after school program because there are games, snacks and I get help with my homework.  We do activities…like making flowers and butterflies for my mom.  I like that we paint here.  …I like to paint dragons!”