Families at Little Rock shelter put on right track; program seen as national model – Arkansas News

Families at Little Rock shelter put on right track; program seen as national model – Arkansas News

Bonnie Watts wasn’t sure what she would tell her young son.

She was raising him on her own. The overdue electric bill stared at her from a pile of other urgent demands, and rent was looming.

The paycheck from her part-time job as a home-care aide just wasn’t enough.

Food. Gas for her car. School supplies. Clothing. All of it was crashing down on her.

“I knew I had to do something,” Watts, 59, said.

She took what few belongings she could, put her son in the car and checked them into the Salvation Army shelter in Little Rock.

“I was homeless by choice,” Watts said, then smiled as she talked about her son, now 8 years old. “He’s very intelligent. Such a smart boy. I just told him we were having money problems. He understood. As long as I was there with him, he was OK.”

On Tuesday, three years later, Watts’ grin was wide as she talked about her new home in Little Rock with a fenced-in backyard and the General Educational Development diploma she is earning.

Watts is nearing the end of an intensive 12-month program at Our House homeless shelter in Little Rock called Central Arkansas Family Stability Institute.

The program, now a national model, works with the family as a whole and provides dedicated case managers as well as employment coaching, financial courses, children’s programs and outreach to schools and other community programs. The goal of the initiative — funded by the Siemer Institute for Family Stability, the Heart of Arkansas United Way and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation — is to intervene before a family becomes homeless.

Georgia Mjartan, executive director of Our House, told a group gathered Tuesday to celebrate the…

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