Orleans - The Homeless Prevention Council held a simple graduation ceremony Monday for 11 participants of a four-month program designed to foster resilience and self-reliance.
The REACH program — which stands for Resiliency, Empowerment, Achievement, Community and Hope — offered personal coaching, counseling and mindfulness training to council clients.
The core goal is to help participants learn skills that will help them break the cycle of poverty by achieving financial self-sufficiency and personal success.
Resiliency was the first lesson learned.
Just three weeks after the start of the program, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing a reshaping of the curriculum.
Edith Tonelli, a certified life coach, had planned to hold eight weeks of personal coaching in individual and group sessions before incorporating mindfulness training into the curriculum.
“Then COVID hit,” she said. “We went from coaching for future goals to coaching for immediate goals, without losing sight of long-term goals. How do you get through the day when you work full time and there’s no school or child care?”
Some of the participants were single mothers.
Some worked jobs considered essential.
They could not stay home with their children.
There was no extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits.
Others had jobs that paid minimum wage. One was in recovery. Another was struggling to stay in school.
All of which underscores the hard reality of life on Cape Cod for those working in low-paying jobs, for those in need of child care, and for those whose cars and clothes are their portfolios.
The REACH program was conceived by Homeless Prevention Council CEO Hadley Luddy. The first pilot program was held in 2019 with 10 participants. Monday’s group was the second to graduate. The ceremony was held outside in the parking lot.
Program donor Ramani Ayer likened the program to a three-legged stool.
“The first leg provides a clear-cut capacity to set goals,” he said. “The second leg fosters resilience; you fall off the horse, and you get back on. The third leg gives you a strategy to get from here to there.”
The council helps around 1,700 people annually with counseling and case management services, housing advocacy and budgeting assistance. Clients have access to job training and housing programs. And the council is able to leverage its resources because of the network of nonprofit organizations it works with.
“These are people who are struggling,” Ayer said. “They are often one episode away from homelessness. The REACH program is about creating coping and life skills.”
The second phase of the program centered on mindfulness.
The council partnered with Calmer Choice, a nonprofit organization that has brought mindfulness training to 30,000 students in 28 Cape schools during the past 10 years.
One single mother credited the training for helping her relax at night and ease into better sleep.
Another credited the program with helping her connect better with her children, noting they had profited from the Calmer Choice lessons they took in school.
Mindfulness helped participants adjust to the demands of holding the class online and using the telephone instead of meeting in person.
Even Tonelli had to get used to unfamiliar technology.
“It wasn’t my usual way of doing things,” she said. Social-distancing guidelines precluded the in-person gatherings she had counted on.
Participants resorted to FaceTime and the telephone for coaching sessions. Calmer Choice sessions were offered in Zoom meetings on Sundays.
One participant had to withdraw from the program because she was an essential worker who had to work Sundays.
“She was stuck,” Tonelli said.
The technological adjustments brought additional challenges. Some participants had trouble with computers and internet service.
“Talk about adaptability, flexibility, creativity and resourcefulness,” Tonelli said. “These were the things we were trying to do anyway."
To date, 21 participants have graduated from the REACH program. Ayers would like to see 50 participants graduate yearly. That will take an infusion of money.
Eastham resident and retired educator Marcia Dalbey was on hand for the ceremony. Dalbey believes in the mission of the council’s program and contributes to its cost. “It takes a lot of steps to gain self-reliance and confidence,” she said. “And we’re all still learning.”
Luddy estimates it costs $4,000 per person for the program. That includes the cost of the personal coaching, the mindfulness sessions and a $2,000 stipend each graduate receives upon completion.
Commitment is the cost to the graduates, Tonelli said.
The stipend can be used according to the budget plan each participant creates.
One woman is using hers to stay in school. Another is paying down debt. A single mother planned to get ahead with her mortgage payments. Previous graduates have used their stipends to start small businesses and go back to school for certificate programs.
Participant Arlene Weston is using her stipend to take a class at Cape Cod Community College. She credited the program with giving her coping skills and a way forward.
Her spending behavior had been undisciplined, she acknowledged. The class, and the pandemic, taught her how to live with less.
“I’m the calmest I’ve ever been,” she said. “When you’re open to something, you feed on it.”