As the pandemic took a toll on our beloved city, UPO was needed more than ever.
UPO is the designated Community Action Agency for the District’s residents with low incomes, which means that our purpose is Uniting People with Opportunities so they can reach economic security and wellness.
Federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enabled UPO to expand our programs and our reach to District residents who earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level. For 2 years (ending September 30, 2022), we wove this funding through our programs so we could help more families get back on their feet.
We tailored our approach to each person and family to meet their needs. For some families, that meant supermarket gift cards for groceries. For others, it meant diapers, clothing, toddler beds, and a stroller, or help from our in-house mental health consultant.
The impact of CARES Act funding included:
- We prevented eviction for 518 households with Emergency Rental Assistance.
- We prevented disconnection for 695 households with Emergency Utility Assistance (82 – water; 163 – gas; and 450 – electricity).
- We trained 219 District residents in new courses to the UPO Workforce Institute, including:
– IT: Network+ and Security+ because we see that cybersecurity and managing computer networks are growing fields
– Cleaning and Sanitation: a course designed specifically for entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses
- We provided 2,000 laptops to support children’s distance learning, and to seniors to prevent social isolation and encourage telehealth visits. We continue to hold computer literacy classes for seniors.
- We referred 151 people to licensed mental health providers, so they could have a safe space to deal with their trauma, grief, and loss. As the pandemic continued, we saw that more men and children (ages 4-13) came for counseling, including people who saw that the pandemic worsened their depression or anxiety. Many said, “I didn’t know that I needed this, but I really did.”
- We paid for GED and ESL classes for residents who needed that extra incentive to take the next step in their education.
- We addressed food insecurity by partnering with Capital Area Food Bank, Martha’s Table, and 25 other organizations for weekly drop-offs of food as well as distributions of hot meals, produce, household goods and PPE.
- We supported 200 families when they were quarantined, delivering the care packages and food they needed.
- We helped 36 families with medical bills, baby supplies, summer camp tuition, and burial support.
- We enabled community-based organizations to run high-quality summer camps that addressed children’s learning loss. And then we created a youth Book Club for grades K-5 while supporting their social and emotional wellness.
In short, our Pro-Education, Pro-Career, and Pro-Community approach helped us pivot during this crisis to help our neighbors. Here are some stories of our powerful impact on customers.
Her computer is “a blessing”
For Sharon Gray-Rush, securing a laptop was a game-changer, especially during the pandemic:
“It’s been a blessing.” Thanks to UPO, she not only pays bills and does her banking online, she also buys groceries and has them delivered. This saves her from going to the store, carrying bags, and activating her arthritis. Ms. Gray-Rush sympathizes with many people in her community who don’t have reliable access to the internet. She says access is so important because “everything is online now.”
She can stay in her home
Our CARES Act team enables UPO to help more people during the pandemic. For example, when Ms. A came to UPO, she was desperate to stay in her home. We helped her get back on her feet by paying her landlord $4,900 in back rent. She said:
“People are out here working but they are still behind, and they need to know there is HOPE, that there is help. I have told many people about [UPO’s] program and they don’t believe me … I can only lead them to the water – I can’t make them drink. But I am so glad I went to that water and drank – and it was COOL water!”
A Mother’s Ambition
The UPO CARES program helps people turn their passion into action — and the only cost is their sweat. Look at Lena Coleman, a DC native with three children and a passion for education. She needed a Child Development Associate (CDA) certification to pursue her goal of becoming a Childcare Director, but she could not afford the cost of training and testing.
She reached out to UPO, learned that she was eligible, and jumped right into our free CDA Training program – 3 weeks after she gave birth! Even with a newborn by her side amid a pandemic, Coleman thrived. Now she is a certified CDA and one step closer to her goal.
Our Construction Trades Workshops open the eyes of high school students to new career paths. Some students go further and graduate from our certification programs, which will lead them to skilled careers with job security. Watch this NBC4 story to see how we help people lift themselves up.
“This laptop has given me peace of mind.”
As a senior with a low income, Victor Kolako couldn’t afford to repair or replace his old, glitching laptop. Our CARES team gave him a brand-new one.
“Some people do not have the means to get a laptop. And laptops help all of us … NOW! So UPO assisting people is good. And the laptop is expensive, but UPO offering it for free for senior citizens – I really appreciate it.”
Now she can reach her goals
Alexis Simmons is a DC native who always knew that education was her calling. When she saw a UPO CARES Act flyer about Child Development Associate (CDA) training, she leaped at the opportunity. Simmons soon completed our program and became a certified CDA.
This achievement gave her a boost of confidence and opened many doors. Now she teaches at DC Prep Public Charter School and is enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia to get her BA in Early Education. Bravo!
“I’m going forward.”
UPO opens doors of opportunity so a customer can come charging through, becoming the change agent for their life. Take Alexis Scott for example, who sought out our Food Sanitation certification program and quickly graduated with new job skills. She said, “It made me feel good about myself…I can go out there and conquer anything!”
Scott is determined to work in the food industry and is studying for her GED. She is focused! “I’m not going backwards. I’m going forward.”
Feeding his hunger to succeed
Freddie Jeffcoat — DC native and father of 2 — has earned 3 IT certificates at UPO. After completing the CompTIA A+ and Networking+ courses, he hungered for more. So when UPO’s CARES Act project began a CompTIA Security+ Training Program (for cybersecurity), Jeffcoat dove in. Now that he has earned his third IT certification, the sky’s the limit!
The field trip that changed his life
DC native Lawrence Jackson just graduated from high school and from the UPO CARES Construction Trades Program. One high school field trip changed his life – he was intrigued by the idea of getting experience in the construction field and signed up for the workshops.
In class, Lawrence found his bliss. He felt that the UPO staff welcomed him with open arms and turned his classroom into a second home. He also loved learning construction skills like framing, nailing, and saw-work. Now he’s taking the next step: Lawrence is gearing up to study Engineering Technology at the University of the District of Columbia.
He’s paving a road to success
Angelo Brandon was an artist and painter. He was also a struggling single dad with no job and no one to watch his infant and toddler.
Then Angelo found UPO’s Paradise Early Childhood Center for his children’s education. There, he discovered UPO’s CARES Act programs, including a Cleaning and Sanitation certification course specifically for entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses. A light bulb went off and he enrolled.
Angelo and his family are now thriving, in part because of CARES Act funds that helped with rent and utilities, as well as car repairs so he could get to class. Angelo is now working at a job as he takes classes for his certification. He’s getting closer to launching his own business.
New skills + new mindset = a powerhouse
Gina Miller was a contracted security guard when she heard about the UPO job training programs funded by the CARES Act. She was grateful to be working during the pandemic but was not fulfilled — she was motivated to grow. So Miller signed up for 4 certificate programs; she attended classes on her days off. Her favorite program: Cleaning & Sanitation, which is designed for budding entrepreneurs.
Sure enough, once she received her certification, Miller started her own cleaning and sanitation company. Her confidence has soared! After early struggles in her life, she says, “I was able to come back and turn my life around. And now I am doing things that are positive.”
She has also started working for our Shelter Hotline program, as her way to give back to her community and to help fund the equipment for her blossoming business. She has found her path in life.
Jasmine Buckner is a parent with children in UPO’s Early Head Start centers, and she’s studying for her high school diploma thanks to CARES Act funds and her one-of-a-kind determination!
You can rise into the middle class, no matter where you start.
- If you don’t have your GED Diploma, you can earn it in a class for English speakers or for ESL (English as a Second Language). Our student support services help you overcome obstacles and succeed!
- Start your own Cleaning and Sanitation business through our training program. First, you earn a national certification in the Environmental Maintenance industry. Second, UPO will give you start-up support to buy equipment and supplies and will partner with the Small Business Association (SBA) to help you get a small business loan.
- Raise your IT skills to the next level with Security+ or Network+ courses. You’ll graduate with a national certification.
- If you’re certified with a Food Handlers License, you can become an apprentice through a partnership for Hospitality and Culinary Arts Industry Workers. UPO gives you a stipend during 6 months of on-the-job training. The goal is that after the training, you get hired for a full-time job.
- High school seniors can attend Career Exploration in the Construction Trades to discover alternatives to college.
RENTAL & UTILITY SUPPORT
Are you or your family on the edge of homelessness, or are you without a home now? We have your back.
Our targeted supports can help reduce how long you experience homelessness. You will receive further help as needed, such as job training, rental assistance, mental health counseling, and connections to other resources.
UPO provides Care Packages and food to individuals or families who are required to quarantine for 2 weeks as a result of contact tracing. During this period, UPO case managers will identify your needs and coordinate assistance.
Let us help you with medical bills, baby supplies, summer camp, and burial support.
MOBILE GROCERY & HOUSEHOLD FOOD DISTRIBUTION
UPO coordinates weekly grocery and household food distribution for the people who need it most. We place special emphasis on Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8.
MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING
Your life has been disrupted because of COVID. If you’re having trouble, we’re here to help.
Reach out to us for an appointment with a licensed mental health provider.
Don’t suffer alone.
(UPO offers this program in coordination with the DC Dept. of Behavioral Health.)
YOUTH BOOK CLUB
Join the E.P.I.C. Book Club for grades K-5— we make reading FUN! It helps children with academic enrichment opportunities and their social-emotional wellness.
Students meet weekly with program aides. They learn skills and strategies that help them understand and interpret their emotions.
UPO is using a place-based strategy to expand job readiness, case management, and employment services in 3 Community Impact Zones: Brentwood (Ward 5), SW Neighborhood (Ward 6), and Benning Terrace (Ward 7). We see real progress happening, because the forces that drive change are collaborating to achieve a shared vision.
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE FOR UPO’S EARLY HEAD START FAMILIES
UPO provides targeted emergency response assistance to families with children enrolled in Early Head Start who are displaced or experiencing homelessness. We assess their needs, provide direct assistance, and connect families to additional partners to give them relief.
SUMMER PROJECT-BASED LEARNING
UPO chose community-based organizations so they could run high-quality summer programs. Each curriculum uses best practices to engage youth in academics and/or enrichment.