Stepping Stones still in business of helping people make changes

10 years ago

    HOULTON, Maine —Makenzie Grant is a cute 2-year-old with a sweet smile. She loves to play and show people all of the toys in the loft, including puzzles, a toy kitchen and games, as well as the train station table located in another room.

    Grant is not a typical toddler. She does not realize, her mother and she are homeless.

    With nowhere to go, Makenzie’s mother turned to Stepping Stones in Houlton, a place she calls home.

    Stepping Stones, nestled on the corner of Military and High streets in Houlton, has been a safe haven for many families over the years.

    “We are still here,” said Kim McLaughlin, program manager. “There were stories we had closed.”

    The last year has been a struggle for the agency’s family stabilization program and others it like it across the state, as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services ceased funding in July 2013.

    With no funding available, three of the family stabilization programs in the state did actually close.

    “We have been able to continue to provide services at our Houlton location,” McLaughlin said. “Despite obstacles we face, Stepping Stones is committed to providing services for our target population.”

    Stepping Stones staff has adapted to meet the changes within the Shiretown and surrounding areas.

    “We have increased community case management services to help those who need support and direction,” said McLaughlin. “Our case managers can work with children and adults separately or in a family setting.”

    A case manager assists in finding and securing critical resources and services that will help individuals and families become independent and stable.

    Across the state there has been a 26 percent increase in homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    “We — Stepping Stones — offers a safe environment for homeless and pregnant and/or parenting women and their children,” McLaughlin said.

    Last year, 93 percent of people successfully exited Stepping Stones’ shelters statewide, moving into a stable or permanent housing situations.

    But, that is not all of what Stepping Stones in Houlton offers.

    “We do have a unique component that we offer,” said McLaughlin. “While in the shelter, clients not only receive case management, but they also participate in a life-skill and parenting curriculum.”

    The programs prepare those using the service for independent living, as well as tools to strengthen the child/parent relationship. Stepping Stones’ support services also connect clients to community resources that encourage success and independent living free of government assistance.

    “The strength of our program is measured in the high percentage of people who successfully move on to live independently of our services,” McLaughlin added.

    “In addition to the family shelter, Stepping Stones offers an apartment setting to provide for longer term (up to 24 months) independent living for families in need,” added McLaughlin.

    Still another option unique to Stepping Stones is that community members may also use services, even if they are not in crisis.

    “Community members do not need to reside in one of our programs to participate in the services we provide,” McLaughlin explained. “Our goal is to be able to support anyone in need.”

    Other programs that community members can be included in are parenting and life-skill groups free of charge.

    “The shelter is gender specific,” said McLaughlin, “but our programs such as community case management, transitional living and community-based groups are open to anyone who needs help in these areas.”

    Statewide a year ago, Stepping Stones served 57 children and 52 adults in apartment-based homeless shelters for pregnant or parenting women. They also offered case management services to 38 clients who required assistance while homeless within the community. Stepping Stones also served an additional 18 families housed in the transitional living program.

    “Our transitional programming helps residents to work toward attaining permanent housing, education and career progress,” explained McLaughlin. “Our program also provides opportunities to develop parenting, fiscal literacy and household management skills. Case managers support families through the process.”

    Stepping Stones also participates in a program that provides a car seat to anyone who needs to have one and cannot afford one. And, they also offer adoption services throughout the United States.

    For more information on Stepping Stones and its programs, call McLaughlin locally at 532-6689 or 888-866-0113. Or visit www.steppingstonesusa.org to learn more about the programs and services they offer.

    “We always have volunteer opportunities, too,” she added. “Our programs are models to help families bring about positive change in their lives. We provide families with emotional and practical support they need to live together in safe and healthy ways.”