At The Community Outreach, we offer a mentoring program called Genesis that helps individuals and families improve their ability to obtain or retain safe and permanent housing. We match a qualified recipient with a team of volunteers who have been trained as mentors and guide mentees through goal-setting, household budgeting and a financial handbook. Genesis participants have a professional case manager available to them at all times throughout the course of the program, which lasts one year.

Recently, we expanded our Genesis program to include a three-month grace period of extensive case management to help a potential participant prepare for mentorship. We’ve also increased the amount of financial assistance. In 2016, the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Sioux Falls was $712. So our financial assistance then was $1,000 — offering $800 in financial assistance and $200 in incentives. This year, to accommodate rising costs of rent in our community, we increased our financial assistance to $1,500, leaving $1,200 for financial assistance and $300 for incentives.

We also created a new opportunity within Genesis called Rise to Success, a partnership with Sioux Falls Ford that donates vehicles to those in need of transportation to and from work. Rather than someone trading in their vehicle, this program allows donors to take the tax reduction and donate their vehicle to our Genesis participants. Before the vehicle is donated, we complete a background check and confirm driving records, and then we facilitate the transfer. Meanwhile, Ford works on the vehicle to be sure it’s road ready and up to date. We launched this program on Thanksgiving in 2017, we intend to donate one vehicle a month, and our next vehicle donation will be presented May 10.

Our next step beyond the Genesis Mentoring Program is Hezekiah House, an opportunity for families who dream of home ownership but are not currently in a position to afford or qualify for a mortgage. For over three years now, we have been working faithfully with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, who currently provides six rental units and will hopefully turn them over to us for a five-year period. During those five years, we would control all aspects of the rental units while providing near market base rent to families who make anywhere from $35-$45K in annual household income. The individual or family would pay monthly rent to The Community Outreach over a two- to three-year period while we prepare them for real home ownership. But each month they pay us, half of their rent would be saved into a savings account, and at the end of their program, that savings account would be returned to them so they could use it as a down payment on their home.

During the last six to eight months of the program, they are working with a bank and looking for a house they want to buy for themselves, knowing we will come to the table at the end with anywhere from $12-$15K in cash to assist with their down payment. In this, we are also working with South Dakota Housing so our participants can complete the first-time homebuyer course, which also provides a $5,000 credit toward their down payment.

The Hezekiah House participant would also be in the Genesis program, learning about budgeting, goal-setting and life skills while also learning how to maintain a household. On May 1, we will host a community meeting at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, which is the final step for approval. We need the congregation to approve the Hezekiah House program with their vote!

Lastly, we have a new crisis care coordinator at The Community Outreach. Rachel Rust handles all requests for assistance in finances, housing and transportation.