Breaking Down Barriers with Families One Decision at a Time

People FirstUSI provides access to resources and support to help families push past barriers in their way. This Tidewater Gardens resident had to face a tough decision to persevere for a better tomorrow.

May 1, 2023

| BY: Janéa Hampton

Using Different Strategies to Break Down Barriers

When families face unbearable circumstances, decisions could cost someone years of progress. People FirstUSI leans into helping families overcome barriers they deem impossible to overcome, like trying to receive livable wages while supervising their households, raising children, including those on the spectrum, and not having proper healthcare coverage or reliable transportation.

With the implementation of universal strategies like “Every student must take the ACT/SAT to go to college” and targeted strategies like “A student with a learning barrier needs assistance to take the ACT/SAT,” we partake in the mission of providing the resources and support our families need to become stable and thriving.

The People First Empowered by USI Team

Heads of households struggle in so many ways to be able to provide for their families. When faced with getting money quickly, it sometimes results in making drastic or illegal decisions. At that moment, it may seem their options are slim, or they feel they can’t ask for help, but often, Black and Brown communities are not aware or positioned to receive all the resources and help they have available.

USI works on rebuilding confidence and eliminating the traumas most of our families experience due to the barriers they’ve faced daily. As households began learning about the services provided by People FirstUSI, our data has shown over a 22% decrease in risk score since year 1 of involvement. This indicates that families are actively engaged and eliminating the barriers they once experienced.

Finding Empowerment through Decisions that Spark Change

Ms. Lino overcame a huge barrier based on a decision that, in return, changed the trajectory of her life. Ms. Lino was dealing with the challenges of housing stability, the mental wellness of her family, education support for her autistic child, and job security. She began working with People FirstUSI in 2022 as a longtime resident of Tidewater Gardens, starting in 1996 where she lived for nine years and then for a second time in 2013. Tidewater Gardens had always felt like home for Ms. Lino.

When she lost employment, it led her to reach out to one of our workforce specialists, Brittany Sutton, in 2022. Ms. Sutton dug deep into figuring out what barriers Ms. Lino was facing, which is where she learned about Ms. Lino’s justice-involved incident in 2017.  At this time, Ms. Lino had just received her personal care assistant (PCA) certification and was preparing to take the state test to receive her certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification.

Moving Through Barriers With Resiliency

During the application process for the state examination, Ms. Lino had to provide documentation on her justice-involved incident. She also had to submit character letters to showcase how she had changed after the 2017 situation. Ms. Lino provided letters from USI Staff, her teachers from the school, and her parole officer. While pressing through this process, Ms. Lino discovered her rights had been fully restored.

Sutton explains, “It’s been a long road and things are just looking so different now. I love to see how people would have thought their move was bad, but it was able to draw attention to some things that might have been holding them back. Ms. Lino is a prime example of working through the move. She opened up to shine some light and took it one step at a time. It became easier and more bearable. We kept chiseling at it and were able to knock down some barriers.”

Ms. Lino was on house arrest for months after her incident in 2017. She could not do many activities with her kids due to her restrictions, like taking her son to the circus or attending church. The only activity she could do was go back and forth to work. She had to get creative because her son was younger and on the Autism Disorder Spectrum, so she and her daughter would hide eggs around the house for Easter. Being on house arrest was difficult, but Ms. Lino managed. Every Friday, she had to drive to Chesapeake Court, a 30-minute drive most days to pay court fines. She paid for her freedom, $119 a week for months. Ms. Lino decided to keep the receipts to this day for the reminder.

Facing Discomfort for a Better Tomorrow

“[From left to right] Ms. Lino, her daughter, and Ms. Sutton together after a community event”

Ms. Lino made a difficult decision that would lead her down a road of trials and tribulation, but how she became triumphant has been unmatched. Ms. Sutton saw even with Ms. Lino’s situation; she was

persistent, reliable, trustworthy, and very committed. If she committed to doing something, she was going to do it. She has shown tenacity, consistency, and perseverance; in return, she gained a better outlook on life. As a result, her rights were restored, and she has been able to provide a better life for herself and her children.

She also will be attending Tidewater Community College this summer to pursue an associate degree in human resources.

Ms. Lino answered, “I don’t even know if I would change anything because then I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. But I tell you what, when I was going through it, I was like, this would never happen again. I made sure that there were no charges. I mean, even when they took the ankle bracelet off, the deputy looked at me. The deputy said this is definitely not you”.

Finding Success in Supporting Community

Ms. Lino recently joined People FirstUSI as an Outreach Specialist. In this role, she can assist with community training and programs that support the needs of her neighbors. She also submitted paperwork to the Inspector General’s office to be removed from the exclusions list since she was granted the ability to take the state CNA certification from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

People FirstUSI meets people where they are. If it means getting in the deep end of the water to get them to the shoreline, that is what we do. We work on building trust and relationships, and in due time we gain results. With the help of our partners, we strive to provide the resources and services each household needs to become healthy, thriving individuals and to partner, willing to climb walls to break barriers for the benefit of the mission.

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