Interfaith Community Outreach Provides Help When You Need It
Have you ever had to choose between paying your water bill or buying medication for yourself or a family member?
Or wondered how you could afford transportation to receive treatments for a life-threatening disease?
Have you ever faced seemingly insurmountable financial issues and felt there was nowhere to turn?
For many in this idyllic land of alluring beaches and dazzling sunshine, living here full-time is a manageable proposition. But for some, it can be a struggle. Regardless, the remoteness of our barrier island offers no one protection from the inevitable hardships of life.
Mighty winds topple trees, causing damage to homes and vehicles. A storm surge from the sound side floods yards, creeps up porch steps, seeps into living spaces.
The main breadwinner sustains an injury and is unable to work for a time, or hours are cut, or the weather makes work impossible and the ends won’t quite meet to pay the monthly rent or electric bill, much less a car repair.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is a little compassion and help to get back on one’s feet.
Thankfully, relief can be found at Interfaith Community Outreach (ICO). Visit their website here. Supported by more than fifty faith communities, individuals, numerous businesses, government agencies, grants, and other local partners, ICO provides assistance and gap services to individuals facing a temporary emergency crisis in Dare and Currituck counties.
ICO also helps to bridge the gap for individuals who earn too much income to qualify for certain assistance programs yet don’t have the resources to pay for an emergency crisis.
Since ICO opened its doors in 2004, the organization has helped over 7,000 families facing a temporary emergency crisis and disbursed $2,253,882 in outreach.
Jennifer Albanese is ICO’s executive director. Two part-time, paid staff members provide support and there are more than100 trained, and long-time, volunteers who share the passion of ICO’s mission, offering expertise and experience with office skills, home construction/repair, landscaping, fundraising, and so much more. A 15-member Board of Directors provides direction.
In January of this year, an average of 15 people per day sought assistance through ICO and $32,435 was disbursed with $8,487 of that amount going towards cancer outreach.
In 2017, 996 families (2,281 individuals) received assistance with $275,000 in outreach disbursed.
With connections to practically every non-profit organization in the area, ICO is a resource for clients with short-term problems. They work closely with Dare and Currituck Departments of Social Services and at times will partner with other groups and split the expenses or pay for an immediate need and receive reimbursement from the appropriate agency later.
When needed, ICO partners with Dare County Emergency Management for Disaster Recovery. Some ICO volunteers are trained to help man an emergency call center. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, $125,000 in outreach was dispersed.
ICO works alongside area groups to provide stopgap coverage for medical tests and procedures not covered by Dare County Department of Public Health, Community Care Clinic, or Outer Banks Relief Foundation.
This year got off to a great start with Dominion Energy presenting a $20,000 grant to help with ICO’s Access to Health Care and Cancer Outreach. The grant will help cover general medical expenses and gas vouchers for transportation for treatments and appointments.
The community supports ICO by rallying around fundraisers such as golf tournaments, auctions, and fish fries. The annual Alice Kelly Fishing Tournament raised $50,000 for cancer support. The Annual Christmas Appeal raised $50,000 as well.
The history of ICO is an illustration of the classic proverb, “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
On an auspicious day in 2003, a group of five parishioners met at a local church. A brainstorming session ensued to determine a way to equitably distribute aid to those in the community seeking emergency assistance.
The idea was to consolidate the many faith-based programs under one non-denominational umbrella – a clearinghouse of sorts – where churches could collaborate, combine resources, and help more people more efficiently.
Top priority was a commitment to maintain the dignity of the person making the request. They agreed that establishing a historical database was important to account for disbursement of funds, to ensure integrity, and to avoid duplication of effort. The target audience would include the working poor, the elderly, the physically challenged, the single parent, and those not qualified to receive government assistance.
By 2004, all systems were a go. Ginger Candelora was installed as the executive director. Volunteers had been recruited and trained by the Dare County Department of Social Services and the vision was in place. ICO was open for business.
Candelora, who served eight years, stated that money was scarce in the beginning.
“There was barely enough to buy stamps to mail flyers announcing our services,” she recalls.
For the first six months, ICO worked out of an office in Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. It depended on donations from churches and “by the grace of God we were able to assist everyone who came seeking help,” Candalora said. “I am just flabbergasted to see how far the organization has come.”
When collaborating with other non-profits to find a solution to a problem, Albanese said, “It’s like putting a puzzle together. You have to get the right pieces to make it work.”
Volunteer Beverly Chambers confirmed Albanese’s determined approach, saying, “I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem that she couldn’t come up with a way to fix it.”
A single mother of three children had her car repossessed as the result of a misunderstanding. Without transportation for work, she was in a bind. Because ICO receives about 12 vehicles per year, Albanese was able to donate a car to the woman.
Another client, who had lost income due to cancer treatments, requested assistance in paying her mortgage. ICO provided help and found the woman a full-time job in the process.
One client suffered from asthma and was unable to have the windows opened in her un-air-conditioned trailer. Her husband had recently passed away and she faced mounting medical bills. ICO staff made some calls. Within a couple of hours, volunteers showed up to install an air conditioner in her home.
“Most clients are hardworking people who live paycheck-to-paycheck,” said Albanese.
Potential ICO clients should have a job and income and can complete an application on ICO’s website or by visiting its office at 115 S. Mustain Street in Kill Devil Hills.
Documentation pertaining to their crisis (eviction notice, disconnection notice, etc.) is required. Everything is verified and documented. Applicants are interviewed and an assessment is made by asking questions such as: Have you taken measures to remedy the situation? What can you help with? Have you contacted other agencies and if so what were the results? Why is this a temporary gap service? What will preclude the situation from happening next month?
A decision for either direct assistance or referral to another community agency is made and delivery of the services is arranged. In some instances, clients just need guidance as to where to get help. Sometimes, just talking through their dilemma results in reaching a solution.
No money is dispersed to the client. Checks are written to the vendors. The goal is always for financial help to be temporary, enabling them to get back on track for the long term.
In 2015, with multiple relocations under its belt, it was high time ICO established a permanent home. When a potential site became available, Albanese’s can-do attitude paved the way to secure a loan from the Department of Agriculture and receive grants for the down payment. Two areas in the upstairs portion of the building were set aside to rent, handily covering the mortgage payment.
Once ICO took possession of the building, supplies were donated, and volunteers converged to undertake improvements. The interior was reconfigured to provide spaces for confidential interviews and secure file storage. Walls were painted in a soothing shade of green, new windows were installed, and hardwood flooring was laid. The result is a welcoming and professional office space and a testament to the support of the community.
The staff gathers in the conference room at the start of the day to say a prayer for guidance and to give thanks for the opportunity to serve. Emblazoned on one wall is ICO’s logo. A thank-you note, if you will. A former client who wanted to show his gratitude painted it for the organization.
In fact, many former clients show their appreciation once they get back on their feet. Some make monetary donations and some volunteer their skills, such as hanging drywall, plumbing, painting, or building handicap ramps. One gentleman, a veteran, was so grateful for having been treated with kindness and dignity he was inspired to make a sizeable financial donation.
Albanese’s wish for the future of ICO is that the organization isn’t needed as much. She hopes that the economy and the community thrive, that people can be self-sufficient.
But until that time, Interfaith Community Outreach will continue providing hope and a hand to those in need. ♦
Contact Interfaith Community Outreach:
115 Mustian St, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
Kimberly Armstrong’s artistic talents are limited to drawing conclusions. However, she can perform a rollicking rendition of “The Skater’s Waltz” on the piano.