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New programs assist housing authority, its residents

The Grundy County Housing Authority has been beleaguered with governmental funding cuts in the past few years. These cuts have been compounded by rising costs like electricity and insurance.

As a result, the housing authority has cut employee staffing levels, benefits, and resident services funding. In addition to these cuts, earlier this year the housing authority began reaching out for help in ways it never has.

Now, local businesses and individuals are coming to “pay it forward."

donor photo

Ben and Jennifer Price, owners of Turf Team, were thrilled to hear of the "Sponsor a Resident" program, which helps housing authority residents with their rent, Internet, or telephone bills.

“It’s a great way to help those in the community who need it most,” Jennifer Price commented.  “Knowing these residents are on a fixed income, it’s the right thing to do.”  

The Prices are also hoping the program will help teach their children, Jett and Maya, about the importance of giving back to their community.

“Look, Turf Team isn’t a giant corporation; we are a landscaping company in the middle of one of the worst droughts in years. But we want our kids to know there are people who don’t have access to everything they do. We think spending some time with residents of the housing authority can help them learn that important lesson,” said Ben Price.

Jennifer Olson, vice president of development at the housing authority, noted the average household income for residents is only about $12,000 per year, while average rent for a resident is $278 a month.

“Our residents need help now more than ever. Any amount given to help is so appreciated. We’re hoping each resident is lucky enough to get a sponsor,” Olson said.

Olson’s goal is to find enough donors for every household served by the housing authority.

“Even if a sponsor doesn’t cover the entire rental amount, any portion with which they can help is fantastic," she said.

Rob Alaimo of Rezin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine didn’t hesitate when Olson came to him with the Home Makers Program. He knew Rezin had enough employees who would jump at a chance to help.

This GCHA effort works with teams of volunteers to renovate vacant apartments for new residents, making scarce dollars available for other purposes. A plaque is placed outside of each apartment to recognize the contributions of the team that helped turn the project from an apartment to a home.  

“We have many employees who are always willing to give back to our community, and when I heard about this opportunity, it seemed to fit into our scope of who and how we like to help.” Alaimo said.

Quality Inn Morris is certainly no stranger to the housing authority. For the past three years, Kim Randt, the hotel’s general manager, and its staff members have been coming to Saratoga Tower in Morris to celebrate resident birthdays.

“Because the hotel has gotten so busy over the last year, it became a little hard to get over there," Randt said. "When Jennifer came to see me and mentioned we could sponsor a monthly meal, I knew this was the right fit for us.

“We do plan to spend more time at the Tower during our sponsor-a-meal program, but on the months we can’t attend, we can still guarantee the residents a monthly pizza party.”

Quality Inn Morris teamed up with Sam’s Pizza, which will deliver pizzas to the Tower for one year.

“Sponsor-a-meal is great for those who don’t necessarily have the time to spend at the authority, but still want to help out,” Olson said. “GCHA does encourage people to stay and enjoy time with the residents, however, we understand busy schedules can be an issue.  I know how busy I get, which is why we implemented this program for those who have time to spend with our residents and those who don’t.”

It’s that attitude of flexibility and caring that has led GCHA to really consider not only the needs of residents, but also the needs of those who want to support the mission of the housing authority.

“We have many programs in an attempt to fit the needs of anyone who would like to make a difference in the lives of the low-income elderly and those living with disabilities,” Olson said.  “And if we don’t have a program that fits both the needs of the donor and needs of our residents, we’ll work hard to create one that does. It’s all about paying it forward and helping people who need it.”

If you would like to donate or volunteer, or just need more information, you can visit the Grundy County Housing Authority online at www.gcha.us or call Jennifer Olson, GCHA vice president of development, at (815) 600-2907.

Copyright © 2012 Morris Daily Herald. All rights reserved.