By: Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Seven years ago, April Imes and her two daughters fled from domestic violence and moved to Homeward Bound, a Phoenix transitional-housing program.
Imes, then 23, stayed for two years, learning how to piece together her life and become independent again. The program, which helps families with children who’ve suffered homelessness or domestic violence, offers services and case managers to help clients get back on their feet.
Imes took budgeting and parenting classes, saved money and cleared up her credit. She bought a home in Surprise and graduated from the program.
“Being a young parent, and then being in a situation that I was in, I wasn’t really sure how to rebuild my life,” Imes said.
She is now giving back. She and her church are sponsoring a family in the program.
“I wanted to pay it forward and do it for them,” Imes said.
Homeward Bound is one of more than 135 local non-profit agencies that receive donations through The Arizona Republic and 12 News’ annual Season for Sharing campaign. Clients like Imes are proof that the community’s dollars have tangible results, said Pamela Martin, the organization’s president and executive director.
“The investment the community makes in the program is really a long-term investment in families. We see that when they go into homeownership” and when they give back to the community they live in, Martin said.
The 2011 Season for Sharing campaign reached its goal to raise $2.66 million, which will be distributed to non-profit agencies that provide critical services and programs, from helping improve educational skills to aiding at-risk children and families, victims of domestic violence, and the elderly. The grants will be issued in March.
“Year after year, our readers and viewers continue to amaze us with their generosity,” said Gene D’Adamo,The Republic‘s vice president of community relations. “In good economic times and bad, they open their hearts and wallets to help our state’s most vulnerable residents. This year’s campaign was no exception.”
Season for Sharing has raised nearly $47 million since it began in 1993, D’Adamo said.
“All of us at The Arizona Republic, 12 News and azcentral.com are honored and humbled by the trust the donors place in us to invest their dollars where they will do the most good. It is a responsibility we take very seriously,” D’Adamo said.
Average donations were in smaller amounts this year, but the number of donors increased, which D’Adamo said showed that people still want to help with however much they can give.
The largest donation this year was $80,000 from BillingTree, a local organization that donated all ticket-sale proceeds from its annual RockBlock charity concert in November. That donation was a big reason this year’s campaign met its goal, D’Adamo said.
The Gannett Foundation, the charitable arm of Gannett Co., Inc., the parent company of The Republic and 12 News, matches all contributions 50 cents on the dollar until the campaign reaches $800,000.
The Republic and 12 News cover all administrative and fundraising costs.
Homeward Bound works with other programs that help clients become independent. One of them is Helping Hands for Single Moms, which also is supported by Season for Sharing funds.
Helping Hands for Single Moms provides scholarships to low-income single mothers to help them graduate from college. In addition, moms receive a monthly stipend and a variety of in-kind services provided by the organization’s community partners, such as auto and computer repair, AAA membership, dental and medical assistance, and carpet cleaning.
Those services were crucial to Michelle Campuzano, who was enrolled in the program from 2008 to 2010.
Campuzano was pursuing an undergraduate degree in social welfare and non-profit administration while taking care of her special-needs son, who suffers from severe mental illness.
Campuzano’s son, now 15 years old, has had 31 brain surgeries. His medical issues include epilepsy, cerebral palsy and hearing impairment. Campuzano had her hands full.
Single mothers like Campuzano trying to get through college have enough trouble making ends meet, said Chris Coffman, the program’s executive director. When one thing goes wrong, like getting a flat tire, it can set them back.
“Being a parent in itself is hard. Being a single parent, having a special-needs child and going to school is so overwhelming, and those little pressures can make you want to give up,” said Campuzano, 32. “Helping Hands comes in and provides support in those areas.
“Most scholarships don’t fix your teeth. Most scholarships don’t give you counseling,” she said.
Campuzano is now a special-education teacher at Valley View Elementary School. After graduating from college, she went on to get two master’s degrees. She is now a helping hand to her special-needs students.
As for Imes, she recently sold the home she bought through Homeward Bound. She moved in to a bigger house “with a beautiful kitchen.”
When she was at Homeward Bound, the organization gave her a minivan after Imes made a case for why she needed it — because she could not get to work in time after dropping off her daughter at kindergarten while riding public transit.
“I still have the minivan,” Imes said. “It was a godsend.”