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Winston-Salem Journal

Fitting The Need; Salvation Army Extends Reach To Growing Group

By Lisa Hoppenjans, JOURNAL REPORTER

11 December 2004
Copyright © 2004 Piedmont Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Lorena Guinto's face is solemn. She is 33 years old, has five children and was just laid off from a packaging job that paid $7.50 an hour. She got her last paycheck Nov. 26.

Holding her youngest child in one arm, she uses the other to search through her bag. She spreads the bills she can't pay across the table - Duke Power, Piedmont Natural Gas, BellSouth. And her $300 rent is due.

Sibel Kiser takes a look. She can't help with everything, but she can cover the gas and power bills, she tells Guinto. At the end of their interview, a smile of relief breaks out on Guinto's face.

Kiser is the outreach case manager for The Salvation Army's Winston-Salem area command. Four days a week, she travels to locations in Winston-Salem and in Yadkin and Davie counties. She helps people keep their lights on and avoid eviction.

Her work is part of The Salvation Army's emergency financial-assistance program, which helps clients with such expenses as rent, utilities, medicine or car repairs. The organization has long provided emergency aid at its Trade Street office in Winston-Salem, but added an outreach component in 2002, sending a case manager out to other places in the community - such as the Downtown Health Plaza and The Salvation Army International Corps Community Center on New Walkertown Road.

The move was in part to reach Hispanics, said Lisa Parrish, the director of operations for The Salvation Army Winston-Salem area command.

"We felt that we really needed to serve the Latinos, and we might have to change the way we do things to serve these people," Parrish said.

It seems to be working. Kiser, who grew up in Puerto Rico, has been the outreach case manager for 16 months. Last year, 2 percent of families served by the emergency financial-assistance program were Hispanic. This year, that figure increased to 20 percent.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust provides grant money for the emergency assistance payments in Forsyth County. It recently awarded The Salvation Army a $260,282 grant for the program for its current fiscal year.

Kiser said that the program isn't for those looking for a handout. She wants to see that those asking for assistance have been making responsible choices, she said.

In interviews with clients, she goes through pay stubs, bills and receipts. She wants to see the bills that they have paid, and those that they haven't. Those who have been paying for cable but do not pay the rent may not find much sympathy.

"This is like giving you the one little push, so you can do it on your own the next month," she said.

From Oct. 1, 2003, to Sept. 30, 2004, she helped 169 families with rent and 189 families with their utilities.

Sometimes, she said, it is more difficult to help Hispanics because they lack the proper documents. Kiser doesn't ask about immigration status, but she does ask for a photo identification card and a Social Security or taxpayer number.

Kiser said she sees many Hispanic clients at the community center on New Walkertown Road, across from Lakeside Apartments, where she spends Thursday afternoons.

Last Thursday, she already had a line outside her door when she began interviews at 1 p.m.

Alejandro Munoz and Britzel Alvarado were her third interview of the afternoon.

Munoz works construction. Lately, work has been slow and money scarce. The couple have two children, ages 2 years and 6 months, and they don't have the $350 they need to pay rent this month.

Kiser tells them she can't give them $350, but she can give them $150 to offer as a partial payment to their landlord until Munoz gets his next paycheck if the landlord will accept that arrangement.

For the most part, the couple have been able to meet their monthly bills, they say. The only other time they have sought help with a local agency was eight months ago, Munoz said.

Munoz said that life is easier in the United States. There's more work, and the pay is higher.

"When I'm working, it's better here," he said.

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