11 May Rural Greenville County
Greenville County may be the most populous county in the state of South Carolina, but thousands of acres are rural and sparsely populated. In northern Greenville County, mountains, rivers and rocky gorges give residents access to natural beauty and seclusion. In southern Greenville County, rolling farmlands have been tended for generations by rural residents, although much of this land is being converted to low density single family housing developments.
Residents of rural Greenville County – particularly those in poverty or without transportation – often find themselves separated from jobs, education, health care, and other opportunities to improve their financial stability and quality of life.
“It’s a beautiful place – I love this area,” said lifelong northern Greenville County resident Shandy Garrison. “The environment is so inviting, but if you’re not financially prepared to handle it or if you grew up in it, it can be a hard, vicious cycle to break.”
Shandy found herself in need of help after a serious illness and the birth of her son required her to drop out of college $30,000 in debt. She happened upon Foothills Family Resources, a nonprofit located in Slater that serves as a gateway to comprehensive services that support, educate and empower. These services include a Department of Social Services caseworker to connect with public benefits, Greenville County Schools’ Lifelong Learning, and Greenville Mental Health Center.
But Foothills Family Resources is more than a co-location of programs. It offers Integrated Service Delivery, a model that supports clients with employment advancement, income enhancements, and asset building. As David Bolton, Executive Director of Foothills Family Resources explained, “We don’t just connect clients with services – we focus on moving clients to financial stability, one person at a time.”
The Center for Community Services in Fountain Inn helps residents of southern Greenville County with emergency assistance, health department and free medical clinic services, connections to education through Head Start for preschoolers and Greenville Literacy Association for adults, and more. It, too, uses an Integrated Service Delivery model.
So, when residents approach Center for Community Services or Foothills Family Resources staff for help with groceries or a power bill, which is often their initial reason for visiting, staff and volunteers are trained to probe more deeply into the issues that created their financial instability.
Kathy and David Barton first came to Center for Community Services for food and power bill assistance. Both had always worked and had never needed emergency help, but Kathy’s breast cancer and David’s loss of a construction job after the 2008 recession left them unable to make ends meet.
At age 57, David wasn’t sure that finding reemployment in construction would work. He said, “Where I was working, we put up steel structures – skyscrapers and things like that – I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m too old to climb them columns. And building houses is rough on an old man. Of course, I don’t consider myself old, but I can’t do what I used to do.”
So Center for Community Services staff connected him with a brief training program at Greenville Technical College that now has him employed in his first 40 hour a week job with benefits.
His wife says their improved financial situation is “awesome.”
“It’s such a relief off our shoulders to know that we’re going to have food on the table, to know the lights aren’t going to get cut off, the stability of knowing there’s going to be a paycheck there.”
The close connection to the community that staff have in these rural centers is critical to their building successful relationships with clients. “Sometimes people in poverty have blinders on,” said Andrew Ross, Executive Director of Center for Community Services. “They only see the crisis that they are currently in and are trying to find a way out of it. Everything else falls by the wayside. They may not know what services are available to help and many have never been encouraged to really reach for their goals and then how to actually get there. We are here to show them what’s possible, to remove barriers that stand in their way, and to encourage them that they can do it.”
Shandy’s experience with Foothills Family Resources is a perfect example of that. After staff helped stabilize her finances with groceries and power assistance, they encouraged her to pursue certification in medical coding and supported her every step of the way. She’s now employed, has been promoted, and is the owner of a nearly-new car.
Shandy admits, “It was beyond anything that I ever comprehended I could do for myself, and a sense of gratitude that I couldn’t express without tears…It took me from being dependent on social security disability insurance, Medicare and Medicaid to take care of my health for myself and my child to a point where I can contribute to my community in more ways than one.”