Urban Ministries program helps journey to success

By Roderick Marshall, Jr.
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Walking into the building at Urban Ministries of Durham, you will find a range of people coming and going. Many of these are residents who are in need of some type of assistance whether it be food, shelter, clothing, and in a lot cases, all three.

Shanna Jefferson and Virgil Williams at Urban Ministries Durham. Photo by Purity Kimaiyo.

It is kind of like being in a room full crowded people who all need the same things at the same time. Amid this activity, you’ll find Shanna Jefferson. At first glance, she gives off a quiet demeanor, but once she with begins to interact with her clients, there is no doubt about who is running the show.

UMD has been operating its center and the local community shelter next to it since 2001. According to their website, they strive to comprehensively address the emergency needs of the poor, hungry, and homeless in Durham.

Four programs at UMD help residents gain independence, and ultimately come out of homelessness. Journey Family helps over 60 families or at least 200 individuals per year. Journey Recovery helps people move from addiction to recovery and independent living. Journey Outreach provides specialized care for up to 55 persons a year with special medical or mental health conditions.

The Journey Tech program, which Jefferson has been heading for a little over a year, is designed for homeless persons whose primary concerns are underemployment and the lack of the stable living conditions necessary to get back on track. Often, program participants are working part-time, in programs designed to enhanced employability, in school or actively seeking employment.

Jefferson manages the cases of clients who are working or going to school. She creates individual service plans with each client that include skill-building techniques for saving money, maintaining employment and self discipline.

“I enjoy outlining goals to help my clients achieve independence,” said Jefferson. She explained that her position as a case manager at UMD is a unique one because she says she tries to empower the people in her program. One way she does this is to “look at their strengths and not their weaknesses.”

“I want my clients to look at this program as a transition tool to assist them in getting back on their feet by linking them with other services in the community,” said Jefferson.

There are certain requirements for people to stay in the program. “All clients must have and maintain employment, they must be drug free while in the program and random drug tests are given,” said Jefferson. “The program is limited to 90 days, but it can be extended due to the personal need of each client.”

Jefferson explains that although her job can be stressful at times, she enjoys assisting her clients with their challenges and she likes helping them with organizational issues.  Jefferson maintains that it is important in her line of work to “work with the client and not for the client.”  She insists that it is up to the individual to make necessary changes needed to gain independence for themselves.

Virgil Williams, a Journey Tech resident, recommends the program to anyone who is in need.

“It is a good program to be in,” said Williams.  “If you do what you’re supposed to do then there is no problem.”

Williams explains that honesty is the key to staying in this program. “Tell the truth as opposed to a lie and you can get more help that way,” says Williams.

He says the program has benefitted him by allowing him to save money and learn budgeting skills as well. Of Jefferson, he says, “Shanna is very resourceful and very and helpful.”

“She is very professional and has managed to remain that way when interacting with her clients regardless of the situation. She is also very free to offer suggestions to clients served in other programs,” said Kennedy Ganyo, a graduate student from UNC Pembroke who is interning under Jefferson. “I have managed to take some of her leadership skills and am now using them.”

Jefferson has a bachelor’s degree in public policy and a master’s degree in social work, both from UNC. Her advice for anyone who is struggling to work and stay in school is to, “stay focused, have faith, and keep big goals in mind but focus on small steps, prioritize, and make short term sacrifices.”