As families across our country are working to manage the multiple changes in which the recent pandemic has brought to their lives, many are in the process of rebuilding what has been lost.

Some are mourning the loss of a job or loved one. Some are simply finding ways to survive. Whatever you are doing in building your family’s new normal, we hope the adjustment is becoming easier. As our fellow American families are focused on restoring life as they knew it, the Osceola Council on Aging (OCOA) is also focused on restoring, stabilizing, and strengthening families across Osceola County. Most Osceola residents are familiar with the extensive and expansive programs that support our senior population; however, most do not realize that over the years, the OCOA has also helped thousands of local families become stable through our “Building Strong Families” initiative. In 2019 alone, the OCOA provided emergency services such as case management, nutrition assistance, rent/mortgage assistance, utility assistance and weatherization/home repair to 1,646 households, inclusive of 4,899 underprivileged family members.

Building Strong Families is a program providing direct health and human services for low-income families and their children within Osceola who are at risk for homelessness due to economic instability. The project targets to improve the safety and security of children by supporting them in a stable home environment, which lessens the chance of homelessness and potential truancy. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on a single night in 2019, more than 35,000 unaccompanied youth were homeless. Further, the alliance estimates annually, more than 500,000 unaccompanied children and young adults experienced a homelessness episode of longer than one week. By providing case management services under our Building Strong Families initiative, the OCOA can plan and coordinate available resources to support self sufficiency and safe, stable housing for Osceola families.

Depending on the level of self-sufficiency of the participating family, a case manager will work with the client family to develop a family case plan, which constitutes a unique and individual family work plan for success. The family case plan is client generated, meaning a case manager will facilitate the development of the case plan but it is the family participants who will design a workable, plan of action to carry out their needed objectives. Upon completion of the family case plan, the case manager will outline the goals and milestones for each family’s journey to independence and self-sufficiency.

Eligibility for Building Strong Families is based on an adjusted gross income equal to or less than 200 percent of the poverty level. Additionally, proof of residency of Osceola County is required; families must have school aged children enrolled in Osceola schools, at risk for homelessness or under an unstable or transient home environment. Depending on eligibility, families can receive utility assistance, employment services, rent and/or mortgage assistance, healthcare, and nutritional assistance. Continuing education programs are also offered under Building Strong Families for homeless, and/or low-income. Currently, a construction, pre-apprenticeship program called YouthBuild is available along with advanced manufacturing, welding, and electronic board assembly training.

Acceptance criteria for all educational training programs include a Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) with a sixth grade reading and math skills exam; clean criminal background check; the ability to lift 40 pounds, possess a high school diploma or GED, maintain reliable transportation and childcare, have a clean drug screening, and the ability to stand for extended period of times. If accepted, the assistance program is open to paying for tuition, lab work, supplies, transportation and uniforms according to individual need.

If you or someone you know is in an unstable home environment due to economic issues, please call the OCOA for more information; or go to y – services/building-strongfamilies/ To make an appointment to discuss eligibility, call 407-846- 8532, Ext. 231.

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Published Tuesday, June 2, 2020