Meet Impact’s Board Fellow Scholar: Soledad Errazuriz Vergara

Impact is pleased to announce that Soledad Errazuriz Vergara will be serving as an ex-officio board member through the Northwestern University Kellogg Business School of Management Board Fellow Scholars pilot program. This innovative program gives scholars the opportunity to sit on a nonprofit board as a non-voting member while they complete their MBA program through May 2023.

We are thrilled to be hosting Soledad, and supporting Kellogg’s presence in the local nonprofit community.

Soledad hails from Chile and has experience working in Finance and Investor Relations.

Soledad is passionate about creating a positive impact in the lives of individuals with mental illness and feels deeply connected to the work of Impact Behavioral Health Partners. She is eager to learn more about Impact’s programs and services and contribute her skills and expertise to support your mission.

Through this experience, Soledad is excited to gain a gain first-hand experience in how non-profit organizations are managed, how they build awareness in the surrounding community to maximize impact, and how they raise funds.

Staff Spotlight: Family Supportive Housing Clinician

In this staff spotlight, we interview Tiana. She is a clinician who works primarily with the Family Supportive Housing Program. This program provides permanent supportive housing to families at risk of homelessness where a head of household is living with mental illness.

When Impact launched the Family Supportive Housing, you were the employee whose job shifted to serving the families in that program. What was it like being involved in the lead-up to those families moving in?
I had to do a lot of resources that were already established here in Evanston. There are already a lot of resources in Evanston and the North Shore area, so I created a resource list. Before the families moved in, I knew their ages and a general idea of what they would need.

When you first started working at Impact, you were only providing counseling and therapy to adults. How is your day-to-day workflow different now that you’re working with families?
I get a lot of phone calls from moms, and a lot of emails of school social workers. A lot of transportation questions.

Single adults will call when they’re in crisis. But with families call about a lot of day-to-day stressors—some of them are big things and some of them are issues like transportation, or a piece of paper that came in the mail that they need more clarity on.

I also do a lot of work around the behavioral needs of the kids. I was in an IEP eligibility meeting yesterday for a child of one of our participants. The kids have some challenges, and it’s been hard to reassure the kids that after so many years of instability, they really are in a permanent spot now.

Now that the Family Supportive Housing Program is operating at capacity (with plans to expand in the near future), what can you tell us about the families served by that program?
We have parents varying from their late teens through their 40s, and children from a few months to 18 years old. A couple of the families have been homeless for several years or have just been sort of unstable—having to move around a lot. Many families have histories with domestic violence.

Then behavioral management for the kids is a frequent issue. They have just been coming from very unstable circumstances. Some of the kids have high level needs, so it’s been a challenge to keep them connected. The children are connected to different resources in the community, whether that’s counseling or just activities to participate in after school.

Some families are looking for work, and some are not looking for work, but just focusing on maintaining stability. I’m working with all of them on budgeting—stretching your income and benefits to last throughout the month.

And as always, engagement fluctuates. Sometimes it’s multiple meetings per week, and sometimes I don’t hear from them for several weeks. Hopefully, that’s because everything is going well, but sometimes it’s because there’s a crisis happening, and they have trouble finding the capacity to reach out.

A lot of them feel really grateful for the program. The stability is huge. We have a kid in our program—he’s a teenager and he has literally been in a different school every year. But now he’s in one place long term. And that is also so important for the mom. She worked so hard and so long just keeping it together for her family. Now she can focus on her own physical and mental health. That’s a big thing—they’ve been working so hard to maintain the needs of the family, they have not focused on their own health and wellbeing.

How do you think the greater Evanston community can better support families like the ones at Impact—that may be at risk of homelessness, or dealing with trauma, and have adult family members that might be struggling with their mental health?
Agencies like this, and programs like this are the most help.

I can’t stress the transportation needs enough—these families really do struggle getting their children to and from school and extracurricular activities.

Also, access to extracurricular activities—it’s time right now to sign up for summer camps and figure out what kinds of activities are out there for kids during the summer. There’s limited availability and it’s very expensive—some places offer scholarships but it’s usually only for half off the cost, and that is still too expensive for the folks in our housing. But these kids still need somewhere to go during the summer.

Also, access to extracurricular activities—it’s time right now to sign up for summer camps and figure out what kinds of activities are out there for kids during the summer. There’s limited availability and it’s very expensive—some places offer scholarships but it’s usually only for half off the cost, and that is still too expensive for the folks in our housing. But these kids still need somewhere to go during the summer.

What do you think the participants you work with would want people to know about them?
These parents really just need encouragement. There have been moments where they have so much anxiety or depression—questioning whether they’re doing the right things for their kids and their families. And then managing depressive symptoms and self-esteem. Sometimes when things happen with their kids, it’s so hard—they wanted to break the cycle and provide better opportunities for their kids.

So just working through those and overcoming those obstacles. It takes a lot of strength to be so vulnerable and open with all the trauma they have experienced, and to keep moving forward.

They’re doing really well. Everyone is connected. A lot of the families are African American, and it’s so important that I get to connect with them on that level, too—I don’t take that for granted. It’s really been an honor to work with these families.

Tiana Smith Headshot

Staff Spotlight: Housing Stability Specialist

In this staff spotlight, we interview Kevin. He has been working at Impact since 2018: first as an Employment Specialist, and now as a Housing Stability Specialist. The Housing Stability Specialist works with participants and housing partners to ensure that are able to stay successfully housed.

How did you first become interested in work at Impact?
I was looking for a job in social work. I was originally hired as an Employment Specialist, but it’s been 3 years with the Housing team now.

I wanted to get more experience in social work field, but I didn’t want to leave the agency. Impact is doing good stuff and headed in the right direction, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Can you tell me what a typical workday looks like for you?
Going through emails from anything I missed—from participants and staff and folks from other agencies. I get a lot of calls from people who aren’t in our housing, but need some resources on what is available to them. Housing is a big need right now. I’m always getting calls from people who want to talk about what’s available for them. I can’t offer them an apartment right them, but I can and connect them with the right resources.

Right now, it’s lease time, so I’m completing a lot of leases and renewals. Maybe I’m doing a lease with a person who doesn’t have any income, so that looks different in terms of the documentation I need to collect.

I’ve been doing interviews for our shared housing units with our Intake Coordinator—trying to figure out if they are an appropriate fit for our program, and the apartment or roommate spot we are trying to fill.

Sometimes I have to do eviction prevention meetings—if a participant is not following our policies. We try to make sure they don’t lose their housing.

If a participant is not answering their phone and not engaging with anyone else, I try to reach out and make sure their housing is stable and they’re not putting their housing at risk.

I do a lot of housing inspections—we’re looking for maintenance issues and safety hazards. I also do some maintenance work myself—fixing a toilet, tightening faucet heads, changing locks, trying to figure out what’s going on.

What are some common challenges that participants experience?
Rent is so high, folks just don’t meet income requirements based on where they’re looking to live. They could maybe find a cheap apartment, far away in a bad neighborhood. They’re trying to keep their kids or themselves in that neighborhood to stay in a school or close to work, but they’re just nothing affordable.

Can you give me an example of a recent success story?
Anytime someone gets housed. Whether that’s finding a roommate, or coming from one of our referral partners, that’s a big success. People are either homeless, or about to be homeless. It feels good to make that happen for them. They feel safe, and warm. Because we’re a housing first agency, if folks have a stable place to live, that will trickle down and help everything. I’m helping someone right now who’s in a really rough place—once we’re able to get her housed, she won’t have to worry about how she’s going to pay rent when she doesn’t have any income, and she can start to work on other challenges she is experiencing.

What do you think participants would like the larger community to know about them and their lives?
Regardless of where they came from or what they’ve experienced, they’re people too. They shouldn’t be shunned and separated from the rest of society. Neighbors can view people with mental illness as a headache. But thankfully we have a team that really knows what they’re doing and do their best to make sure our housing participants are in a better situation.

A lot of folks have the idea of mental illness that it’s just people screaming and banging on the walls. It’s not. They’re just people who struggle with feeling motivated, feeling hopeful, and feeling wanted and happy.

Kevin Zepeda Headshot