By DAVID BORAKS
The Lake Norman region’s growth in recent years has brought not only an influx of new neighbors, but also new challenges and needs, especially when it comes to social services. Since 1999, the nonprofit United Family Services has been growing to meet those needs, offering consumer credit and housing counseling, mental health counseling and help for domestic violence victims.
This Saturday, the agency hosts its 2nd annual Cruise for Change on Lake Norman to help support the regional office in Cornelius. Saturday night’s cruise includes music and refreshments, a silent auction and a drawing for an iPad2. (Details below)
United Family Services’ programs help a wide variety of people in the area, from families in financial trouble to those in need of free or low-cost mental health counseling to people caught in corporate downsizings. The economic downturn and housing crisis have created a boom in demand for the agency, according to Kathryn Firmin-Sellers, the Mooresville-Lake Norman Region director for United Family Services.
“The bulk of our work right now is in housing,” she said, including helping people avoid foreclosures, re-establish damaged credit, and navigate bankruptcy. Valerie Carlock, consumer credit counselor here, said agency is seeing more people these days – about 30 a month and a total of 400 people in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
“What I’m seeing in the area now are individuals who had never had to seek assistance, but are now asking how can I preserve my home ownership with a change in income,” Ms. Carlock said.
Sandra Gonzalez is a mental health counselor whose job includes seeing people at Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson. She said she’s seeing an increase in referrals from other social service agencies and area free clinics. Patients range in age from 12 to over 60, she said. United Family Services sees them for free or on a sliding scale, according to their ability to pay.
“I often get calls from people looking for counseling who didn’t think they could afford it. They’re suffering,” Ms. Gonzalez said.
The agency recently added another important service, hiring the Lake Norman region’s first victim advocate, to work with the area’s growing and mostly hidden number of families hit by domestic violence.
The agency recently hired Lindsay Lee as the new victim advocate, following a multi-year effort to win support from north Mecklenburg’s three towns – Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville. (See July 27, 2011, “Finally help for north Meck domestic violence victims.”
The local staff also works with counterparts in Charlotte and also has access to other services there, including United Family Services’ 24-hour domestic violence hotline, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, rape and child abuse crisis assistance, and court advocates.
The Lake Norman office grew out of an initiative begun by the United Way in Charlotte, to add services in the area. In recent years, the United Way has been “chipping away” at the agency’s funding. That has forced Ms. Sellers and her colleagues to turn to the community for support, through fund-raisers like this weekend’s cruise.
Charlotte-based United Family Services has a total budget of around $6 million, of which about $250,000 supports the Lake Norman office and its eight counselors. Organizers hope donations through this year’s Cruise for Change can top last year’s $10,000 total.
“It’s not a huge part of my budget, but it allows us to leverage other sources of funds,” Ms. Sellers said.
WANT TO GO?
The 2nd Annual Cruise for Change leaves from Queen’s Landing in Mooresville at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. The evening will include a cruise on a yacht, a silent auction, hors’ d’oeuvres and dancing. All proceeds go toward programs provided by United Family Services to people in crisis situations in the Lake Norman area.
For more information – and to enter a raffle for an iPad2 – please visit: http://www.unitedfamilyservices.org/cruiseforchange.html