LEAVEN’s Expansion: Empowering People to Better Futures

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Contributor: Mary Parsons, Executive Director at LEAVEN

(Transcribed and edited from an interview with Mary Parsons on WHBY's Fresh Take with Josh Dukelow as part of the
Fox Cities LIFE Study's LIFE in Motion Series, a collaborative partnership with United Way Fox Cities, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, and the Fox Cities Chamber. Listen to the full interview online.)

We know that no one in our community is immune from misfortune or financial emergencies, but not everybody has the resources to weather a financial crisis.
LEAVEN has been providing emergency assistance, case management, and referrals to help meet people’s very basic needs for the past 30 years.

I’ve been at LEAVEN for 15 years, including the last five years as Executive Director. The first 10 years, I spent in client services and I got a good feel for what the needs are in the community. To be honest, I’m almost ashamed to say, I was surprised how much need there was. (
Explore local poverty data on the Fox Cities LIFE Study website.) 

LEAVEN was considered the "financial emergency room" – we said that we applied the Band-Aid and then connected our clients with other resources in the community. But, what we have found through collecting data, is our clients are not making those connections. Some clients are coming back to LEAVEN six months or a year later and nothing has really changed. We understand – there are the issues of time, transportation, and child care – it is difficult when you consider we have such dispersed providers in our community. We also undervalued the shame, fear, and embarrassment of clients having to tell their story over and over.

To address these issues, LEAVEN has successfully completed a capital campaign and construction is underway to create the LEAVEN Community Resource Center; a one-stop model. We’re doubling the space of our facility in Menasha to welcome 14 new partners that will be there on a full- to part-time basis. It changes that whole process from a referral to a warm hand-off. It also imposes accountability on our clients; now we can say, “We know you need rental assistance, but we want to connect you with a financial counselor first,” or “We want you to talk to a mental health therapist.” Whatever the need may be, we want to see them take some action.

I have always said, I am really humbled by our clients' stories and the struggles that they experience, and really amazed by their strength to cope in the face of adversity. It is part of our new mission to empower clients. The goal is that our clients will move from crisis management to self-sufficiency.

Co-located partners at the new LEAVEN Community Resource Center will include: Homeless Connections, Financial Information and Service Center (FISC, a program of Goodwill Industries), Energy Services, Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, St. Vincent de Paul Appleton, Catholic Charities, Fox Valley Technical College (Education Advocate), Partnership Community Health Center, Feeding America, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Riverview Gardens, Fox Valley Veterans Council, Kimberly-Clark (legal team), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Fox Valley, and Forward Services Corporation.