In April, as COVID-19 took hold across the country, Sije Richardson felt lucky to have landed a job with the Chicago Transit Authority. But the agency, feeling the financial pinch of the pandemic, announced a cost-cutting plan that included pushing out new-hire starting dates by several weeks.
With her first paycheck suddenly delayed, Sije, pronounced C.J., felt lost. “The bills were piling up,” she says. “I was days away from having my electricity turned off. It was scary.”
Then she heard, through the job-training and mentorship nonprofit Cara, that #GiveTogetherNow — an initiative led by Stand Together and the Family Independence Initiative — was offering financial support to people who were most affected by the pandemic pandemic. She applied and received a $500 direct cash payment.
“I was so excited when I heard that I’d been approved,” Sije says. “It was a great blessing and such an enormous relief, and it helped me see that there are truly wonderful people in this world. To everyone who gave, I’d like to say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ — not just for myself, but on behalf of so many others who were down on their luck because of the pandemic.”
Cara, and Stand Together nonprofit partner, connected 98 Chicago-area families most affected by the pandemic to direct cash payments from #GiveTogetherNow. The organization, with support from the Stand Together community, helps individuals work to escape poverty by providing them with job skills training, employment opportunities, and coaching. Since its beginnings in 1991, Cara has connected almost 7,000 Chicagoans with jobs.
For Sije, the road to self-sufficiency has been rocky. A former hospital aide, she found herself some years ago “hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she says now, and was sent to prison for possession of stolen property. After her release earlier this year, Sije’s parole officer recommended that she talk to Cara about finding employment.
That led her to sign up for the Second Chance Program, sponsored by Cara in partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority, where she is now working full time. At the moment, Sije’s job includes “cleaning and sanitizing city buses as they come in, so customers can feel safe.”
The impact of #GiveTogetherNow is likely to resonate even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. “We want donors to know that these payments have kept so many people afloat at a critical moment, and prevented them from falling deeper into poverty,” says Maria Kim, Cara’s president and CEO. “#GiveTogetherNow’s effect will be felt for a long time to come. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Photo description: Cara participants take part in “Morning Motivations”, a tradition where they enter the circle to share moments of struggles and strengths, while having fun in the process.
Photo credit: David Johnson