Mike, a case manager with Cunningham’s ECHO Housing and Employment Support program, really has the Christmas spirit. For the second straight year, he volunteered to play a wiseman for our Luminaries of Hope and Live Nativity and he truly finds joy in helping others this time of year.
Recently, while listening to the radio in the car, he heard a commercial about the Stefanie Pratt Team’s 2021 Holiday Dinner Giveaway. The Coldwell Banker Real Estate Group was inviting people to share their story or nominate a family to receive a free Christmas dinner. Mike immediately thought of the Judson* family. With 11 children, including a newborn, the father on disability and having recently been homeless, the Judson family would most certainly benefit from a free dinner.
The Judsons moved to Urbana from Arkansas last summer and were initially staying with family but 16 people in a small, three-bedroom home was not a good situation. After funds dried up from staying in a hotel for month, the family became homeless. While trying to find a place to live, the Judsons contacted Rector Properties and an employee there directed them to Cunningham and the ECHO program.
The ECHO program provides intensive case management and care coordination geared towards promoting skills and linkages to permanent housing and employment and resolving barriers.
“The Judsons were really having trouble finding a place to live,” Mike said. “With Mr. Judson on disability, they do have money coming in through social security, but no one wanted to rent to them because they didn’t have a rental history.”
Rector had a 5-bedroom house available and with Mike’s help, they worked out an arrangement for the Judsons to rent the home. Mike negotiated a reasonable rental amount and helped the Judsons develop a plan for how they would pay the rent and other bills each month. The ECHO program provided the security deposit.
“It was kind of a collaboration,” Mike said. “On November 1st, the Judsons came up with the first month’s rent and ECHO provided the security deposit. On November 15th, they paid the next month’s rent and then the house was theirs.”
Now that the family was safely in a home, Mike wanted to help make the holidays special for them. He took their information to the Salvation Army hoping their Toys for Tots drive could be of some assistance and found out there was a local company who wanted to buy Christmas gifts for a large family. They will also receive gifts and other items from Cunningham’s generous donors.
And how about that free holiday dinner? The day after Mike emailed the nomination, he received an email back from Stefanie Pratt herself saying how they would love to help the Judsons. A few days later, Stefanie offered to provide dinners for all Mike’s ECHO clients. Wonderfully, the Judsons will be getting double of everything to make sure their family has all they need, and 10 more ECHO families will also be getting dinners.
“This felt kind of like a ‘God wink’ or a Hallmark movie,” Mike said. “I almost never listen to local radio because I have satellite radio in my car, but that week I was driving my wife’s car when I heard the commercial. And now, thanks to the generosity of our community, a lot of families will have a Merry Christmas.”
As you can see, together, we can change the course of our community.
*Our story is real but name has been changed to protect privacy.