ARC offers hope, help, refugeWhen the seas of life grow choppy, the Assistance and Resource Center of River Falls shines a beacon across the rough waters.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
When the seas of life grow choppy, the Assistance and Resource Center of River Falls shines a beacon across the rough waters.
Maybe a metaphor best describes how ARC offers hope and help of many kinds to people who live within the River Falls School District.
It recently formed a fundraising partnership with the River Falls Baseball Council, which is working toward breaking ground in 2013 on a new community baseball field in the east part of Hoffman Park.
The recent agreement gives ARC 20% of the proceeds from ball field bricks and seats people buy between now and Feb. 28.
RFBC member Josh Eidem said Don Richards raised the topic during a meeting as the board discussed the possibility of partnering with local charities.
Eidem said everyone liked the idea of doing something that would have a direct and local impact.
It gives ARC, a super lean, all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, a chance to build more resources for helping people.
Ronna Ellis who helped establish ARC, plus serves on its board and as its client service coordinator, explained that the volunteers keep a cellphone hotline -- 715-338-0755 -- and answer it 10 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday. People can also leave a message on the phone.
ARC might provide a gas card or cards, help paying a utility bill, groceries, money toward a major car repair, rent assistance, laundry, transportation and referrals. That list covers the most frequent and common ways ARC helps, but it varies, and the board takes each request on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re trying to help folks to help themselves,” explained Ellis.
Ellis and the other volunteers of ARC know many of the local people who own and rent property and work at utility companies, gas stations, grocery stores, churches and other organizations that help people in need.
Sickness, car problems, job loss, and countless other events often snowball into worse trouble, such as eviction or utility shutoff.
People find themselves needing gas to work for a few days or food to feed the kids until they get paid or can get to the food pantry. Ellis agrees the combination of examples is long and complex.
When clients call, volunteers ask questions and complete a form as they listen; they do not approve or deny requests. Usually Ellis and/or other board members review it then call the client back to offer what help they can. Sometimes that help is a referral to another agency or entity.
“We’ve learned that we do need to verify information,” she said.
A database and trained volunteers protect against ‘repeat offenders’ taking advantage of ARC’s resources. Ellis said people generally find it difficult to budget money, and the trained volunteers sometimes act as counselors, too.
They’ll make suggestions, for example about energy assistance or stretching their grocery dollars. Ellis agrees that all the phone volunteers have also learned that some people “just need to talk.”
Ellis said ARC tries to err on the side of generosity but must occasionally remind people that the organization is a bridge, not a means of long-term support.
The ARC volunteers also expect those asking for resources to meet them halfway and make consistent or matching effort. Ellis said except for gas cards, the resources of ARC do not go directly to clients, rather to the utility company, food store or landlord.
The person asking for a gas card must either meet an ARC volunteer or go to a church and pick it up. Those receiving help usually prove residency either with a valid driver’s license or naturally through their address or utility account.
ARC is projected to give out $31,000 for 2012. Ellis said all the board members are proud to report that the total for the past four years exceeds $100,000.
ARC was established as a corporation in 2008 and a 401c3 in 2009, responding to a pastor who asked for help in the Christian Volunteers in Christ. CVIC started in 1990 doing the same kind of work ARC does now.
A group of pastors and church volunteers had become overwhelmed trying to meet needs, and the problem worsened along with the economy.
The 15 phone volunteers of ARC undergo a two-hour training and take turns answering the phone. They and most board members also fulfill other functions for the organization -- website building, accounting, running errands and raising funds.
She said after getting requests for their services from several other areas in the region -- Prescott, Spring Valley, Ellsworth -- the organization has considered expanding. It does not yet have the means but is working toward it.
ARC took about 650 calls in 2011, helping the clients with referrals, transportation, housing assistance and utilities.
Ellis admits the group doesn’t do much marketing or image building; it gets many of its resources from area churches, as well as board members, friends of ARC and grants. She said the United Way has been a “generous and consistent supporter.”
ARC tries to spend nearly no money, with only two cell phones as overhead.
“That is our $69 a month expense,” laughs Ellis, proud of the fact that 96 cents of every dollar given to ARC goes toward helping local people. It’s fulfilling to run lean, know the dollars are helping local people and getting good reports back from former clients.
Ellis says of requests to ARC, “If we can make it happen, we will.”
Visit ARC online at www.arcriverfalls.org or call 715-338-0755.