NHCO program leads clients down path toward success

Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 12:01 AM


North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO) helped Crystal down the pathway toward Millvale home ownership.

The college-educated veteran quit working during a difficult pregnancy with her first child. Soon after her second child’s birth, she left her husband. When her possessions consisted of “a van, two bags of clothes and two kids under 4,” she was unsure where to seek financial and emotional assistance, according to the NHCO website. With a friend’s encouragement, Crystal contacted NHCO for help.

Soon, Crystal was able to pay her family’s apartment rent for a month, but she sought long-term support. She enrolled in NHCO’s Pathway’s program, as a result, where a service coordinator helped her utilize the nonprofit’s food pantry, and apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and child care. NHCO gave her children school supplies, winter coats and holiday gifts.

“With her immediate needs taken care of, Crystal was able to concentrate on getting a job and moving forward,” the website states.

Nicole Zeak, Millvale Pathways service coordinator, helped Crystal save money, improve her credit score and access services available to veteran’s purchasing their first homes. Crystal closed on her house Oct. 24.

“Our Pathways program started in 1995, and since has served 746 total families. Services included with the program are advocacy, budgeting and goal setting,” Erica Cochran, development director said.

Zeak said that Pathways service coordinators at Millvale, Avalon and McKees Rocks locations help clients achieve self-sufficiency.

“Employment, education, transportation and housing are the four big ones we work on.”

NHCO emergency assistance coordinators help clients recover from immediate financial and natural disasters. The Pathways program aims to provide clients with the tools to manage future financial and personal issues on their own.

“I have some clients who I have worked with six months or less and some who I have worked with about two or three years. The time in the program varies, but as long as people are still finding new goals to work on and progress is being made, then I think that the program is still valuable to them,” Zeak said.

The Pathways service coordinator, who has a bachelor’s in social work and a master’s in public administration for nonprofit management, considers herself a “cheerleader” for her clients, who may doubt themselves following a crisis.

“It is nice to have someone in your corner who tells you you’re doing a good job and telling you you’re doing things the right way and is just kind of there with you every step of the process to cheer you on.”

To qualify for the program, clients need: a copy of their photo IDs if they have them, a copy of their ACCESS/SNAP card if they have them, proof of household income for the last 30 days, including earned income, social security, disability and child support, and a copy of their resumes if they have them. Clients must reside in NHCO’s service area and meet income guidelines.

The Pathways program is funded through a Community Services Block Grant, administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and allocated by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

For more information, nhco.org/services/pathways-program.