Two years ago, Elisha Blackmon entered the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ Keeping Families Together program. It’s for parents of families with multiple challenges whose children are in foster care or at risk of going into foster care. It subsidizes their rent so they’ll have a place to live and re-unite their families.
“I was into drugs. Didn’t know where to turn. I turned to DYFS and I asked for help,” said Blackmon. “It taught me how to take care of my daughter, stand on my own two feet. Kept me away from that life of drugs. I’m able to go back to school — learned living skills, how to cook, how to clean, you know? It taught me life skills.”
Thursday, Blackmon met the governor at FAMILYConnections in Paterson. It’s one of several community-based nonprofits that partnered with the state three years ago to launch the Keeping Families Together pilot as part of the effort to curb homelessness. The governor held a round table to hear the program’s impact on Blackmon’s and others’ lives.
“It’s best thing that ever happened to me because I have other children that I wasn’t able to keep for the same reasons, you know like not having a place to live with them,” said Blackmon.
“A lot of these things don’t need a whole lot of analysis. You said a lot of the key things. You’re home with your child. She’s happy, you’re happy and you have structure around you and helps push you to where to you want to be and it helps to have people believe in you,” said Gov. Christie.
The governor is expanding the program to Hudson and Middlesex Counties because of such success stories, and up to nine counties are trying to replicate the success he’s seen in seven other counties.
“Housing should not be a problem in family reunification. This program should be in existence in every county in the state,” said Jacques Hryschko, executive director or FAMILYConnections
Blackmon’s going back to school to learn cosmetology so she can open her own beauty shop one day. She says she counts herself among the blessed, whose prayers, and the prayers of others, have been answered.
“This is going to be the beginning of my future. I didn’t think anything would happen like this in my life. And it did. And I thank God every day for it,” said Blackmon.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.