GREENFIELD — De’Von Kissick-Kelly has a unique perspective on the struggles facing women and young mothers.
For more than 10 years, she worked for the Julian Center in Indianapolis, where she counseled victims of domestic abuse and helped them find shelter and other services. Before that, she was a single mom with two children. She worked several part-time jobs to keep food on her family’s table but struggled with bills and child-care costs.
Experts estimate that 7,513 households in Hancock County face the same situation Kissick-Kelly did years ago; they live just above the poverty line but below what United Way deems a survivable household income.
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With the help of friends and her family, Kissick-Kelly bounced back. Now, as the director of the newly opened Hancock County Women’s Resource Center, she works to help other women find financial security.
Since it opened in October, the resource center has helped 25 Hancock County women get back on their feet. While that number might seem small, Kissick-Kelly said, it’s a great start for an organization that was only an idea a year ago.
The resource center serves as a clearinghouse. Each day, Kissick-Kelly hears about the financial struggles of women and helps connect them with agencies, both locally and out of the county, that will best help them find their footing. Part of her job is to be accessible to her clients and to hold them accountable, pushing them toward success the same way friends and family helped her years ago.
Located in downtown Greenfield, in the Hancock County Community Foundation, the resource center is a simple office. It has a tall shelf full of self-help books in one corner and a table for two, decorated with a porcelain tea set, in the other.
Here, Kissick-Kelly meets with women for one-on-one mentoring sessions, women who are facing financial hardships due to unforeseen circumstances, such as divorce, death of a spouse, job loss or illness.
Kissick-Kelly empathizes with her clients, remembering her own experiences and how a support network made all the difference.
“I didn’t always make the best decisions,” she said. “If it weren’t for the people around me who were willing to help me, I don’t know what I would have done. I wanted to do my part to help (others) because we really are all in this together.”
The resource center was created after supporters of the Hancock County Community Foundation Women’s Fund expressed interest in furthering the charity, said Mary Gibble, foundation president. The more than 200 women and girls who make regular donations to the women’s fund decided they wanted to address specific needs related to women and family issues.
A year ago, the fund’s board of directors its research, collecting data from the U.S. Census, United Way and nonprofit organizations, Gibble said.
About 30 percent of Hancock County households have a hard time affording basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care and transportation, according to United Way findings. These families don’t fall below the federal poverty level, but their budgets are strained, leaving little room for saving for unexpected expenses.
“People are really struggling,” Kissick-Kelly said. “People live paycheck to paycheck, even in two-parent homes. There are more of us struggling than aren’t.”
It became clear that Hancock County was missing a place where women could go to find guidance on their family’s financial issues, a place where a mentor was readily available to help them find a path to self-sufficiency, Gibble said. While economic independence means being able to meet your needs without aid or support, there is no shame in taking advantage of support to get there, the center’s leaders say.
So, the resource center was born, with Kissick-Kelly at the helm because of her passion, confidence and experience, said Beth Ingle, president of the board of the women’s fund. She and other leaders of the center are optimistic it will grow and thrive, just like the women it assists.
Paula Jarrett, who leads the Hancock County office of United Way, applauds the resource center’s efforts. She said the resource center and United Way share many of the same goals and could form an effective partnership over time.
“Their goal is to help women find stability, and that’s one of our community goals as well,” Jarrett said. “As a woman who could have used their services years ago, I’m glad to hear they are doing well.”
Ingle’s priority is to get help to as many women as possible, she said. She would like to see women from every Hancock County municipality benefiting from the center. Kissick-Kelly hopes some of the out-of-county agencies to which she refers her clients will recognize need in Hancock County and consider creating satellite offices locally.
“We may be just 20 minutes from Indianapolis, but we are a way different community,” she said. “We need to bring these services into Hancock County because … we have a substantial pool of people (in need).”
Name: De’Von Kissick-Kelly
Hometown: Gwynneville, Indiana
Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s degree in adult community education, both from Ball State University
Family: Mother of three
What: Women’s Resource Center
Address: Hancock County Community Foundation building, 312 E. Main St. in Greenfield
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays
The Women’s Resource Center works to provide guidance, tools and resources to women in HancockCounty with the hope of increasing the financial stability and economic security of women and their families, leaders said.
The center was created under the guidance of the Hancock County Community Foundation and is funded in part by the foundation’s Women’s Fund. More than 200 women and girls make regular donations to the fund. Their gifts are used to create grants that address needs and issues affecting women in Hancock County.
The Women’s Resource Center aims to bring economic empowerment and self-sufficiency to area women who have become financially unstable due to unforeseen circumstances.
These could include:
Loss of a spouse
Low single or combined-family income
Lack of reliable transportation
Lack of education or training