In 2004, Bermelyn Maise contacted the Urban League of Broward County to enroll in its first-time homebuyers program.
But after losing her job at BankAtlantic, the single mother of four relocated to New York City.
That move did not work out, either, Maise said.
“The plan was to get support from some of my family members there, and that did not happen,’’ she said. “My kids could not adjust to the environment, and it was always a struggle.”
The family moved back to Broward, but through a series of mishaps, Maise found herself and her children on the verge of homelessness. With help from the Urban League, however, the family eventually moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood.
Maise, 40, and her children received rental assistance through the Urban League’s Family Success Program. She would not provide information about her children to the South Florida Times in order to protect them from harassment.
Family Success Centers are one-stop sources of information and services that assist families in setting goals, learning skills, and accessing the services they need to build stronger and healthier families.
The program has seen 38 clients in this area since October 2008, and 60 percent of them have received financial assistance, said Courtnee Biscardi, the Urban League’s wealth building program manager.
Those clients have received comprehensive assessment, case management, resource referral and budget counseling, Biscardi said.
These services helped Maise get back onto her feet.
In 2005, Maise and her children returned from New York to South Florida, moving to Coconut Creek. She found a job as a retail sales clerk at Dillard’s, and enrolled in school when, she said,
“One unfortunate thing after another started to happen.
“I worked for Dillard’s,” Maise explained, “but was laid off after a couple of months because of the economy. I lost my job and had to quit school. We found ourselves homeless.”
After finding shelter in the Salvation Army in Fort Lauderdale, and later in Hollywood, Maise sought assistance from the Urban League.
“Initially, Bermelyn was enrolled in our IDA [Individual Development Account] program,” Biscardi said.
The IDA program provides a 2-to-1 savings match to low-income working individuals and families. The assistance helps working families acquire assets and gradually build wealth.
Yet Maise was unable to make use of that program, Biscardi said.
“Because of her circumstances, it prevented her from being able to continue.”
That’s when Maise was referred to the Urban League’s Family Success Program.
“We recognized that she had a greater need for other services we provide,” Biscardi said, “so we made an inside referral for the emergency services she needed at that time.”
Maise said she was referred to Kellie-Ann Davis, a case manager at the Urban League, for assistance after her application for food stamps was denied.
“I had a little money left in my checking account that I saved for rent and emergencies, so I was turned down,” Maise said.
Davis said the Urban League opens from eight to 10 new cases each day, many through telephone calls from Broward County residents.
“And it seems to be increasing,” she said.
Biscardi said that although the Family Service Unit focuses on certain ZIP code areas within Lauderhill, Sunrise and Plantation, it serves all of Broward County.
Other cities, according to Davis, are not excluded from the Urban League’s centers, but Broward County has its own Family Success Centers in various locations, “so we focus on those three.”
The Urban League is a HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)-certified counseling agency.
Maise’s time at the Salvation Army was running out when she was hit by a car last July.
“They [the Salvation Army] told me that I had to leave because I had already been there for two years. But because of the accident, they gave me a little more time.’’
Again, Maise contacted Davis for assistance.
She said that although she still had some savings, it was not enough for a deposit on an apartment.
“I had nowhere to go, and Kellie-Ann was always there. No matter what I went through, she treated me like a person.”
Biscardi explained that a part of the Urban League’s model is to ensure that clients are self-sufficient and accountable for their actions, “so we put the burden of responsibility back on the client because they cannot depend on us to do it for them. We guide them, give them direction, and offer the best resources we can to get them there.”
Maise managed her situation well, Biscardi said.
“We worked with her on her budget to ensure going forward that she had control of her finances, could afford the apartment, and to match her with other areas of assistance, if they were needed,” she said.
The center also offers emergency housing services, Davis said.
“If someone falls behind because of any type of disaster, and can demonstrate that they have the difference but not the entire balance, we can offer them up to $575.”
Maise said she was not quite able to move into the apartment on her own.
“I still had some savings from my job at Dillard’s, but it was not enough for a deposit on an apartment,” she said, adding that with help from Davis and WorkForce One – another agency that provides employment-related services to job seekers and employers – she was able to “put the money together and have enough for a deposit and the first month’s rent.”
According to Davis, Maise was only given “general ideas” about finding an apartment, and then she “took on the responsibility to go out and diligently search.”
“It’s a small, one-bedroom place,” Maise shared. “It’s what we can afford.
“I thank God for it and the people he placed in my life to make it happen. Because of the people I have met, my children, throughout all of this, have never gone to bed hungry.”
Maise, who currently works a night job in real estate sales, plans to resume her training in nursing at Sheridan Technical Center in Hollywood.
“I know that school is a way out,” she said. “I’ll get a better job with, hopefully, some stability, possibility of advancement and definitely more money. That’s where I’m heading.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Bermelyn Maise