Orion Communities Provides Haven of Opportunities

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"Among the many services offered by Orion Communities, possibly the greatest benefit comes from building or restoring resilience in its clients.

Folks like Tasjae Moore, who may be temporarily down on their luck, regularly find a haven at the Phoenixville agency, where almost anything seems possible.

“They were able to get me a phone and also paid for a CPR class in order for me to get a job. Working with my case manager Lupe (Guizar), I’ve been able to come here and use their services as far as the computer, Internet and fill out job applications,” Moore said. “They’ve been doing a lot for me, and also working to get my children in the STARS literacy program, and I’m going to be talking with them about a furniture voucher because I’m about to move into my own place,” added Moore, who found out about Orion during a brief stay at St. Mary’s Franciscan Shelter in Phoenixville.

“We receive lots of referrals from shelters, as well as having individuals and families show up at Orion homeless and then we refer them to the shelters,” said Orion executive director Kris Keller.

“We’re a nonprofit that doesn’t take any government funding that helps the most vulnerable in the community, people who’ve fallen through the cracks or who don’t know yet where to turn.”

Hope for a brighter future is what all clients receive at Orion, regardless of their situations, Keller noted.

“It’s hope for those who are struggling. It can be about finding jobs, but more often it’s putting food on the table and making sure the rent gets paid, and the heat and lights don’t get turned off. Ninety seven percent of our clients live below the Federal Poverty Line.  Every once in a while they just can’t make it all come together.”

Other statistics are equally disturbing: 28 percent of  clients in 2018 were homeless for all or part of the year; 41 percent are identified as disabled; 15 percent are over 60.

“We help them with many resources; sometimes it’s a food bank, sometimes its assistance with getting a car repaired, or a new refrigerator. We have a variety of things to help people stretch their budget to get the basic things like food, shelter, clothing, access to health care,” Keller allowed.

Orion Communities was launched in 1977 when state hospitals were closing down and people with disabilities found themselves with limited resources, Keller explained.

“The common denominator with that population when they came to Orion is that they were poor,” she said.

Orion recently received a $20,000 grant  from the Milton Apfelbaum Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation to support its Bridge Case Management efforts.

“The grant will be used to have professional staff with social work backgrounds and experience to listen to the concerns our clients bring and help figure out a plan for moving forward,” Keller noted. "These are challenging times for individuals and families who are under-employed or homeless. “

In the absence of government funding, Orion’s case management team works in collaboration with those in need and area partners to “bridge the gaps and create plans for a more stable future.  Orion’s Bridge Case Management’s goal is to get people connected to resources and help them get back on their feet. Assistance now can avoid catastrophic losses later," Keller said.

Last year, Orion served 1,190 households, with 65 percent from Chester County, 30 percent from Montgomery County and 5 percent from other areas in southeastern Pennsylvania, while gifting $82,000 to families in need.

One of Orion’s biggest contributions is assisting clients in matters of housing, Keller said.

“We help them get housing or avoid eviction by helping with a rent bill because someone may get behind due to losing their job or a medical crisis. We also work with the community to come up with affordable housing options. Phoenixville is thriving but it’s getting harder for low income and working class folks to be able to live in this town,” Keller added, “and so the borough agreed to form a task force and we now have a very interesting model of developers, landlords foundations nonprofits and government agencies to come up with affordable housing options.”

The organization recently expanded to include the lower floor of the building it occupies at 237 Bridge St..

“That’s going to be used more for our family-centered programming, with programs for underserved families that don’t have computers or children’s books and we teach them literacy with our STARS (Sharing Technology Advances Reading Skills) program,” Keller said. “Last year we worked with 117 children and 19 parents, and gave away 65 computers and over 1,600 children’s books.

Those interested in being a STARS coach, reading to young children or learning more about the program are asked to call 610-415-1140.

Currently, through April 15, Orion is offering free tax preparation help to low and moderate income households through VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance).  The service is offered strictly on a first-come first-served basis and is available at Orion's office on Mondays, 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information on VITA assistance, call 610-380-9099.

To learn more about Orion’s services, visit OrionCommunities.org."
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