Right outside of Jean Washington’s office in the LCS building, a plaque reads, “LCS - FAITH Center: Established in 1997, the FAITH Center merged with LCS in 2009, and its mission continues here.” An important part of our history, the FAITH Center was an ecumenical ministry that made it easier for individuals and families to find and access emergency financial resources. “Ms. Jean” started her career with the FAITH Center almost 25 years ago and served as its director before they merged with LCS.
Currently, Ms. Jean’s official title is “Assistant Program Director,” but it doesn’t take long to figure out that she is so much more. As the point of contact with someone calling in for emergency financial assistance with rent, mortgage, or utilities, Ms. Jean offers respect, compassion, and dignity. That can make all the difference.
When asked what she wants to say to those facing financial challenges, Ms. Jean answered, “Put your pride aside and come get help. I remind clients, ‘I’m no different than you.’ I live day to day.” Sometimes, people argue that a person wearing nice clothes, driving a good car, or having manicured nails probably does not really need help. To that, Ms. Jean says, “Never judge anyone. Just because someone looks sharp doesn’t mean they aren’t in need.” Ms.Jean encourages individuals that they should not have to give up your dignity to be worthy of help. “Be comfortable with who you are. We don’t judge. Be who you are.”
Ms. Jean talks to clients like a mom. She “talks them into hope. If you have no hope, it ain’t gonna happen.” Some people have gone to other places and have been told “no” too many times or have felt shamed or unworthy. Ms. Jean instructs them to make a wish list, writing down all they are seeking. She offers other bits of advice for starting and working through the process, such as, “It’s not impossible. Go down the line. Just don’t do nothing. Every little bit adds up.” Once someone gets a “yes,” no matter how small, it motivates them to keep going.
At times, clients just need a mentor. Ms. Jean tells them not to run from landlords but to talk to them and let them know you’re willing to work with them. She says, “If you’ve been good and are doing what you’re supposed to be doing, people are more willing to work with you.” Ms. Jean knows landlords rely on tenants paying their rent, and she helps clients understand how to work together for solutions. Within LCS as well, we seek Ms. Jean’s guidance. Colleague Morgan Williams shares, “Ms. Jean has been a big part of my success at LCS. If I have any questions or concerns, I know I can go to her for insight.”
In other situations, someone might need a spokesperson. With her years of experience, Ms. Jean knows the system and how to navigate the process. Sometimes, she can help a client by calling the utility company, for example. If they can pencil in an appointment and make a payment commitment or agree to pay before a disconnect date, a client may just need a little time and not require money from LCS.
Our biggest challenge as an organization is having enough money to meet the need. During the pandemic, there have been extra funds that allowed us to distribute more support. Regular funding sources include the Delaware State Housing Authority, the City of Wilmington, New Castle County, certain churches and individuals, and our special events. Each resource has specific requirements, including which zipcode a client lives in, how much money is available, and what it can go toward, so details are important. If we do not have funds for a client, Ms. Jean refers them to other agencies and churches. Again, she encourages them, “You have to ask. Let them say no. But they might say yes.”
Being a mom, mentor, spokesperson, and guide keeps Ms. Jean hopping. Funding levels vary over time. When funding increases, processing the jump in paperwork and keeping up with everything on the computer can become exhausting. Ms. Jean relaxes between cases by making sure she steps out of the office for her lunch break and taking vacations. She talks with her friend and colleague Morgan. She also tries to find the silver linings. (Chances are, taking care of yourself is something she’d advise her clients to do as well.) We all admire Ms. Jean and are grateful for everything she offers our clients and our organization! She is the heart of LCS.
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