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The Board of Human Needs is coordinating a March 28 meal for about 120 people from families that have been served by The Matthews House, either directly with staff (improving parenting skills, a housing situation or employment) or through involvement in a Community Life Center. The Board of Human Needs asked Lise Harwell, a Saint John’s member who works there, to tell us more about what The Matthews House does in Fort Collins. We hope that you will consider helping us support this great organization on March 28: come hear Lise speak at the beginning of the Bible study hour on March 10 and make a donation or sign up to help with food preparation or service then!

The Matthews House is a non-profit organization in Fort Collins that works to disrupt the cycles of poverty and abuse in families. We work with families by building trusting relationships and walking alongside the families to help them change unhealthy patterns and connect them to community resources that will help stabilize the family unit. The families we work with have sometimes been involved with human services, the foster care system, the justice system and/or generational poverty. Families work towards becoming more self-sufficient and more stable in various areas, including housing, education, employment, well-being and life skills. The Matthews House works in three program areas: Empowering Youth, Strengthening Families and Building Community.

In the Empowering Youth program, staff work with youth between the ages of fourteen and 23 who are involved in the juvenile justice system or who are homeless and lack a significant support network. We also work with every youth in Larimer County who is aging out of the foster care system. The goal of the program is to help youth successfully transition into adulthood. Our staff work with youth one-on-one to develop life skills and self-sufficiency. The youth involved in this program also have the opportunity to participate in Experiential Education, in which small groups can try activities they may have not previously had access to, including pottery, fishing, snowboarding, open gym, guitar lessons and more. Many of the youth we work with struggle with low self-esteem or feeling unvalued. Experiential Education offers a safe place for kids to learn about themselves, socialize with others and ignite their “spark.” Many youth will blossom into renewed self-confidence and a new life direction within the Experiential Education activities.

In the Strengthening Families program, our staff work with parents who are involved in the child welfare system through the Department of Human Services. These families are usually experiencing major challenges, which might include domestic violence, homelessness and substance abuse. The goal of this program is to help keep families together by working through the barriers each family is experiencing. Some of these barriers might be housing, job readiness, transportation, parenting skills, money management and developing a sustainable support system. Within this program, our staff also support foster and kinship caregivers in their homes to try to maintain foster placements for a long as possible. Children who have been removed from their parents have often experienced severe trauma and may display challenging behaviors. It is better for children to remain in one healthy placement as long as needed, so the staff help with navigating difficult behaviors and with supporting the family. The Matthews House also leads the foster care training for prospective caregivers in Larimer County.

In the Building Community program, we work with families to prevent the occurrence of family abuse or neglect and build self-sufficiency. These families are usually not involved in child welfare, but they may be experiencing struggles with self-sufficiency. Our staff help families strengthen areas such as housing, employment, education, parenting and life skills. Stabilizing these areas can help prevent families from experiencing child maltreatment or the long-term effects of poverty. This program is housed in our two Community Life Centers, one at Fullana Learning Center (220 N Grant Ave), and one at Genesis Project (400 S Link Ln). Any parent who has a child under the age of eighteen can walk into one of our Community Life Centers and ask for support. Our staff will sometimes help with a one-time need and other times work with families for several years. At the Community Life Centers, there are also a number of other classes and activities available. We partner with the Center for Adult Learning at Front Range Community College to provide English as a second language classes and high school equivalency preparation classes. We also provide numerous Parent Cafes, which are conversation-based parent support groups that utilize the five protective factors shown to strengthen families: parent resilience, knowledge of parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children, social connections, and concrete support in times of need. The Community Life Centers also host cooking and nutrition classes, recreation classes and career development opportunities.

I work as the Education and Enrichment Director, through the Building Community program. In my role, I oversee the after-school program held at each Community Life Center, called Homework Helpers. This program is for students in grades three through ten who need after-school support. I also oversee Children Activities, which is childcare that we provide during a variety of parent classes. Safe and reliable childcare is often a barrier for parents to participate in growth opportunities they may need, so Children Activities seeks to remove this barrier for parents. I also schedule all the activities that go on at the Community Life Centers and plan community engagement events, which are family events open to any families working with The Matthews House.

Many of our community engagement events are family dinners. We provide a free meal for families, the opportunity to build relationships with other families, and fun activities connected to the theme of the family dinner. Some of the themes we have used in the past are a family dance with a DJ, a quick kickball tournament with a BBQ, and our annual Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner on March 28 will be a Karaoke and Game Night family dinner at our Community Life Center at Genesis Project. These dinners are a great way for volunteer groups like Saint John’s to get involved on a one-time basis.

The Matthews House worked with over 3,200 youth and families last year. If you’re interested in finding more information about The Matthews House, reading a few success stories, or getting involved in an ongoing volunteer opportunity, check out our website:

The Board of Human Needs finds opportunities for the members of Saint John’s to provide a Christian witness by helping people in the community struggling with daily necessities.