This is the fourth post in our October blog series, Meet the Mentor. Each week, you’ll meet a different mentor from one of EMPath’s programs.

Jessica is a mentor in EMPath’s Hosmer Co-Shelter program, which supports women and their children in the transition from congregate shelter to permanent housing. She is a staunch advocate for her participants and emphasizes that their success is central to the success of EMPath as an organization.

What brought you to EMPath?

I’ve always been in this field. I graduated from UMass Amherst, where I studied psychology and education. In my previous jobs, I worked with participants who faced different barriers and I supported them as much as possible – teens, young adults, kids. Then I was looking into agencies that worked with people experiencing homelessness. My sister also works at EMPath so she told me about it.

Tell us more about the Hosmer Co-Shelter program.

Hosmer is an all-female co-sheltering program. That means there’s two participants with their children in each unit. It’s independent living. It’s the step after congregate shelter, before participants are living on their own. All our referrals come from Hastings House.

We really stress the different responsibilities participants have as individuals, as adults, as guardians, so that they’re preparing themselves for success. Participants are doing their own laundry, cooking, cleaning, and budgeting for their own household and personal supplies. It’s closer to having your own apartment. And [through Mobility Mentoring®] we encourage participants to make sure they’re in school or working, that their kids are in school or daycare, that they’re paying off debt.

One of our “must-haves” is savings. 30% of participants’ total income goes into savings, whether it’s from employment or from public benefits like SSI or TAFDC. We really stick by that because that 30% gives them a little snapshot of what they’ll be paying for rent [in permanent housing]. We also have a matched savings program that boosts their savings as well.

Hosmer is like a middle, transitional step between shelter and permanent housing. Participants may need support coming out of a shelter to balance life on their own, and we’re there to nudge them and keep them on their path.

What is your role at Hosmer?

My title is Senior Program Mentor; however I feel like I’m just like any other mentor at EMPath – I’m there to support the participant.

My main mission is making sure my participants feel heard. I’ve been in this field for ten years now, and I’ve met so many participants who have felt like providers aren’t listening to their needs and wants, and have been telling them what to do instead. My role is making sure the participants I interact and work with are advocated for and that I can support them in increasing their skills so they can advocate for themselves, because I won’t always be there.

I’m ensuring that participants secure permanent housing, that they make it to doctors’ appointments, because that’s so vital. If you’re not healthy, then you can’t be there for your family. And I’m looking at the little things – what are the small things hindering this person from being successful?

What is one thing you wish people knew about EMPath?

What I really want people to know is that EMPath doesn’t drive itself. The participants drive us. Because they drive us, we will forever be successful in that we are disrupting poverty. We are an agency that is surrounded by the strength within our participants. Our success only matches the success of the participants.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My advocacy. I am not afraid to be on the side of the participant. I honestly do feel like they’re the reason I have a job, that I’m in this career. What does my participant need and who can give it to them? That’s the best part for me – to feel like I’m doing my all to ensure that this person gets what they need. Whatever it is, no matter what paths I need to cross and what conversations I need to have, I’m going to advocate for the participant. I just feel like it’s a disservice to them if I don’t.

I’m not going to do more than the participant does, but I’m definitely going to match it. In my own upbringing and my own experiences, I didn’t have that advocacy. My thoughts are, ‘Challenge accepted. You’re not going to overpower my advocacy, you’re not going to shut me down, you’re going to hear me, because your voice is just as strong as mine.’ At the end of the day, I look at everyone like they’re human. And everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I’m multi-lingual. I speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean Creole.

Next Up: Meet Charmaine L.

Meet mentor Amparo G.

Meet mentor Bryna R.

Meet mentor Carlos M.