Your organization may have many success stories to tell. I hope it does! but what is your emblematic success story?
emblem, n. an object or its representation, symbolizing a quality, state, class of persons, etc.; symbol.
Some emblems are stories. Can you tell a story about your organization and a time it succeeded that will let people know who you are and what you’re all about– as clearly as the costume does for Spiderman?
An Emblematic Story about Preventing Homelessness
The Somerville, Massachusetts anti-poverty agency CAAS prevents people from being evicted and becoming homeless. When I worked there, I heard this story.
A Brazilian family came to the Portuguese-speaking Housing Advocate at CAAS, Sylvia, for help. They had fallen behind on their rent, and their landlord wanted to evict them. They wanted to stay.
Sylvia looked at the rent the landlord was charging them. She was horrified. “This rent is much higher than the market rate!” she told them. “No wonder you couldn’t pay it!”
“We didn’t know that,” the family said. “We don’t speak much English. The landlord comes from the same part of Brazil that we do. We thought we could trust him. We didn’t think he would take advantage of us.”
“But he did,” Sylvia said. “You don’t really want to stay there. You want to move somewhere with a reasonable rent that you can afford.”
“Fine,” the family said, “but who is going to take us as tenants when we’re five months behind on the rent?”
Sylvia swung into action. She arranged free legal services for the family. In court, the judge ordered them to pay what they could immediately, and he gave them three more months of living in the same place before they had to either pay in full or face eviction. That was three months extra for them.
After the hearing, the landlord was fuming to his lawyer in the hall. “You told me I would get these people out right away!” Sylvia sensed the chance to make a better deal for the family. She grabbed them and their lawyer and the landlord and his lawyer and started negotiating. Finally, they agreed:
- The family would pay what they could, as the judge had ordered.
- They would stay in their apartment for only one more month.
- The landlord would forgive all the back rent.
And Sylvia helped the family apply to Catholic Charities for assistance paying first and last month’s rent at a new place they could afford. Instead of facing homelessness, they would be housed stably for the long term.
What Your Emblematic Story Says about You
Now, consider what you know about CAAS from this story.
- The agency hires staff who speak languages besides English.
- It serves clients who were born in the U.S. and clients who were born in other countries.
- It partners with other agencies to get legal and financial help for the people it serves.
- It doesn’t just stop at the problem that’s being presented (the threat of eviction). It recognizes and tries to solve the underlying problem.
- Housing advocates at this agency think creatively and advocate boldly.
- Like Spiderman, they use their powers for good.
What is your emblematic story? What does it say about your organization?