One special aspect of Evansville nonprofits is the opportunities they have to work toward common visions and illuminate each others’ vital roles. Urban Seeds is deeply excited for our upcoming Soup Share Spectacular fundraiser, in which each delicious meal purchased by our supporters will also fund a meal for a client at YWCA or Aurora’s Vision 1505 facility. What is Aurora, and why does it matter? We reached out to Nathan Jochum to learn more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned changes on a scale few of us have experienced before. In fact, “unprecedented times” could well be considered the ubiquitous catchphrase for 2020. But Nathan Jochum, the Marketing, Communications & Special Events Coordinator at Aurora, reveals that sometimes, unprecedented challenges have paved the way for unprecedented innovations.
Nathan began his career at Aurora in February of this year, just a month before COVID restrictions were rolled out across the state. Considering his background, Nathan was in the right place at the right time: “I have a degree in Public Relations/Advertising and I’m Co-Director of ParksFest Music Festival, which taught me a lot about handling special events and controlled chaos.” Nathan describes stepping into his role during the sudden changes as “trial by fire.… It’s affected everybody in every way possible,” but ultimately the task of adapting to COVID response has brought together Aurora’s team and strengthened how they serve the community. As an essential service, “We never stopped working.” In fact, as the pandemic unfolds into prolonged illness, unemployment, and loss of savings, Aurora’s aim to both prevent and resolve homelessness is more essential than ever before. Aurora’s protocols required some tweaks to ensure adequate social distancing, such as offering appointments for case management instead of walk-in, but otherwise Nathan says “it’s been business as usual,” with the exception of increased demand.
Nathan doesn’t hesitate when asked his favorite thing about Aurora: “We’re a team and a family, but the greatest part is knowing you are making a difference in someone’s life. It also adds a lot of perspective to your own life and makes you think more about the trivial ‘first world’ problems we all deal with and take for granted.”
In order to discuss Aurora’s core programs, it’s also important to recognize what Aurora is not. Unlike many homeless outreach efforts in Evansville, Aurora is not a shelter or a community food share site but rather a constellation of programs dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness in the community, one client at a time. With each program, “the goal is to get as many people housed as possible.”
Aurora’s newest program is eviction prevention – a necessity for many struggling under the weight of insecurity brought on by COVID. Applicants may receive assistance with utilities or rent payments as a way of preventing homelessness from ever occurring. More information on this vital service can be found here.
On the other end of the spectrum is the award-winning Street Outreach Team. This group of case managers goes directly to those who are already homeless and provide immediate needs, such as food, hygiene products, and blankets, as well as connecting them to longer-term services such as housing and medical care, including mental health care.
Not only does Aurora strive to help unhoused individuals flourish, but society as a whole. To that end, Aurora created Indiana’s first re-entry program for former inmates in 2012. By ensuring clients have a stable start after incarceration, their recidivism rates are less than half the state average. “Re-entry causes so many obstacles,” says Nathan, “Housing doesn’t need to be another one.”
Aurora also offers Permanent Supportive Housing for those who may otherwise struggle to live on their own due to addiction or disability. PSH occurs both at sites scattered around Evansville and at the permanent facility Vision 1505. Those who qualify receive not only housing but life skills training and other case management services to ensure success.
Nathan explains that while some individuals will need continued support, the goal is to help clients from all their programs become more self-sustaining in whatever capacity they can. “We’re here as a help, not a handout. There’s something empowering for those who have come through the system.” (A more detailed description of Aurora’s various programs can be found here: https://auroraevansville.org/how-we-help/)
Amid all the success stories and realignment of services, Aurora recently seized on yet another opportunity to empower clients. This summer, Market on Main, Evansville’s downtown farmers’ market, entered its second year and was met with its own COVID-induced need to restructure. One improvement that evolved in the Market on Main rollout was a new option to order a farm box online. Patrons had the opportunity to order a variety of boxes for curbside pickup, or, notably, to purchase a fresh produce box to be donated to Aurora. The brainchild of Market on Main director Ashley Kiefer, Nathan says “a true partnership” blossomed between Aurora, Market on Main, and Urban Seeds to ensure clients could have access to fresh food that offers a different nutritional profile than the more accessible shelf-stable items. Nathan says growing up on a farm had already given him an appreciation for the fuel derived from fresh food, which he tries to offer to clients whenever possible.
The produce boxes immediately left a big impression. “The first day I brought back boxes from Market on Main, there was a mom and her kids preparing to move into their new apartment.” Aurora always sets up clients for success with furnishings, meal kits, household utensils, and other essentials when they transition into housing; this time, Nathan was able to offer a deeply appreciated housewarming gift of a fresh produce box to the family as well. “Five minutes after I brought in the boxes, and we already saw a benefit!” Anyone who has gone out on their own can probably relate to that feeling of a house/apartment feeling like home when a nourishing meal is enjoyed for the first time.
While 2020 is coming to a close, Aurora’s work continues to grow. Their “Adopt-A-Client” holiday program is in full swing. An exercise in gratitude and compassion for donors, Nathan shared the “sobering” experience of shopping for underwear as a much-wanted Christmas gift. “Who wants underwear for Christmas?! There are so many people who don’t have the things that we take for granted. It gives you a new perspective, and hopefully we move back toward helping others.”
Nathan has newly updated the “How You Can Help” page on Aurora’s website. Learn about a wide variety of opportunities to donate time, money, or items, or host a fundraiser on Aurora’s behalf.
Tickets are available for Urban Seed’s Soup Share until November 27th.