Local nonprofit gives Valley’s homeless hope for the future
Even after the sun sets, Darlene Newsom’s head is still not hitting her pillow. As the CEO of UMOM New Day Centers, the largest provider of homeless services in Arizona, Newsom’s mind remains fixed on the faces of some of the Valley’s most vulnerable.
“There are families that live on the streets. They are not visible because they are fearful of losing their children,” she says. “So lots of times, they live in their cars or sleep in parks. To me, it’s shattering that we have homeless children living on the streets. If you ask me what keeps me up at night, that’s what keep me up at night: knowing we have homeless children on the streets.”
UMOM began in 1964 with a steadfast mission of preventing and ending homelessness. Today, the Phoenix-based nonprofit organization is a shelter and service provider for more than 170 homeless families. Newsom oversees 300 employees and nearly 10,000 volunteers yearly with a $20 million budget via government funds, private donations, foundation grants and fundraisers.
“UMOM is a second chance; it changes lives. Everybody deserves that, and that’s what drives me,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to make sure all our families have the opportunity to have a better life.”
Although UMOM provides both emergency and extended shelter, Newsom says affordable housing remains a challenge because “we do not have enough resources in Maricopa County to end family homelessness.”
According to the nonprofit, there is always a waiting list for shelter for families with young children. In addition to the shelters and services provided and operated by UMOM, it also partners with 46 organizations and social agencies in the Valley.
“From day one, we already have a plan,” Newsome says. “We know what we do well, and we partner with other organizations that know what they do well. I’m all about partnerships and collaborations because that’s what it’s going to take to end homelessness.”
Upon arriving at UMOM, youth, single parents, families, veterans and those in need of assistance are assigned a support specialist to assess their current situation and the barriers preventing them from seeking shelter. Once the assessment is completed, the client is matched to supportive services such as childcare, education, health care and job training. UMOM also helps each participant prepare a resume, attend job fairs, complete a job search and conduct mock interviews.
One such job-training program is UMOM’s Helpings Café. Established in 2014, the café provides a handcrafted menu with barista training following the Starbucks’ curriculum. The café is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“There are a lot of myths out there about families and that if they want to work, they will work, but it is not true,” Newsom says. “Before passing judgment, you need to know the circumstances. I do know that the families that come to UMOM are grateful and ready to take the next step to have a better life for themselves and their children.”
Adriana Aguilar of Phoenix is one of them. Nearly eight years ago, the single mother of five found herself without a job and facing eviction.
“I couldn’t afford childcare and didn’t have anyone to help,” she says.
After searching Valley service agencies online, the 35-year-old came across the UMOM website. In addition to helping with housing, the nonprofit also provides childcare services at their licensed development center and job training.
“UMOM helped so much,” she says.
Today the Phoenix mom and her family have a rental townhouse to call home and a vehicle to get around. Most importantly, Aguilar has completed an internship and secured full-time work at the café.
“My seven-year-old said he was so proud of me [when I went to work],” she says. “That’s what keeps me going.”
Although Aguilar admits it’s still a struggle with five children, she won’t ever forgo her dream of purchasing their own home. “I do it for my kids. You have to keep moving forward,” she says. “Don’t give up. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Julia De Simone