Aid During Life’s Unexpected Happenings

Sometimes it takes more than just a moving van to transition a person from one point on the map to another. For some it’s acquiring a life skill, while for others it’s finding comfort on the other side of a devastating setback.

As life unfolds and the unexpected arises, our nonprofit organizations connect with citizens, strengthening our community by transitioning families, individuals, pets and even areas of town with community resources.

American Red CrossWhen life-changing catastrophe strikes, the American Red Cross volunteers arrive not only to provide for the physical needs of people, but to offer support and the promise that tomorrow will be a better day.

“When people have no place to turn, they often turn to the Red Cross,” said Mike Flanagan of the American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter. “We help people in their moment of greatest vulnerability. If we weren’t there, many devastated families could also face sudden homelessness.”

A Columbia family left their home on a beautiful late summer Sunday in September to spend some time fishing together. Their idyllic afternoon turned tragic when they returned home and found their way blocked by the fire department. The life they had known only hours before changed when flames swept through their residence. The family contacted the American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter. The Red Cross provided the family with financial resources for food, temporary lodging and personal hygiene items. The children were offered something they could grab onto – a small Mickey Mouse toy. The caseworker also provided advice on cleaning the smoke smell from clothes along with encouragement for the family to continue the recovery process.

Combined with other organizations, the Red Cross compiles clothing, household items and provides shelter when a family is suddenly without such amenities. These efforts create a solid foundation for individuals and families who have experienced a disaster to rebuild their lives.

“We provide a vital role no one else plays,” explained Mike. “We’re ready 24/7, we’re first responders, providing money for food, clothing and shelter so no one ends up homeless.”

Central Missouri Humane SocietyUnfortunately during catastrophes household pets can end up homeless as well. In the chaos, they get out, become lost; they end up running away not knowing what else to do or where else to go. The Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) is the first to take in our furry friends and offer them food and shelter.

Ashley Crocker, CMHS Cat Lead, shared a story: “A young woman filled out a lost report when her cat Jafar went missing, and came into the shelter every week for months looking for him.  After a few months she wound up adopting a cat that she had fallen in love with while looking for hers.  Almost a year later, a lady brought in a friendly cat who had moved into her feral colony.  We scanned him for a microchip, and were able to finally reunite Jafar with his mother, who was in tears when she found her cat who she’d never expected to see again.  She says he and his adopted brother are getting along wonderfully, and regularly sends us updates.  This really stresses the importance of getting your pets microchipped; permanent identification is the best way to make sure your pets will always come home to you.”

Because the shelter has an “open door” policy and accepts stray and owned animals in Boone County, CMHS can be quite a busy environment. To keep the place running in top condition, they rely on the kindness of volunteers who help socialize cats, take dogs for walks, and help out with other easy yet necessary tasks.

Included in the CMHS volunteer program are opportunities for community citizens with special needs or disabilities. With adequate supervision, these animal fans can interact with the pets, building both people and animal socialization skills.

Alternative Community TrainingSupport of people in our community who are affected by disabilities is important in developing a whole society. “A community is strengthened when it is inclusive and representative of all that it embodies,” pointed out Kalynn Ramsey of Alternative Community Training (ACT).

ACT is a nonprofit offering positive learning experiences to our special needs citizens who are often overlooked, ignored or dismissed. ACT provides direct, personalized service aimed at overcoming marginalization, unemployment, poverty, isolation, or mistreatment of people who are affected by physical, intellectual or other disabilities.

ACT and other contributing organizations partner together for the STEP (Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnership) program, enabling students with disabilities to learn important job skills that assist with transition from student to employee after graduation.

“These partnerships strengthen the community by bringing awareness of people with disabilities,” explained Kalynn. “Furthermore, it provides advocacy for those people with disabilities.”

Literacy Action Corps of ColumbiaWhile illiteracy isn’t always labeled a disability, it is a concern in our community for local citizens and immigrants alike. The St. Louis Dispatch estimated 7% of Missouri adults lack basic prose reading skills in their 2003 survey. The Literacy Action Corps of Columbia (LAC) focuses on lowering that statistic by improving the reading, writing and/or English skills of local adults.

LAC’s “Each One, Teach One” concept matches individual students and trained tutors from the community. The paring focuses the energy of a LAC-trained tutor on a motivated student to collaborate for significant positive change: individuals become more self-reliant, productive members of the community and achieve goals they set for themselves.

Igor Lozichniy and Lana Lozichnaya slowly acclimated to life in Columbia, Missouri, after relocating from Azerbaijan. Lana attended meetings with International Friends and from there she and her husband were referred to LAC. LAC matched Igor with a tutor and together they began to work toward Igor’s goal of becoming a US citizen. For months, Igor and his tutor explored and practiced the questions on the citizenship test. Igor’s hard work with his tutor paid off–in 2011, he proudly became a U.S. citizen, Lana in 2012. They no longer endure the stress of not being citizens and are able to move on to the next chapter of life in their new home.

“LAC’s work benefits our community by empowering individuals and increasing community involvement,” shared Elizabeth Stepanovic of LAC. “We help people achieve their life goals, complete job applications, pass a driver’s test, become a US citizen, write a letter, or read to their children.

Regardless of their reading level or proficiency of the English language, LAC students increase their quality of life, enabling them to realize goals and increase self-reliance and productivity. These skills assist students to transition into the next chapter of their lives.

Columbia Center for Urban AgricultureColumbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) is a local nonprofit providing a different type of transition by providing healthy, grounding activities that bring our community together in unique ways.

Their Opportunity Gardens program teaches and mentors low-income families through establishing and caring for a home garden, helping them climb the learning curve over three years of one-on-one mentoring.  CCUA also manages a 1.3 acre educational Urban Farm in central Columbia. In 2014 CCUA donated 18,342 servings of fresh produce to three local food pantries through their “Planting for the Pantry” program, and provided educational “Farm Experiences” to over 1,011 students and adults at the Urban Farm.

“From sharing food with neighbors, to reducing crime in specific areas, to helping folks overcome alcoholism,” listed Adam Saunders of CCUA. “The gardens meet people where they’re at in their lives and provides a source of grounding consistency.”

CCUA’s programs transition families, friends, people and neighborhoods by creating a common connection rooted in good food. Moving areas and citizens away from adversity and developing them into a positive, safe and welcoming community.

Our local nonprofit organizations reach out in moments of transition, moving our community members to a new and better place by building life skills, offering comfort, growing gardens, and in the case of our furry friends, even finding new homes. By offering help to your neighbors in transition you can build a stronger Columbia one move at a time. Donate to these organizations today on


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