What are the skills clients need to become and remain stably housed? The S.M.I.L.E program offers life skills and other essential tools to help clients succeed after they leave Opportunity House.
S.M.I.L.E stands for skills to master independent living and empowerment. It’s an enhanced and expanded version of programming at Opportunity House. Using client feedback, the program is dynamic and continues to evolve and addresses the basic skills necessary to prevent homelessness.
According to Julia Van Tine, program director for S.M.I.L.E., this robust program involves community partners and the skills clients learn are part of the everyday life at the shelter.
Volunteers Share Skills in the S.M.I.L.E Program
From community partners and volunteers with expertise to share, clients are learning to build a resume, ace and interview, cook a simple meal keep their space clean and organized, manage their money, and take care of their health. They also learn their rights and responsibilities as tenants-critical when they move from the Opportunity House shelter to housing.
But the residents also learn from each other. According to Julia VanTine, program director for S.M.I.L.E, the program is integrated into nearly every aspect of shelter life.
S.M.I.L.E. Participants Learn From Each Other
“S.M.I.L.E. is about learning to do for yourself as you offer support to those around you, ” said Julia. Residents are encouraged to share their skills and talents with others. Using the teach one, reach one philosophy clients learn from one another and enjoy the support and encouragement along the way. For example, the program includes a daily community meeting in which residents brainstorm solutions to issues that arise while living at the Opportunity House shelter.
Self-Care is a Priority
S.M.I.L.E. also integrates workshops and trainings on self-care, stress and anger management, and conflict resolution into its daily programming; all are vital to long-term success. People who have experienced trauma learn to give themselves compassion and grace. Then they learn to extend that grace to other clients, friend, family–and eventually the wider world.
“Clients live in a community here. And although stable housing is the goal or every client, we find that some who finally get that housing feel alone and isolated when they leave,” Julia says. “S.M.I.L.E. invites them to experience the power of supporting others and asking for and receiving support. When it comes to independent living that’s as important a goal as employment.”
Meet Julia VanTine, S.M.I.L.E. Program Manager
Julia VanTine has four years of experience as a case manager for shelter residents. Prior to joining Opportunity House, she spent 20 years at Rodale Institute designing practical, actionable, tips and techniques to encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle.