Ann Guerra &Heather Heckler: Connecting Point at 15: looking back, moving forward | TheUnion.com

Ann Guerra &Heather Heckler: Connecting Point at 15: looking back, moving forward

Other Voices
Ann Guerra and Heather Heckler

Last week a man dropped into our office in Grass Valley. Driving by, he saw our sign, a bright orange circle with the words "Connecting Point" underneath.

The man's son had been struggling recently and he didn't know how to help him. A "connecting point," he told our receptionist, was exactly what he needed.

He came to the right place. Since 2003, our organization has been connecting people — to employment, to resources, and to each other. What started as a small organization serving consumers of the state's In-Home Supportive Services program has grown into a full-fledged social services organization with programs that support all Nevada County residents in living healthy, independent lives.

In celebration of our 15th anniversary, we want to tell you more about us — where we came from, where we're going, who we are, and who we serve.

By Us, For Us

Connecting Point was founded by disability advocates who were committed to creating consumer-driven services for people with disabilities. They were staff and consumers of FREED and they brought the independent living ethos — "Nothing about us without us" — to their work in forming the organization.

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Their goal was to build an agency dedicated to providing high-quality caregivers to the seniors and people with disabilities who were consumers of the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program. IHSS plays a crucial role in supporting the independence of people with disabilities by paying for assistance with tasks like bathing, meal prep, and cleaning. Without IHSS, many people would be living in nursing homes, segregated from their communities.

Connecting Point — then known as the Nevada-Sierra Regional IHSS Public Authority — was born in April 2003. It was a grass roots effort led by people who knew that they were the experts in their own lives. This philosophy has carried over into all the work we do today.

Access for All: 211

Nevada County's 211 program was started by local leaders who saw the need for a central database of the social services programs available to the community. In 2011, after bouncing between agencies, 211 found itself in need of a permanent home and it landed at the IHSS Public Authority.

At that time, 211 consisted of a database and one part-time employee. All calls were answered by a call center in Sacramento. Wait times were long, information was incorrect, and no one was satisfied with the service.

We could see the potential of the program and threw our energy into making it work. Our immediate goal was to open a call center in Nevada County and have it staffed by knowledgeable local people. By 2013, we were able to do that and all calls are now answered locally 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Over time, we've taken on new opportunities to make 211 the starting point for information and assistance. Last year we answered over 11,000 calls and facilitated nearly 500,000 web searches to connect local folks to services.

Taking New Paths: Employment Services

Like our Home Care and 211 programs, our Employment Services program is built around the needs and preferences of the people we serve. Started in 2014, the program supports parents in Nevada County's CalWORKs program to build job skills and gain work experience.

The Employment Services program is highly individualized. All participants meet with a career counselor to identify their personal strengths and interests and set career goals. We support participants in navigating barriers to employment and offer employment skills training and resume and interview workshops. We partner with local businesses to provide paid and unpaid work experience opportunities, many of which lead to lasting jobs.

As with all of our programs, the goal is to support people in living healthy, independent lives.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Our organization has grown a lot in the last 15 years and we plan to continue to grow to meet our community's needs. Years ago, we realized that so much of what impacts peoples' health and happiness is access (or lack thereof) to the things that help them thrive.

That's why we recently changed our name to Connecting Point. Connection is in everything we do.

When that father came through our doors last week looking for a way to help his son, it felt like a victory. It's a sign that we're on the right track. When we changed our name, we planted a flag, a sign post for people to follow when they felt lost. We all need support sometimes, we all need a way to connect. Connecting Point is a good place to start.

Heather Heckler and Ann Guerra work at Connecting Point in Grass Valley. Guerra is the executive director of Connecting Point and Heckler is Connecting Point's communications manager. Connecting Point is a public agency dedicated to providing programs and services that improve the health and well-being of our community. To learn more about Connecting Point, visit http://www.connectingpoint.org or call 530-274-5601.

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