Helping Veteran Families Transition in Place: Meet Sheretta Patterson


Sheretta Patterson grew up in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Her parents owned two taverns, and her family lived above one of them. “I was around the ‘spirit world’ for a long time,” she jokes. Athletic and active, Sheretta ran track and participated in dance in high school. One of her first jobs was at Shine King, a shoe repair shop in the Austin neighborhood that has been in business for 55 years. “Every walk of life came through that shoe shop,” she says. “From corporate America to law enforcement to homeless people.” Sheretta worked the counter, making repair recommendations, and taking customers’ information and payment. “That’s where I was taught to meet a person’s needs, to keep the customer happy.”

Sheretta continued working at Shine King through college. The store was located across the street from the Garfield Counseling Center (GCC). One day, the manager of GCC pointed to Sheretta and said “I need you to work the reception desk while I go to a meeting, and answer the phones for me.” Surprised by the request – she didn’t know the person who asked her – Sheretta complied. The requestor turned out to be Theodora Binion-Taylor, who went on to become Director of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (DASA). Sheretta managed the front desk that day, and stayed on as a volunteer until hired to work in GCC’s Residential Management Services accounts payable department.

At GCC, Sheretta discovered her passion for the field of substance abuse counseling.  Her next job was as a secretary at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC), where she was promoted to case manager, with a case load of 101 clients. While working as a case manager, she earned an associate degree in addiction studies, and worked part time at a night monitor at Haymarket addiction treatment center Sheretta continued working in the field, strengthening and expanding her skillset at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, Recovery Point and the Women’s Treatment Center, while earning a BA in interdisciplinary studies at Northeastern Illinois. She then returned to TASC, where she worked as a recovery coach and parents’ advocate for families whose children had been removed from their parents’ care. She describes a mother who was on the brink of having her parental rights terminated. “So we got to work. We got her psychotropic medication and services to support her. In two years’ time, her two children were returned to her care. She told me ‘No one has walked this far with me before.’ That’s why I do this work.”

Sheretta joined Inner Voice in December 2018 to help launch its new program for veterans — Transition in Place (TIP). “Transition in Place is an opportunity for veteran families who have experienced a loss of employment, and may have had other losses as well. Our goal is to assist 25 families; currently I am the case manager for 22 families in the TIP program,” Sheretta says.

TIP provides an opportunity for veterans and their families to get supportive housing while reestablishing themselves in society. The program is for individuals who are either employed or employable – who can achieve an income sufficient enough for them to obtain a lease following a period of support. Participants pay a 10% occupancy fee for their apartment for a period of six, 12 or 24 months as they receive financial literacy and employment counseling to prepare them assume full responsibility for the lease. About 70% of TIP participants come from Inner Voice’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).

As TIP’s case manager, Sheretta says her goal is to make sure her clients do not experience homelessness again. “I’m still learning my job. I always like helping. When we can service people who are unable to advocate for themselves or maneuver the system or navigate bureaucracy and we can step in and cut through, that’s a rewarding feeling,” Sheretta says. “I believe I’ve done my job when I can help a veteran get from point A to point Z when they couldn’t do it on their own. So many people walk around not having that information. It’s rewarding. The best part of the job is giving a family the key to a new home.”

Giving Back as a Startup: The Seed CX Transit Pilot Project

From our CEO, Jacqueline Edens: Last year, I had the pleasure of working with Edward Woodford, co-founder and CEO of Seed CX. Seed CX is a Chicago-based licensed digital asset exchange, which, through its subsidiaries, offers a market for institutional trading and settlement of spot digital assets, and plans to offer a separate market for CFTC-regulated derivatives. Edward came to Inner Voice with an idea. A simple, great idea. Read about Edward’s idea below, and to contribute to providing the transportation so critical to the men and women Inner Voice serves, please click here.

By Edward Woodford     originally published Dec 7, 2018\

Edward Woodford

Edward Woodford

Last summer, I was enjoying a poke bowl at the French Market for lunch when a gentleman approached me and asked if I could give him money for a transit ticket. He told me that he had a job interview that afternoon, but didn’t have the fare to get there. I had just spent a rather absurd amount of money on my lunch and felt a wave of being incredibly fortunate, so I agreed. I went to the ATM by the Union Station ticket office, withdrew some cash, and handed it over to allow him to purchase a monthly pass.

That might have been the end of the story, except that, by pure chance, I ran into the same gentleman at the same place a few weeks later — and he told me that he’d got the job. He also told me that it was something of a coup for him — he wasn’t always able to make it to interviews, as the round-trip fare is almost $5.00, which isn’t an amount he can always spare.

Charitable Giving the Startup Way

This got me thinking: if the impact of this chance encounter worked out for him, who else might it help?

As a startup founder, my goal is to try to solve problems in new ways. When I saw the impact one transit card had on a stranger’s life, I naturally wondered whether other people might have the same experience — and how setting up a larger-scale program that delivered transit cards might help. So I did some research.

No programs around unemployed transportation existed in Chicago. I therefore reached out to a handful of Chicago charities to see whether they were interested in working with me to test a transit card program for job seekers with limited resources.

That outreach led me to meet a board member from Inner Voice, a Chicago nonprofit that offers a continuum of care and focuses on providing individualized services for people experiencing homelessness. I began to learn more about the calculus that unemployed people are forced to make: food vs. traveling for a job interview that statistically they are unlikely to secure.

I worked with Inner Voice to set up a pilot program that would test whether the one-off experience I’d had with the man I met by chance could be replicated across a larger cohort.

The Results: 77% Increase in Gainful Employment

We worked with another Chicago nonprofit, Teamwork Englewood, that agreed to track its members’ ability to secure gainful employment without offering transit cards to create a kind of “control” group. What we found was that, without transit assistance, just 47 percent of job seekers (24 out of 51) were employed two weeks after a job event.

Meanwhile, we conducted a pilot program (the Seed Transit Pilot Project) that followed 113 job seekers. Of them, 94 (83 percent) secured gainful employment. In other words, our efforts removed the transportation barrier, offering participants the access and motivation they needed to take the first steps toward seeking employment.

Because of the success of the Seed Transit Pilot Program, we’ve decided to launch a full program next year. We are looking forward to letting Seed CX employees participate by donating money (which we will match) and hopefully securing the support of other partners.

When & Why Startups Should Start “Giving Back

Startups have a lot going on. Running a startup is an exercise of being comfortable in being uncomfortable. But I encourage every founder to think seriously about how they’re giving back to their community. Why? Because if you start giving early — even if it’s no more more than a few hours of time — that effort becomes part of your company’s culture. If you wait, on the other hand, it’s much harder to fit it in. Any charitable programs you launch may end up feeling tacked-on or forced, part of a more corporate take on social responsibility.

At Seed CX, we continue to solidify our culture of giving back this holiday season by supporting causes important to the Chicagoland community. We’ll be working with two local organizations chosen by our team.

First, we’re participating in Letters to Santa, a program run by Direct Effect Charities. The program involves having children from Chicago’s neediest communities write letters to Santa Claus asking for what they want for Christmas. Those wishes are then fulfilled by sponsors such as Seed CX. Once all of the gifts are purchased, we plan to have a company-wide wrapping party prior to dropping the gifts off for Santa to pass out.

We are also kicking off the new year with a volunteer day with Cradles to Crayons, which serves 33,000 children annually at its Giving Factory. At the Giving Factory, Seed CX employees will sort and inspect donated items and package them for delivery to the children who need them.

And giving back isn’t just about helping the community or building some nebulous force like “culture” — it can also be a powerful recruitment tool. The labor market is as tight as it’s been in more than a decade. People — not just millennials — want to work for a company that is “more than just a job.”

For me, there’s also a simpler calculation: I’m fortunate enough to be able to give my time and some money, so I do. I don’t think anyone should have to hope for a fluke of circumstance or make a tradeoff right on the breadline to get a job they want and are qualified to do.

Of course, it’s impossible to tell beforehand whether an innovative solution to a problem will work — but that’s the nature of running a startup. By bringing our experience of solving familiar problems in new ways, entrepreneurs can have a significant impact on the communities we’re part of.

Teacher, Leader, Friend Andrew Michails Serves Over 30 Years at Inner Voice

Andrew Michails

Andrew Michails

Andrew Michails was watching the news with his six year old daughter when a feature story about a couple on the near North side came on. Every Thanksgiving, the pair loaded their van with coffee, hats, gloves and scarves and went to Lower Wacker to help the homeless. He recalls, “My daughter looked at me and said ‘Daddy, I want to do that.’”

At the time, it was so close to Thanksgiving that the organizations Andrew contacted had plenty of volunteers and were requesting money instead of help.  He kept digging until he found a now-defunct nonprofit that needed help teaching job-seeking men and women how to interview. Putting his sales background to use, Andrew created a two-hour session on interviewing skills, contacted the nonprofit and said, “I’m ready. Send me somewhere.”

One of the first times Andrew conducted the training took place in a small room teaching five men, while children watched a blaring TV in the background. He didn’t think the class was successful, but as he turned to leave, the men said, “Where do you think you’re going? That was great, but we need more.”

Shortly after this experience, Andrew met Inner Voice founder Reverend Johnson, and volunteered to teach classes at Inner Voice. He developed a more robust training program, expanding to three-stage courses, then to five and eventually to 10 stages encompassing forty hours. “We ran our programs down in the basement of the Inner Voice’s old place at the corner of Lake and Ashland,” Andrew recalls. “It got to a point where I was there more often than I was not. After about six months Rev. Johnson came to me and said, ‘You can’t do this anymore. You’re spending too much time. We’re going to have to pay you.’ We worked on nothing more than a handshake the whole time he was alive. From those humble beginnings, we grew to run 30-35 programs a year for a number of different groups that came to Inner Voice for help, whether it be housing, jobs, or case management.“

In 1986, Andrew founded Operation H.E.L.P., Inc., a network of consultants who provide training, coaching and mentoring in the employment field through job readiness seminars, job development and job placement.  His clients have included St. Leonard’s Ministries, Inspiration Corp., R.E.S.T., Stateway Gardens and Veterans’ New Beginnings.  Andrew has worked with Inner Voice for more than 30 years, providing job skills training to thousands of women and men. He currently conducts a monthly three-day job readiness seminar for Inner Voice’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. The highlight of the training, Andrew says, is the mock interview, in which participants are recorded and receive feedback from their classmates.

Andrew describes one Inner Voice client who went through the job training program: “Bob was down and out on his luck. He had a very poor self-image. He went through the program and he really got it. First, he would keep in touch with us on a weekly basis. He got a job, everything was working well, and then I didn’t hear from him for a couple of months. I was a little worried. Several months later, he called me from Kansas City, to tell me he’d moved down there, gotten a job, and was looking at getting permanent housing. Last time I heard from Bob, he had a place to live, his first new car, a girlfriend and a child.”

Andrew tells the women and men in his classes, “Each of us has a bank account. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits us with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever time you failed to invest to a good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. There is no going back, no drawing against tomorrow. Invest wisely. The clock is running. Make the most of today.”