‘We Are Learning From Our Neighbors Daily’

CitySquare Paris’ Neighbor Support Center brings coordinated, centralized access to resources

CitySquare partnered with the City of Paris and the Fire Department to provide entertainment and free pizza for kids every Friday during the summer.

CitySquare Paris’ Neighbor Support Center brings coordinated, centralized access to resources

When the One+One program at First UMC Paris began in 2015, mentors began developing relationships with children in the local schools. Mentors, like Shelley Landers and Aubrey Gibbs, noticed the children were in deep poverty and wanted to help. First UMC Paris reached out to another group named One Paris to see how they could help neighbors in the community together.

Paris had many local-support services available, but they were hard to navigate. There needed to be one organization to help fill in the gaps of the local support systems. Paris’ poverty rate is twice the national average with two out of five people living in poverty.

“We wanted to provide a hand up and not a handout to help people out of poverty,” Rev. Rob Spencer said. “The church was the founding group but then it became a collection of folks from around town, not just the Methodists.”

In 2017, One Paris and the First UMC Paris reached out to CitySquare to see if a partnership could be developed. As conversations continued, Oak Park UMC became involved and in 2018 CitySquare Paris opened its doors in the church’s Family Life Center.

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CitySquare Paris provides many services, including providing snack bags (left) and a women’s support group.

“CitySquare Paris exists to fight the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy and friendship,” said Laura Woodroof, program director of CitySquare Paris.

In May 2019, CitySquare Paris’ Neighbor Support Center opened as a place where neighbors can access resources in a centralized location. In the Center, trained volunteers help community members fill out applications ranging from food stamps to Medicaid. CitySquare Paris wants the Center to be a place of hope and encouragement for community members.

“Paris is a small town with very high poverty, yet we are also a town rich in resources,” Woodroof said. “Our goal is to connect those resources to our neighbors and fight poverty together.”

CitySquare Paris formed relationships with city, county and state organizations to provided services to the community.

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CitySquare Paris offers year-round assistance for children through the city and school district. This past summer, CitySquare worked with the city and school district to provide summer day camps and meals for children needing a place to go. During the school year, mentors meet weekly with students.

At the CitySquare Paris sites, Paris Junior College offers free adult education, a career navigator/transition specialist and serves as a satellite campus for orientation and assessments for GED and ESL students. Through the Paris Public Library, CitySquare Paris has access to training and resources.

For others, CitySquare Paris has provided bicycles for those in need of transportation. CitySquare Paris continues to seek ways to help the community.

 “Our goal is to connect neighbors with existing resources at one place and alleviate the transportation and time restraints many of our neighbors face,” Woodroof said. “We are learning from our neighbors daily. We hope to see gaps that are lacking in our community and fill them.”

Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2019