From the Greenfield Recorder
By DAVID RAINVILLE
Monday, November 3, 2014
(Published in print: Tuesday, November 4, 2014)
GREENFIELD — Jane Banks will soon receive an award for her work, but her real reward comes from the job she does every day.
She has seen families come to her office with nothing — no income, no home, no hope — and go on to get good-paying jobs, send their kids to college and, in some cases, buy homes of their own.
Thursday, Banks will receive the annual Inspiring Leadership by a Provider Award, given by Homes for Families, advocates for the homeless in Massachusetts.
Banks, of Greenfield, is the program director for the homeless services branch of the Center for Human Development.
“We have been inspired by (Banks’) commitment to quality services, to the inclusion and dignity of families overcoming homelessness and to the power of the provider voice,” wrote Libby Hayes, director of Homes for Families.
Banks has been with the agency for 16 years, and helped many families in that time.
“We’ve had some of our most challenging families become some of the most successful,” Banks said with pride. “It’s pretty amazing to see successful families come back. You see their kids become successful, too, graduating high school and going on to college or good jobs.”
In addition to finding them shelter, Banks helps families navigate the social service system so they can get back on their feet, find a home, and hold onto it.
“Some families have gone on to go through first-time home-buyers programs. It’s pretty incredible to have a family come back to visit you and tell you they own their own home.”
Banks oversees shelters that house more than 200 families in Hampden and Hampshire counties.
Among those are Grace House, a Northampton shelter for mothers in the early stages of recovery from addiction.
Another one of the shelters is unique in the state.
“We have a small shelter site in Springfield dedicated to single dads who are in the shelter system,” Banks said. “Nobody else in the state has a shelter just for dads and their kids.”
While being homeless or unemployed is a struggle for any family, Banks said single dads have their own hurdles.
“We hear that fathers’ experiences in the system are very different from women’s,” she said.
While many programs are geared toward single mothers, Banks said there are fewer services tailored to single fathers. When she heard of a statewide initiative for the “Nurturing Fathers” educational and support program, she asked to go a step further, and the CHD was able to open the fathers’ shelter in April.
Banks wants not only to help homeless families, but for them to become actively involved in the services they receive. To do that, she organized a bus trip that brought about 100 homeless families to the Homes for Families “Visioning Day” this August. There, they could offer their perspective and ideas to service providers. They also learned what they could do to be advocates for those like themselves.
“It’s important for (these families) to get involved in the legislative process through voting, and to understand the effect voting can have on their lives,” Banks explained. She said her role in getting the families to the Homes for Families annual event was one reason she was chosen for the award.
You can reach David Rainville at:: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 On Twitter, follow @RecorderRain