18:00 PM

Community Impact: Rainbow Village

Decorated with colorfully painted walls, rainbows and stuffed animals, the cheerful classrooms at Rainbow Village’s new community center in Duluth belie the fact that many of its students wind up here because they’ve been homeless. Since 1991, Rainbow Village in Duluth has opened its doors to families in need; welcoming them to furnished apartments that become home while they learn to navigate past the traumas that led to and included homelessness.

Rainbow Village residents are required to pay 30 percent of their income for housing and must attend weekly classes on parenting, home management, financial literacy, workforce development, and health and wellness. After-school programs are provided for their children, along with mental health support programs for the entire family. Families are allowed to stay at Rainbow Village for one to two years; graduates of the program receive continuing support and mentoring.

“Rainbow Village provides the setting, security, support and time needed for families to regain footing in their lives,” says Karen LaFontaine, development director at Rainbow Village. “We transform lives by doing what short term shelters cannot by permanently breaking the cycle of homelessness, poverty and domestic violence.”

A recent graduate of the program and single mother of five children, ages 5 to 15, Tamika has nothing but good things to say about Rainbow Village, which she credits with helping her get back on her feet.

Things had been going well for Tamika until 2012. A recent college graduate, she had purchased a townhouse in Lawrenceville and was working at a public school as a paraprofessional for special needs children. She had no trouble making payments on her new home—until the school where she worked lost the Title 1 funding that had paid her wages, which meant she, in turn, lost her job.

“I was out of work for eight months and used up all my savings while I looked for a job,” says Tamika, recalling how she moved her family into a hotel after she lost the townhouse. Fearing the stigma of homelessness, she didn’t know what to tell her children.

“I was afraid it would be the roughest thing ever, but when the Rainbow Village social worker handed me a key and said go on in, I couldn’t do anything but cry,” she says. “It was nicer than what I had been paying for, and the people took us in as if we were family members.”

For the next 18 months, Tamika and her children turned homelessness into hopefulness. The kids thrived in daycare and after-school programs at Rainbow Village. Tamika learned how to manage her finances and how to promote herself positively in order to gain employment. She learned to shed stigmas associated with homelessness and to share concerns with her children.

Tamika credits Rainbow Village with helping her family find its way. She has a new job, as a paraprofessional in another public school, and a new home. Her kids are healthy and happy, and she feels the lessons she learned at Rainbow Village are largely responsible.

Since awarding its first grant in September 2006 for $15,000 for transitional housing assistance, the Jackson EMC Foundation has helped fund Rainbow Village with grants $85,000 in grants targeting assistance in the transitional housing program, financial counseling, children and youth programming, and salaries for case managers.

To learn more, visit www.rainbowvillage.org.