Things couldn’t have gotten much worse for Angela Lesley, a 32-year-old Grand Haven amputee living on a fixed income. After leaving an abusive relationship, she was suddenly homeless with five children under the age of 10.
Besides shelter, the family needed everything, including clothes.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she says.
Enter the Grand Haven Area Public School District’s Multi-Agency Team (MAT), a unique coalition of 15-20 agencies, organizations and nonprofits - everything from the Grand Haven schools, police department and juvenile court system to local churches, the Salvation Army, Love Inc., the United Way and many more. The team provides all-encompassing “wrap around” help to students and families in need.
This team approach, says MAT coordinator Kate Augustyn, director of special education for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, is highly effective because the services it provides are coordinated, individualized and comprehensive.
Instead of a family reaching out to the groups such as the Salvation Army, Center for Women in Transition and Bethany Christian Services individually and on their own, MAT brings everyone together around the same table and is able to better coordinate services for families.
In fact, says Augustyn, the group, which was founded in 2009, has evolved into what she calls a “one-stop shop” helping 20-25 families per year. The team meets monthly to discuss students and families whom the schools have identified as in need of assistance. The goal: to improve the family’s quality of life and help students succeed in school.
“Sometimes parents who really want to do right just can’t catch a break,” Augustyn said. “We have a whole group of people who are not enjoying the great economy here in Grand Haven. MAT is a community service to get our families most in need, the most help they can get. I am passionate about the program, and the people who are involved and invested are incredible people.”
After taking on the Lesley’s’ case, MAT quickly moved the family into a safe, secure hotel, even arranging transportation to and from school for the kids, as well as counseling and clothes. Within weeks, the team also located a local resident who was willing to donate an empty home to the family—and pay for the utilities—while they got back on their feet.
Angela Lesley was astonished that so many were so willing to help her.
Lesley says the resources brought to bear, in her instance, have made a huge difference. The kids, including a niece and nephew she took in, are doing fine in school, and the family is looking forward to the next step in their plan—moving into a Habitat for Humanity house. In the meantime, not having to pay rent or utilities is allowing her to save money for household necessities and a car.
To the MAT program, Lesley is everlastingly grateful.
“When you’re in a situation like this and looking for help and the door is closed in your face so many times, it’s like what do you do now,” she says. “I never knew the school district did anything like this. MAT has helped us so much. I don’t know where we’d be without it. I’m very thankful my town and my school district has it.”