The coronavirus’ damage to people’s lives and businesses is all around us, but thankfully, so is support.
Those who have lost their jobs or housing, or who are struggling with how to keep businesses afloat, pay for rent, tuition or basic needs from food to diapers, are being helped by the King County Library System’s Find Financial Assistance service. Launched in 2020, it continues to address those suffering hardships through no fault of their own.
Find Financial Assistance features what KCLS staff does best: connect people with the trustworthy information they need. Recognizing the pandemic’s economic toll, KCLS created a staff team called Find Financial Assistance Navigators (FANs), who provide information about local, state and federal resources to those desperate for aid.
“A lot of our patrons are seeking help for the first time in their lives and they don’t know where to start,” said FAN Bettina M. “It takes courage and grace to make yourself vulnerable and ask for help.”
So far, more than 250 patrons have received personalized assistance in four main categories: job-seeking, unemployment, personal finance and small business. FANs help patrons navigate an often-complex network of relief programs and community support for unemployment claims, small-business grants and loans, career resources and tuition funding. They have steered people to food banks, rental assistance and emergency resources that address gas, childcare, clothing, medications, utilities, transportation and other basic needs.
“All patrons have different needs; the COVID pandemic is hurting so many people,” said FAN Sharavati P., who fields emails and taps a list of over 20 resources. She has responded to upset patrons who need help–and someone with whom they “can share their pain.”
KCLS’ efforts to help people recover from COVID-19’s economic impacts were recognized by the national Urban Libraries Council (ULC), which named Find Financial Assistance a 2020 Top Innovator in the Workforce and Economic Development category. The service, also available in Spanish, was chosen from more than 260 entries. Surveys reveal that the program not only addresses basic needs but helps patrons make new connections and renews their sense of optimism and hope.
FAN team member Suzannah G. says the requests for help, particularly those who are on the brink of homelessness, sometimes can be overwhelming. But she has “felt good about interactions” that can make a difference in patrons’ lives.
“I’m really pleased that KCLS is offering this service,” said FAN Amanda D., also touched by increasing numbers of people who have lost or are in danger of losing housing.
“Finding resources that might help keep them stay safe and sheltered often does not feel like enough, but I know we are doing our best,” she said. “It’s good to know that even when things are so difficult, there are people out there doing their best to help others in whatever ways they can. That goes for the FANs as well; they all work really hard and do a great job.”
FANs often direct patrons to the KCLS webpage, Invest in Yourself, which offers one-stop shopping for an array of economic resources, including personal finance, career education, technology and marketing. The webpage also features Your Next Job, a KCLS collaboration with Seattle Public Library. The free service connects job seekers in King County with individualized help. Those needing help with resumes, test preparation and career coaching also can check out Tutor.com on KCLS’ website.
Melissa Glenn, KCLS’ Health and Social Services Coordinator, noted that while there is a huge array of resources in King County, the level of need far out-strips available funding.
Navigator Elena P. said staying on top of constantly changing funding and other information is one of the challenges. But she is a firm believer in the program.
“I wish other libraries in the country would start a similar service,” she said.
KCLS Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum agrees.
“Find Financial Assistance offers compassionate and customized service that connects residents to critical resources and information when many have been impacted by COVID-19,” Rosenblum said. “This program illustrates the importance of libraries not only when times are good, but also when they are challenging.”