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With classes throughout the SVdP Council area, our Changing Lives Forever (CLF) program is living up to its name. It’s bringing about transformation, one person at a time, as it helps individuals living in poverty to change their lives.

In the program, facilitators (SVdP volunteers) guide investigators (CLF participants) through an 18-week process to better understand their individual strengths and weaknesses, available community resources and how to make a plan for a better future.

“We help investigators realize they have a voice,” says Phyllis Manfredi, a CLF facilitator at three different churches. “When you’ve felt minimized by life’s struggles, you often don’t feel worthy or believe you have anything to contribute. The CLF program guides individuals through a process of self-investigation and discovery that brings their voice to the surface again, so they can reclaim and improve their lives.”

CLF Highlight: St. Simon/VA

One of CLF’s staunchest supporters, Father Charles Smith, believed the program could serve a unique population: veterans trying to get back on their feet. Father Charles, the military chaplain at Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in downtown Indianapolis, wanted to offer CLF to veterans living temporarily at the Fort Benjamin Harrison domiciliary.

To bring his vision to life, Father Charles enlisted Dave Kasberg, a parishioner at nearby St. Simon. Already a committed SVdP volunteer, Dave was immediately interested in the opportunity. As a veteran himself—28 years in the Air Force before retiring—he could relate to them in a way that others couldn’t.

“When Father Charles asked me, I knew I wanted to be involved. It was the perfect nexus of my military experience and my SVdP volunteerism,” says Dave.

Because he was new to the CLF program, he needed an experienced co-facilitator—and Phyllis was the ideal match. She welcomed the opportunity as a special way to honor veterans.

“When I look at these individuals, I see strong people who started to struggle for a variety of reasons,” says Phyllis. “These vets have been wounded by life and are asking for our help.”

Crossing a Virtual Finish Line

The first St. Simon/VA CLF session was held in the spring of 2019. A year later, the program was gaining traction and was right in the middle of another one of its four-month sessions when COVID-19 hit.

Like most of the world, the group paused for several weeks. Then, one day, as Dave watched his wife teach a high school class via Google Meet, he knew he needed to find a way for the CLF group to finish out. Within a few weeks, they were back up and running—with the remaining sessions and the graduation transitioning to a virtual format.

“A virtual format was definitely more challenging,” Dave explains. “Not everyone had a device so a couple of the participants shared, passing a phone between one another while staying socially distant. It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.”

In fact, the virtual format became workable enough that another group formed in August 2020. That online class graduated eight investigators this past November. Dave says technology for VA participants is still a need, but they adjust and find ways to make it work.

Mentors and a Building Block Approach

One of the reasons Dave thinks CLF works so well for veterans is because of its building block approach.

“We’re talking to them about similar things they are learning in the VA programs, but we’ve packaged it in a way that one idea builds upon another—and we show how each element is tied to the bigger picture,” he says. “Then, the icing on the cake is the mentoring aspect.”

Upon graduation, each investigator is offered the opportunity to pair up with a trained mentor from Trusted Mentors. These mentors provide guidance on topics like money management, social connections, job interviews and more. The mentoring program gives each participant at least one individual to call upon as they work toward their goals.

Life-changing for All

CLF was formed to help change the lives of the investigators accepted into the program, but the facilitators are finding that the experience is life-changing for them as well.