Author: Zakia Elliott, GreenLight Philadelphia Research Fellow
Single Stop is approaching its third year of working in partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) and its success couldn’t be sweeter. Since opening its doors to the College community in 2013, Single Stop has consistently exceeded its goals. According to Single Stop’s Project Director, Paula Umaña, its launch was considered the “best site launch in the nation,” and the organization has since served over 4,700 students, drawing down more than $10.8 million in cash and non-cash benefits and resources. Single Stop is making a real impact on the lives of the students that it serves and helping to knock down many of the barriers preventing students from completing their degrees. With CCP’s graduation rate sitting slightly below that of the national average and research showing that living expenses are the most prevalent financial problem community college students face, Single Stop opens new doors to college completion by helping students achieve financial stability.
The model itself is revolutionary – the organization provides an array of services and in-person assistance to students, including benefits screening and application assistance, tax preparation services, financial counseling, legal assistance, immigration counsel and health enrollment support. “We work with students so they can access more than what they come looking for,” reflected Umaña. “The students that come find our services so useful that they most frequently return to get more and more and more.”
Hilda, a 29 year old mother and student at CCP, is a student who has taken advantage of the resources made available by Single Stop. Since enrolling into CCP and being introduced to Single Stop staff Paula Umaña and Chantal Whitehead, Hilda’s life and future brightened. Hilda was became acquainted with Single Stop in January 2014 during her time in a homeless support group. Combining the support of Single Stop and other student programs with her own perseverance propelled Hilda out of homelessness and into safe housing, employment, a new car, and financial stability. She is now fully enjoying her time at CCP and is pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. “I saw Single Stop offering all this help and I said, ‘Well you know what, I actually need that,’” Hilda said, reflecting on her experience. “When I came in it was great, you guys were pouring all this help on me. And since then I’ve consistently came here and I knew you guys could help me. I needed help with LIHEAP, my medical, everything. I came back and forth. But every time I came here Chantal was consistent, you [Paula] were on board, and it was great.”
For students like Hilda, Single Stop is both a support system and a safe haven. A part of why Single Stop’s approach is so successful is the one-on-one relationship building inherent to the model. Umaña explained, “Meeting the students where they are and having the conversation based on the information they provide in the intake form allows us to begin to draw a map of all the possibilities they could access. Most of the time students seem surprised to hear about the multiple free services offered in one single place and it is really moving to see them so eager to explore and take action when we discuss their options. After that we create a plan with each student we meet, we create goals and action steps; we give them some time before we follow up to encourage them to stay on track.” Confidence, trust, and relationship building is essential to this process as well. “Every time Hilda meets with Chantal, I smile to hear them both laughing and having a good time even when they discuss their barriers and problems,” said Umaña.
Single Stop is also deeply embedding itself into CCP’s network of student support services. Partnership building and collaboration is key to the program’s success, and Single Stop is making great efforts to connect students to services that are specific to their unique needs. They partner with various departments and on-campus services to offer financial planning and literacy workshops with the Nursing Department and the Center for Male Engagement, they offer benefit screening to all participating students, and Single Stop also worked with the Student Government Association’s leadership to launch an on-campus food pantry. Their ongoing outreach efforts include visibility event planning, class presentations, and issue-based campaigns throughout the year. Tax season and health insurance season are by far the most popular periods of the year, though Umaña finds that every day presents an opportunity to promote the many services that could be well utilized by students.
Expansion of the services provided by Single Stop is also on the horizon–the organization is launching a new online platform to reach many more students, like Hilda, by enabling them to begin the benefits screening process by themselves, with the option to schedule a one-on-one with Single Stop staff for further assistance, answer questions or initiate the application process, making it easier to reach students who are unable to visit the office. “It’s nice to be able to come out of this office and be like, ‘Yes!’” said Hilda. “It’s like a release. I always do that when I leave out of here, it’s like, ‘Okay. What’s next?’ It’s a good thing. It’s a great feeling.”