Local nonprofit raising money to serve community

Published 1:30 pm Friday, February 18, 2022

NILES — A Niles nonprofit organization is doing its best to support the increasing number of people in need.

The Ferry Street Resource Center, 620 Ferry St., is amid one of its busiest years on record.

According to Executive Director Ric Pawloski, FSRC is on pace to receive more than 3,200 requests for assistance for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends in June.

“That number would be the highest ever,” he said. “It’s probably almost a 20 percent increase from last year so it has been challenging keeping up with the demand.”

The center — open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday — helps connect Niles residents experiencing homelessness to resources to get on a path to employment, recovery and, ultimately, into a situation where they are homed again.

“We help people,” Pawloski said. “We’ve helped people get birth certificates and IDs. We also help them with employment and housing.”

When he first joined FSRC three years ago, Pawloski noticed that people needing resources to better their lives most often did not have reliable transportation to get to the organizations that provided them, with many Berrien County services located roughly 30 minutes north.

Prior to the onset of the COVID pandemic, FSRC hosted representatives from area nonprofits and agencies for select hours each week. Last year, the center turned its first donated vehicle over to someone in need of transportation.

“A place to work, a place to live and transportation are three foundational building blocks,” Pawloski said. “We’re multifaceted in terms of our ability to help.”

FSRC works with agencies around the county, including Emergency Shelter Services, 185E. Main St., Benton Harbor, the city of Niles and Jobs For Life. The center’s CERA program has helped people and families throughout the area avoid eviction and homelessness by providing rental and utility assistance for eligible renter households so that they retain their housing stability.

“We have processed a lot of applications out of here, so people can come here if they’re behind on rent and we help them,” Pawloski said.

Last year, FSRC partnered with the city to establish a homeless encampment in the center’s fenced-in yard. The encampment consisted of 10 homeless persons who slept in heated tents while making strides toward finding permanent housing. 

“We arranged meal schedules and we had people volunteer to bring food,” Pawloski said. “The city arranged for them to be transported to the YMCA on Thursdays to take showers and then we would feed them lunch here. We got donations of sleeping bags and coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots and things like that.”

According to Pawloski, all 10 members of the encampment are currently housed.

“It was pretty valuable in that we knew where they were and we had access to them so I could work with them on a somewhat daily basis,” he said.

Pawloski will be the first to admit that he is far from a one-man show. FSRC services coordinator Arquilla Lewis has helped Pawloski form partnerships with area nonprofits and agencies that could help others make sustainable life choices.

“She has been here for seven or eight years, so she was here when I got here,” he said. “We have a really nice cadence going; she’s really good with Department of Health and Human Services cases like for food stamps, Medicaid and assisting them with state emergency relief applications. I do most of the case management and all of the intakes with people that come in to find out what the needs are.”

According to Pawloski, the biggest challenge the center faces right now is funding. 

“We’ve been so busy that It’s been hard meeting deadlines for grant applications,” he said. “We raise our own funds so we don’t take too much money from the state and federal government, largely because we want the flexibility to be able to use the money as it’s best suited to the need in the community.”

Pawloski said the area in most need of funding is the center’s direct assistance fund, which allows it to pay security deposits and first month’s rent.

“We’ll take that on and pay that for them to get them into a place and help them position to pay their rent going forward,” he said. “A lot of it helps with utility bills that are behind. There’s a lot of financial input in terms of what we take in and what we use it for.”

Donations can be made to FSRC by contacting the center at (269) 687-9860 or online at ferrystreet.org.

Pawloski hopes the center will continue to provide community support for years to come.

“I’m a man of great faith and people asked me why I do this,” he said. “The answer really is that Jesus loved me and told me to love other people and the Bible clearly says that if I see a brother or sister who’s hurting that I’m supposed to help them. That’s what we do here; we try to assist them and make sure that they have their needs met. The challenges are having a level of discernment and ability to figure out what the real situation is and making sure we’re very, very good stewards of the money that we’re given so that we use it to the best effect.”