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Native Americans supported in college efforts

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NEVADA CITY, Calif. – Nevada County has become part of the Washoe Tribe’s efforts to provide essential Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to Native children and families from the Lake Tahoe basin to the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada now has Native TANF offices in 14 counties in California and two in Nevada,” said Rose Wood, Nevada City site manager. The Native TANF program began nationally six years ago. Opened three years ago, the Nevada City office now has between 25 and 30 clients participating in five-year programs.

“In Sacramento County, which is our largest, we have 350 clients. The smaller northern California counties like Nevada, Placer and El Dorado offices have between 25 and 30 clients.

“We have an array of services that provide excellent support to our clients. First and foremost we give cash aid to families every month. Assistance to needy families is given so children may be cared for in their own homes.

“However, it’s not necessarily the cash aid that’s most important to our clients. More often than not it’s the supportive services, like child care.” Assistance with college, a certification program, or General Education Degree programs are important to what the program hopes to accomplish.

“About two-thirds of our clients are now at Sierra College, our local community college, in a certification program, or working part-time while back in school,” Wood said. “Our success rate has been high because what we’ve been able to provide for our clients is the ability to return to school. I see that as a really important step toward success for our families because the goal is that they get certified, they get educated, they open up work opportunities that in the past have been closed off.”

Elana Sanchez, of the Choctaw-Chickasaw nation, is one of Nevada County TANF’s success stories.

“I’m taking up the opportunities they are giving me. I am currently attending school to get my Licensed Vocational Nurse certification. I’m a Certified Nursing Assistant right now. I’m also working part time.”

Sanchez, who has a 14-month-old daughter, is approaching her one year anniversary in the Native TANF program. “It’s providing a really good balance for my life and for my daughter’s life. It’s helping me with child care and transportation needs. It’s a really good situation for me. I was on welfare after my daughter was born and it was not something I wanted to remain on. I wanted to provide something more substantial for her; something that would be long term.”

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“The ultimate goal is to make the Native families self-sufficient, to have them transition off TANF and never have to return,” Wood said. The program seeks to end dependence on government benefits by promoting job preparation.

“We provide a lot of supportive services to them to address whatever obstacles they may be facing. For instance, if it’s determined that a drug abuse problem exists, we have a contract with a substance abuse program here in Nevada County which will work with the client.”

Participation in the drug abuse elimination program becomes part of what’s called a Family Success Plan. “Every family in our program has a Family Success Plan which is basically their short and long term goals. They must complete those goals to be moving forward in our program. It could be that part of their success plan is to complete treatment.”

Other elements that could be part of a success plan are resolution of domestic abuse or marital problems. “We provide the kinds of supportive services that help our clients with those kinds of problems, so they can successfully complete the five-year program,” Wood said. The program seeks to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies and to encourage formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

It will pay for four years of college or for a certification program in cosmetology, or automotive mechanics. “When they finish they have a college degree or certification that allows them to work.”

Wood has been at the Nevada City Native TANF office since it opened. She started as a case manager and after a year was appointed site manager.

She expects the TANF enrollment numbers to climb because of the state of the economy. “People who ordinarily wouldn’t be coming on to TANF have lost jobs and are coming to us.”

The Native TANF program in Nevada City incorporates Native values and customs in the teen pregnancy prevention, marriage promotion and fatherhood promotion programs. Building self esteem and personal wellness are important program elements.

Program funding comes from the Washoe Tribe via the federal government and from the State of California.